If you’ve played singles previously, you undoubtedly know all too well that playing singles in pickleball is very different than playing doubles. It has the feel of an almost entirely different game. Whereas doubles is more about precision, patience and placement, singles tends to reward power, speed and stamina.
Although there are certainly similar strategies that can be transferred over from the doubles game, a bigger emphasis is placed on each, as you – and only you – are now covering the full 20′ width of the court. So, without further ado, here are my top 10 strategies for playing winning singles pickleball – some of which can be transferred over from the doubles game – and some of which are unique to singles.
1. Serve it Deep
While this strategy is also applicable to doubles, it is exponentially more important in singles. A short serve creates an easy opportunity for the returner to return the serve deep into one of the corners – severely complicating your attempt at a third shot pass or drop. Therefore, serve the ball deep and attempt to elicit a short return that you can drive with your next shot.
2. Return it Deep
The number two strategy when playing singles is to return the ball deep – preferably hard and to one of the corners. That deep return – and well-placed return – will make for a difficult passing shot from your opponent.
3. Position Yourself Near the Middle Line When Serving
Serving position is a bit different in singles than when playing doubles – simply because you have the entire court to cover.
Give yourself a better opportunity to reach all returns, whether they be cross-court or down-the-line, by serving from the middle.
4. Follow your Return-of-Serve to the Non-Volley Line
Similar to doubles, follow your return-of-serve to the non-volley line whenever possible. The server will have to let the ball bounce on their side – and, with a good return, you will have the advantage at the line. Although the advantage will not be as pronounced as in doubles, you will still have the advantage – particularly if your return was deep and to one of the corners!
5. Know Angles & Court Positioning Concepts
When returning serve and advancing to the non-volley line, don’t just race up and position yourself smack-dab in the middle of the court at the non-volley line, regardless of where you returned the ball. Rather, strategically (with angles and geometry in mind) advance and position yourself so that you can more easily intercept the ensuing passing shot. That may mean advancing slightly left or right of center – depending, of course, on which side of the court to which you hit and how short or deep you hit it.
6. Learn to Drive the Ball Down-the-Line
When pulled wide near the sideline, hitting the ball straight ahead (down-the-line) results in a ball that gets to your opponent’s side of the net the quickest. If you don’t believe that, remember from your geometry days that “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” Use this to your advantage when hitting passing shots and go down-the-line. It will give your opponent the least amount of time to react.
7. “Run Around” your Backhand
Shhhhh. Surely you didn’t hear me say that!!! Well, maybe just this one time. Most of us can drive a forehand much harder than we can drive a backhand.
8. Hit Behind your Opponent & Wrong-Foot ‘Em
This is one of my favorite strategies to employ in singles. As you are moving your opponent side-to-side during a rally and they are racing to cover the “open” court, hit the ball behind them. They will be unlikely to recover in time and the ball will go whizzing behind them.
9. Exploit your Opponent’s Weaker Side
Virtually everyone has a side that is weaker than the other. For most of us, that side is the backhand. Exploit that weaker side. Serve to the weaker side. Hit returns to the weaker side. It just makes sense. Duh.
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10. Don’t Forget the Soft Game
While the soft game is critically important in doubles – it’s not quite as important when playing singles. However, the game is certainly evolving and the soft games – with well-placed dinks and drops – is becoming much more prevalent in “today’s” game. If you are fleet-of-foot and can generate and anticipate angles you will certainly want to experiment with dinks and drops. It will add a whole new dimension to your singles game.
There you have it – ten strategies that will surely help your singles game. If you haven’t yet played singles, I highly recommend it. Not only will it improve your fitness and conditioning, but it will also help you think much more strategically on the pickleball court. And skills that you work on in singles will translate quite well to your doubles game.
See you on the courts.