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Pickleball Singles How to: Rules, Scoring and Strategy

Can 2 people play pickleball? Yes! Pickleball Singles can be a blast; however, it can also be brutal. If you’re up for the challenge, singles pickleball can be a great way to get lots of exercise.
 
If you’re a tennis player, it’s a great way to venture into pickleball as tennis strategies can be more easily and effectively incorporated into the singles game.
 
(updated October 2023)

Singles Court

Singles is played on a standard pickleball court. There are no separate lines for singles on a pickleball court as there are on a tennis court.

The size of a pickleball court is 20 ft x 44 ft. On each side of the court, there is 15 ft from the baseline to the Non-Volley Zone (kitchen). The Non-Volley Zone is 7 ft from the net to the NVZ (kitchen) line.

With a pickleball court size of only one-fourth to one-third the size of a tennis court, there is still a lot of ground to cover.

The net is 34 inches high in the center and 36 inches high at the posts.

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How to Play Pickleball Singles

There are similarities to playing singles and doubles; however, in addition to the sheer physical effort required, there are several distinctions between the two – including scoring and strategy differences as we’ll discuss in the article below.

  • Like doubles, singles pickleball is typically played to 11 points, win by 2. It is played like tennis, or other racket/paddle sports in that the object is to get the ball over the net without it bouncing twice.
  • The ball is served underhand and diagonally across the net to the opponent’s service court. The ball is then hit back and forth across the net until a player fails to return the ball in accordance with the rules.
  • If the server wins the rally, a point is scored. The server continues serving until they lose a rally. At that time, their opponent gets the chance to serve.

Pickleball Singles Scoring

Singles scoring is similar to doubles scoring; however, there are some nuances. Here are three important scoring rules to remember when playing:

1. Points are only Won on the Serve

Similar to doubles scoring, points are only won on the serve — unless, of course, you are playing rally scoring. When the server scores a point, he/she switches sides from which he/she just served.  If the server just served diagonally (and won a point) from the right side, he/she will now serve diagonally from the left side. If the server just served diagonally (and won a point) from the left side, he/she will now serve diagonally from the right side.

2. There is No Second Server

As the name implies – there is no second server when playing singles. As such, the server only calls out two numbers when calling the score – the server’s score first, then the opponent’s score. Because there is no second server, once the server loses a rally, the serve reverts to the receiver.

3. The Server’s Score Dictates Whether They Serve from the Right Side or the Left Side

The serve is always executed diagonally from the right side of the court when the server’s score is represented by an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 points) and diagonally from the left side of the court when the server’s score is an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7 or 9 points).

It is important to note that it is the server’s score that matters when determining the side from which to serve – not the receiver’s score or the combined score of the server and receiver.

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Pickleball Singles Rules

The rules are similar when playing doubles or singles pickleball.

  • When serving in pickleball, it must be done underhanded. It can either be done as a drop serve or volley serve.
  • The serve must go diagonal across the net and land beyond the opponent’s non-volley zone.
  • Only one serve attempt is given to the server.
  • All lines on the court are considered good or ‘in’, except on the serve. If the ball touches the Non-Volley Zone (kitchen) line, it is considered a fault.
  • There is a two-bounce rule which states that the ball has to bounce one time on each side of the court before a player is allowed to hit the ball out of the air. A player cannot step into the Non-Volley Zone (kitchen), or step on the Non-Volley Zone line while hitting the ball out of the air.

Pickleball Singles Strategy for Beginners

With twice the court to cover, singles requires a strategy that leverages quickness, anticipation, and the ability to hit a variety of shots. The following are six strategies to consider:

1. Position Yourself Near the Centerline when Serving

The serve should be executed near the centerline so that the server can effectively cover both sides of the court when the serve is returned. If the serve is hit from too close to the sideline in singles, the return up the line will be very difficult to get to.

2. Hit a Deep Serve

The serve should be hit deep into the receiver’s court to make it more difficult for the receiver to return and get to the non-volley line. A deep serve will also give you a much easier third shot opportunity.

3. Hit the Ball to your Opponent’s Weaker Side

Because most players will have a weaker backhand than forehand, attempt to force your opponent to use this weaker side. Obviously, it goes the other way if your opponent’s backhand is stronger than their forehand. In that case – although it will be the rare exception – continue to feed the forehand.

4. Keep the Ball Deep

Similar to tennis, whenever possible, hit deep shots into the corners so that your opponent doesn’t have time to set up. This will additionally give you the opportunity to come to the non-volley line and take control of the point.

5. Play Percentage Pickleball

Anticipate and play the percentages. The net is higher at the post and lower at the center. Use this knowledge to your advantage and play high-percentage pickleball – while at the same time, understand that your opponent knows this as well and anticipates where their high-percentage shots will go.

6. Learn to Hit Passing Shots and Drop Shots

When your opponent is at the non-volley line and you are at the baseline, you have a couple of options for your next shot. You can unload on a hard passing shot, execute a shot that crosses the net and dips into the non-volley zone (forcing your opponent to hit the next shot up) or hit a lob over your opponent’s head. The lob is the lowest percentage shot when playing a more advanced player. Thus, the best shot to attempt is likely the passing shot or shot that dips into the non-volley zone.

For additional strategies, check out the following articles: 

Pickleball Pro Singles

While you don’t see many playing singles recreationally, it is played competitively in tournaments. Since singles pickleball strategies are more similar to tennis, you will typically see tennis players break into the sport playing it in tournaments.

Many of the top pickleball singles specialists were former tennis players, however, not all. Dylan Frazier is a great singles and doubles player who didn’t play tennis. Most of the other singles pro players have played tennis previously.

FAQs

Can You Play Pickleball as Singles?

Yes, pickleball can be played either as singles or doubles. However, doubles is more common.

How Do You Score In Singles Pickleball?

A player scores a point only on their serve (unless playing rally scoring). The ball can only bounce once on each side. When serving, if the ball bounces more than once on your opponent’s side, or goes out of bounds when your opponent hits the ball, the server gets a point.

How Many Serves Do You Get in Singles Pickleball?

A player gets one attempt to serve the ball across the net to their opponent.

Where Should You Stand in Singles Pickleball?

When serving, the player needs to serve from behind the baseline. Strategically, they should stand near the center-court line. After serving, it is strategically best to stand near the Non-Volley (kitchen) line and center court line.

Are There Singles Lines for Pickleball?

There are no additional lines on the court for singles. Players use the entire width of the court.

Final Thoughts

Singles is a great change of pace from playing doubles. However, if you’re going to play – be prepared to run! Even though a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Whether you want to play singles competitively, or use it to practice your doubles game (learn how to play Skinny Singles here), get out on the court and play!

See you on the courts!

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Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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11 Comments

  1. When playing singles and accepting the serve is it mandatory to remain behind the baseline or is OK to stand anywhere?

    1. Hi Jim, You can stand anywhere to return the serve. Strategically speaking, however, I would recommend standing just beyond the baseline as you must let the serve bounce before returning it.

  2. In singles, does the no volley rule stand for the serving side when returning the first serve receive as is the case in doubles pickleball?

    1. Hi Barbara, Not sure what your question is. In singles, like doubles, the serve has to land beyond the non-volley line. Also, as in doubles, one cannot hit the ball out of the air in the non-volley zone. Finally, in both singles and doubles, the ball has to bounce on each side before hitting any ball out of the air. Hope that helps.

  3. I live in Arizona, southeast valley. I have been rated as a 3. I would like to be better at my game. Are there higher skilled players in my area that would be interested in tutoring players such as myself.
    Thanks Rick Kendall

  4. A friend and I have started to play singles at the end of our practice session. We’ve found that it really helps us learn to cover the court better and to place shots better and is strengthening our doubles game.

  5. Help. All sites say that pickle ball can be played by 2, 3 or 4 players. We have been stuck with 3 people from time to time. How do you play a 3 person game and how does the scoring work?
    Thanks

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