This past Thursday at Woodside – presented with an open pickleball court (a rare occasion) and not enough people to play doubles – my friend 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.
Pickleball Singles Scoring Rules
Singles scoring was a bit confusing at first, but we quickly caught on. Here are three important scoring rules to remember when playing singles:
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 When Playing Singles
As the name (singles) implies – that 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 the Side from Which to Serve
In singles, 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 nor the combined score of the server and receiver.
Beginner 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. Here are six.
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 anticipate 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.
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!
When playing singles and accepting the serve is it mandatory to remain behind the baseline or is OK to stand anywhere?
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.
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?
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.
Is there a such thing as an “ace” in pickle ball like there is in tennis?
Hi Sherry, The terminology is the same as that in tennis. An ace would be a serve that isn’t touched by the receiving player.
Rick Kendall says
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
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.
Excellent, Janice. Thank you for your feedback. I wholeheartedly agree!
Lillian Clark says
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 for your question. I just wrote a blog post about 3-person pickleball drills that you may wish to try. You can view that post here: https://www.pickleballmax.com/2015/10/3-person-pickleball-drills/. Hope that helps!