This past Thursday at Woodside – presented with an open pickleball court (a rare occasion) and not enough people to play doubles – my fellow “pickler” and I took advantage of the opportunity to play singles. In nearly two years of playing pickleball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, this was the first time either of us had played without a partner. In addition to the sheer physical effort required, there were several distinctions between singles and doubles that were immediately noticeable – including scoring and strategy differences.
Singles Scoring – No Need to Call Out a 3rd Number!
Scoring in pickleball singles is similar to that of doubles, with the exception – as the name (singles) suggests – that there is no second server. As such, the server only calls out two numbers – the server’s score first, then the opponent’s score.
In singles, the serve is always executed 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 from the left side 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 combined score of the server and receiver. Because there is no second server, once the server loses the point, the serve reverts to the receiver.
Singles Strategies When Playing Pickleball
With twice the court to cover, singles requires a strategy that leverages quickness, anticipation and the ability to hit a variety of shots. As we played, several additional strategies quickly emerged:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 anticipate where their high percentage shots will go.
- 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.
Pickleball Singles – Final Analysis
Singles was a great change of pace from doubles. I loved the fact that tennis strategies can be more easily and effectively incorporated into the singles game. I’ve got to tell you, however – be prepared to run! With a pickleball court size only one-fourth to one-third the size of a tennis court, there is still a lot of ground to cover.
Singles was a blast. I look forward to playing more. See you on the pickleball courts!