How to Play Singles in Pickleball: Rules, Equipment and Strategies

Female pickleball player in mid-action, returning a ball with a backhand stroke.

How to Play Singles in Pickleball: A Clear Guide for Beginners

Singles pickleball is a popular variation of the traditional game that is played with two players on either side of the court. Unlike doubles pickleball, singles pickleball requires players to cover the entire court on their own, making it a more physically demanding game. However, it can also be more isolating, as players do not have a partner to rely on.

To play singles pickleball, players will need to understand the rules and equipment required for the game. This includes a pickleball paddle, a perforated plastic ball, and knowledge of court dimensions, serving, and scoring. Strategies for singles pickleball will also differ from those used in doubles, as players must rely solely on their own movement and positioning on the court (if you’re looking to build your own pickleball court, check this guide out).

Female pickleball player returning a bright pink ball on a dedicated court at a public park.
Amidst the green of a public park, a dedicated pickleball single female player shines, sending a vibrant pink ball soaring in return.

Key Takeaways:

  • Singles pickleball is a more physically demanding game than doubles, as players must cover the entire court on their own.
  • To play singles pickleball, players will need to understand the rules and equipment required for the game, as well as strategies for movement and positioning on the court.
  • Unlike doubles pickleball, singles pickleball can be more isolating, as players do not have a partner to rely on.

Understanding Pickleball

Pickleball is a sport that is played on a court with a net, similar to tennis. It is a game that can be played by people of all ages and skill levels. The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes.

Gorgeous blonde model playing tennis in the afternoon sun, showcasing the sport's faster pace compared to pickleball.
As the sun casts its golden hue, a blonde model captures the swift rhythm of tennis, a dance decidedly brisker than the exchanges in pickleball.

Pickleball Rules

The rules of pickleball are relatively simple and easy to understand. The game can be played in singles or doubles. The objective of the game is to score points by hitting the ball over the net and into the opponent’s court. The game is played to 11 points, and the winner must win by two points.

Pickleball Court

The pickleball court is similar in size to a badminton court. It is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for doubles play, and 20 feet wide and 22 feet long for singles play. The net is hung at 36 inches at the ends and 34 inches in the middle.

Pickleball Gear

The gear required to play pickleball is minimal. Players need a paddle, a ball, and appropriate footwear. The paddle is similar to a table tennis paddle and can be made of wood or composite materials. The ball is made of plastic and has holes in it. Players should wear shoes with non-marking soles to protect the court surface.

Singles Vs Doubles in Pickleball

Singles and doubles are two different formats of playing pickleball. In singles, one player plays against another player, while in doubles, two players play against two other players. Both formats have their own unique rules and strategies.

Differences between Singles and Doubles Pickleball

The main difference between singles and doubles pickleball is the number of players on the court. In singles, there is only one player on each side of the court, while in doubles, there are two players on each side of the court. This difference affects the way the game is played, and the strategies that players use.

Another major difference between singles and doubles pickleball is the scoring system. In singles, players only have one serve, and the score is kept with two numbers, such as 3-2. In doubles, players have two serves each, and the score is kept with three numbers, such as 0-2-2. The third number in doubles refers to the person who serves in the team.

Which Format to Choose?

Deciding whether to play singles or doubles pickleball is a personal choice. Some players prefer singles because they enjoy the challenge of playing alone. Others prefer doubles because they enjoy the social aspect of playing with a partner.

It is important to note that playing singles requires more movement and covers a larger area of the court. This can be challenging for some players, especially those who are new to the game. On the other hand, doubles requires more communication and coordination between partners.

Strategies for Singles and Doubles Pickleball

The strategies for singles and doubles pickleball are different. In singles, players must cover the entire court themselves, which means they need to be quick and agile. They must also be able to hit the ball with power and accuracy to win points.

In doubles, players must work together to cover the court and communicate effectively. They must also be able to anticipate their opponents’ moves and adjust their strategy accordingly. In doubles, players can also use different formations, such as the “I” formation, to confuse their opponents and gain an advantage.

Popularity of Singles Pickleball

Singles pickleball is becoming increasingly popular among pickleball players. While doubles pickleball is more commonly played, singles pickleball provides a unique and challenging experience for players who prefer to play alone.

Many players enjoy singles pickleball because it allows them to focus on their individual skills and strategy. In doubles pickleball, players must work together with their partner, but in singles pickleball, players have complete control over their side of the court.

Singles pickleball is also a great way for players to improve their fitness and endurance. Since there is only one player on each side of the court, players must cover more ground and move quickly to reach the ball.

Equipment Required for Singles Pickleball

To play singles pickleball, you will need the same equipment as for doubles pickleball. The equipment includes a pickleball paddle and a pickleball ball.

Pickleball Paddle

A pickleball paddle is a racket used to hit the pickleball. It is an essential piece of equipment that you cannot play without. The paddle can be made of wood, composite materials, or graphite.

The paddle should be comfortable to hold and fit your hand size and grip style. It is important to choose a paddle that suits your playing style and level of experience.

Pickleball Ball

The pickleball ball is a plastic ball with holes in it. It is designed to be lightweight and bouncy, making it easy to hit and control. The ball comes in different colours, but the most common colours are yellow and white.

When playing singles pickleball, you will need to have several balls on hand. This is because you only have one serve, and if you hit the ball out of bounds or into the net, you will need to retrieve it and serve again.

Pickleball Gear

In addition to a paddle and ball, there is other gear that you may want to consider for playing singles pickleball. This includes:

  • Pickleball shoes: Shoes with good traction and support are essential for playing pickleball.
  • Pickleball bag: A bag to carry your equipment and balls is helpful for keeping everything organized and in one place.
  • Pickleball gloves: Gloves can provide extra grip and protection from blisters.
  • Pickleball hat or visor: A hat or visor can help keep the sun out of your eyes and improve your visibility on the court.

Rules of Singles Pickleball

Singles pickleball is played with two players on opposite sides of the court. The objective of the game is to score points by hitting the ball over the net and landing it within the boundaries of the opponent’s court. Here are some of the key rules of singles pickleball:

  • Scoring: The game is played to 11 points, and the winner must win by two points. Only the server can score a point. If the server wins a rally, they continue to serve. If the receiver wins a rally, they become the server. The server starts on the right-hand side of the court and switches sides after each point is scored.
  • Serving: The server must stand behind the baseline and serve the ball diagonally to the opponent’s service court. The serve must clear the net and land within the boundaries of the service court. If the serve lands out of bounds or hits the net, it is a fault and the opponent receives a point and the serve.
  • Double Bounce Rule: After the serve, each side must make at least one groundstroke before volleying the ball. This means that the ball must bounce once on each side of the court before either player can hit it in the air. After the two bounces, the ball can be volleyed or hit in the air.
  • Faults: A fault occurs when a player violates one of the rules of the game. Common faults include hitting the ball out of bounds, hitting the net with the ball or the paddle, or failing to clear the kitchen (the non-volley zone) when volleying the ball.
  • Line Calls: In pickleball, players are responsible for making their own line calls. If a player is unsure whether a ball is in or out of bounds, they should give the benefit of the doubt to their opponent and call the ball out.

By following these rules, players can enjoy a fair and competitive game of singles pickleball.

Court Dimensions for Singles Pickleball

The court dimensions for singles pickleball are the same as for doubles pickleball. The court is a rectangular shape, 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. All lines should be 2 inches wide and the same color, clearly visible and distinguishable from the surrounding surface.

The court measurements are made to the outside of the lines. The total playing area is 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, which gives players room to volley balls that bounce within the lines but travel beyond them. However, the USAPA recommends extending the dimensions out to 34 feet by 64 feet whenever possible.

It is important to note that unlike in tennis, where the singles court sidelines are marked well within the sidelines of the doubles tennis court, there is no difference in the size of a pickleball court for singles and doubles. For both versions, the dimensions of a pickleball court are 20 feet by 44 feet. For singles, this gives you 440 square feet all to yourself.

When playing singles pickleball, it is important to remember that the court is smaller than a tennis court. This means that the player needs to be quick and agile to cover the court and reach the ball. The smaller court also means that the player has less time to react to the ball, so it is important to be alert and ready to move at all times.

Serving in Singles Pickleball

Serving is a crucial part of pickleball, and it’s no different in singles pickleball. The serving player has the advantage to start the rally and score points. Here are some key points to keep in mind when serving in singles pickleball:

  • The server must stand behind the baseline and serve diagonally to the opponent’s service box.
  • The serve must be underhand, and the paddle must contact the ball below the waist level.
  • The serve must land in the opponent’s service box, and it cannot touch any part of the non-volley zone or the net.
  • The server must alternate the service box after every point. If the server wins an even-numbered point, they must serve from the right-hand service box. If they win an odd-numbered point, they must serve from the left-hand service box.
  • The server has only one attempt to serve in singles pickleball. If the serve is a fault, the opponent gets the point and the serve.

To make a big and deep serve, the server can use different techniques, such as:

  • Slice serve: A slice serve is hit with sidespin that causes the ball to curve in the air and bounce away from the opponent. It’s an effective serve to use against opponents who struggle with backhand shots.
  • Topspin serve: A topspin serve is hit with topspin that causes the ball to bounce higher and faster. It’s an aggressive serve that puts pressure on the opponent to return the ball accurately.
  • Flat serve: A flat serve is hit with no spin, and it travels straight and fast through the air. It’s a reliable serve that can catch the opponent off guard.

The serving team must also be aware of the rules regarding service faults. If the server commits a fault, such as serving out of bounds or into the net, the opponent gets the point and the serve. It’s essential to practice serving to avoid committing faults and losing points in singles pickleball.

Scoring in Singles Pickleball

Scoring in singles pickleball is relatively simple compared to doubles. The score is called out as the server’s score followed by the receiver’s score. Since there is only one player on each side of the court, the score will always be two numbers.

Points can only be scored by the server, and the receiving side cannot score a point. The first serve always starts on the even/right-hand side of the court. If the server wins the rally, they get the next serve from the odd/left-hand side of the court. If they lose the rally, the serve goes to the other player, and they start serving from the even/right-hand side of the court.

The first player to reach 11 points, with a lead of two points, wins the game. However, if the score reaches 10-10, the game continues until one player has a two-point lead.

It’s important to note that the server’s score is always called first, followed by the receiver’s score. For example, if the server has five points and the receiver has three points, the score is called out as “5-3.”

In singles pickleball, the server must serve diagonally to the opponent’s service court, and the receiver must stand behind the baseline until the ball is struck. If the server misses the serve or hits the ball out of bounds, it’s a fault, and the receiver gets a point. If the receiver misses the return, hits the ball out of bounds, or commits a fault, the server gets a point and continues serving.

Strategies for Singles Pickleball

In singles pickleball, the player has to cover twice the amount of court space compared to doubles. Therefore, it’s essential to have a next-level fitness level. However, clever gameplay alone is not enough. The player must have a solid strategy to win. Here are some strategies that will help players improve their singles pickleball game:

1. Control the Pace of the Game

In singles pickleball, controlling the pace of the game is crucial. The player should aim to keep the ball in play and force their opponent to make mistakes. When the player is serving, they should vary the speed and placement of the serve to keep their opponent off balance.

2. Use Power and Control

The player should use a combination of power and control to keep their opponent on their toes. They should aim to hit the ball hard and accurately to make it difficult for their opponent to return. At the same time, they should avoid hitting the ball too hard, as it may result in an unforced error.

3. Placement and Angles

The player should aim to hit the ball to the corners of the court to make it difficult for their opponent to return. They should also use angles to their advantage, hitting the ball crosscourt or down the line to keep their opponent guessing.

4. Passing Shots and Drop Shots

The player should use passing shots and drop shots to keep their opponent off balance. Passing shots are shots hit past the opponent, while drop shots are shots hit with a soft touch, causing the ball to land just over the net.

5. Lobbing

Lobbing is a useful strategy in singles pickleball, especially when the opponent is at the net. The player should aim to hit the ball high and deep to force their opponent to retreat to the baseline.

6. Vary Your Shots

The player should vary their shots to keep their opponent off balance. They should mix up their shots, hitting the ball hard and soft, crosscourt and down the line, and using different spins.

7. Anticipate

Anticipation is key in singles pickleball. The player should try to anticipate their opponent’s next shot and position themselves accordingly. They should also be ready to move quickly and adjust their position to return the ball.

Movement and Positioning in Singles Pickleball

Movement and positioning are crucial aspects of singles pickleball. In singles pickleball, players must cover the entire court on their own, making it important to move efficiently and position themselves strategically.

To move effectively, players should use small, quick steps to maintain balance and control. They should also keep their weight on the balls of their feet, allowing them to move in any direction quickly. Footwork is essential in singles pickleball, and players should practice moving forward, backward, and side-to-side to improve their agility.

When it comes to positioning, players should aim to keep their opponent moving and take advantage of open court areas. The non-volley zone (NVZ) is a critical area to consider when positioning in singles pickleball. Players should aim to stay out of the NVZ as much as possible to avoid committing a fault.

Players should also be aware of the non-volley zone line and the centerline, as these lines can significantly impact their positioning on the court. For example, when serving, players should aim to serve near the centerline to make it more challenging for their opponent to return the ball effectively.

Finally, players should aim to force their opponent to use their backhand by positioning themselves to hit the ball towards their opponent’s weaker side. Players should also look to hit the ball into the corners of the court to make it more challenging for their opponent to return the ball.

Physical Demands of Singles Pickleball

Singles pickleball is a physically demanding sport that requires players to have a good level of fitness and stamina. The game involves a lot of running, jumping, and quick movements that can put a strain on the body. Players must be able to move quickly and change direction at a moment’s notice.

Cardiovascular fitness is essential for singles pickleball players. The game requires a lot of running and jumping, which can quickly raise the heart rate. Players must be able to maintain a high level of cardiovascular fitness to keep up with the demands of the game.

In addition to cardio, singles pickleball also requires strength. Players must be able to hit the ball with power and accuracy, which requires good upper body strength. Strong legs are also essential for running and jumping.

Stamina is another important aspect of singles pickleball. The game can last for a long time, and players must be able to maintain their energy levels throughout. Endurance training can help improve stamina and allow players to play at a high level for longer periods.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When playing singles in pickleball, there are a few common mistakes that players tend to make. These mistakes can cost you points and ultimately the game. Here are some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them:

Faults

One of the most common mistakes in singles pickleball is committing faults. A fault is when a player violates a rule of the game, such as stepping into the non-volley zone or hitting the ball out of bounds. To avoid committing faults, players should make sure to stay within the boundaries of the court and avoid stepping into the non-volley zone unless they are hitting a ball that has bounced.

Errors

Another common mistake in singles pickleball is making errors. An error is when a player makes a mistake, such as hitting the ball into the net or hitting it out of bounds. To avoid making errors, players should focus on their footwork and positioning, and make sure to aim for the centre of the court rather than the sidelines.

Weak Side

Finally, many players struggle with their weak side in singles pickleball. This is the side of the court that a player is less comfortable playing on, usually their backhand side. To avoid getting caught on their weak side, players should practice hitting on their backhand side and work on improving their footwork and positioning.

By avoiding these common mistakes, players can improve their game and increase their chances of winning in singles pickleball.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the scoring system for pickleball singles?

In pickleball singles, the scoring system is the same as in doubles. The first player to score 11 points and be ahead by at least 2 points wins the game. A match is usually the best of three games.

How many serves do you get in singles pickleball?

In singles pickleball, each player only has one serve per point. If the serve is faulted, the player loses the serve and the opponent gets a point. If the serve is good, the players continue to play until one player faults or hits the ball out of bounds.

What are the rules for returning a serve in pickleball singles?

The rules for returning a serve in pickleball singles are the same as in doubles. The returner must let the ball bounce once before hitting it and must hit it back to the server’s court. If the returner hits the ball out of bounds or into the net, the server gets a point. If the returner hits the ball into the non-volley zone, the server gets the right to step into the non-volley zone and hit the ball.

What are the dimensions of a pickleball singles court?

The dimensions of a pickleball singles court are the same as in doubles. The court is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The non-volley zone is 7 feet from the net on both sides. The service court is 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, with the centreline dividing it into two equal parts.

Are the court lines different for pickleball singles and doubles?

The court lines for pickleball singles and doubles are the same. The only difference is that the boundary lines for singles are narrower than for doubles. The sidelines are 2 feet inside the doubles sidelines, and the baseline is 1 foot inside the doubles baseline.

What are the rules for playing skinny singles in pickleball?

Skinny singles is a variant of pickleball singles where the court is divided in half, making it 10 feet wide and 44 feet long. The rules for playing skinny singles are the same as for regular singles, except that the court is narrower. The non-volley zone is still 7 feet from the net, but it is only 2 feet wide.

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