Pickleball Singles-Three Must Have Strategies
“Can pickleball be played as singles?” Yes! In fact, pickleball singles will improve your doubles game. You’ll be fitter and gain some strategy insights sure to impress your partner.
In this post, we’re going to focus on three key pickleball singles strategies and how they’ll improve your overall performance, regardless of your skill level.
If you haven’t often played singles, I recommend you check out this video to learn the pickleball singles rules and a version called skinny singles.
Overall, the strategy of singles play is similar to doubles. The person at the non-volley zone controls the point. Establishing yourself at the non-volley zone puts you in a position to limit your opponent’s reaction time.
Beyond getting to the kitchen line, these three strategies will improve your singles game.
Singles Pickleball Requires You to Take a Risk on the Serve
Notice I didn’t say deep serves or hard serves; I said riskier. How do I define a riskier pickleball serve? Any serve that elicits a short return.
Doubles players often approach the service with a “just get it in” mentality. If you’re simply thinking about getting the serve in, it usually lands somewhere in the middle of the court. A short serve makes it easier for your opponent to use their forward momentum to get to the no volley zone faster. Additionally, it puts the returner in a position to hit it deep in the court, placing the server further behind the baseline. That makes for a more challenging third shot for the person on the serving side.
This doesn’t mean it’s a power or spinning serve hit short.
The best service for the singles game has depth, two to three feet inside the baseline. That puts the returner 2-3 feet BEHIND the baseline. This virtually eliminates forward momentum and creates extra distance to the no volley zone. This means it’s less likely they’ll be able to establish themselves at the kitchen line in one shot.
Lastly, if you can force the returner to make a lateral movement, there’s a better chance of getting a short return to the center of the court, making the third shot easier for the server.
A serve that combines spin or power with depth is usually the most effective singles serve.
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A Deep Return is Premium
The double bounce rule is the same for pickleball singles; the server must allow the ball to bounce before they hit it. (tennis players that means no serve and volley) It also means that this rule allows the returner to become the offensive player since they are allowed to run to the net after they’ve hit, and the server has to stay on the baseline allowing the ball to bounce.
The returners’ goal is to make the servers third shot difficult. What makes for a difficult third shot?
It’s harder to execute a drop or drive from behind the baseline without the aid of forward momentum and takes most players out of their comfort zone. If you think it sounds a lot like the strategy behind the riskier serve, you’re right!
A deep return 2-3 feet inside the baseline is helpful, but it’s only one part of the equation.
A deep return that’s hit hard will get to your opponent faster, meaning they might be able to stop you before you get to the non-volley zone creating a more accessible opportunity for a passing shot. Since most of us aren’t as quick as the pro’s, we need a little extra time to get to the kitchen line. By hitting a SLIGHTLY HIGHER deep return, we get the benefits of depth, and the additional height means the return takes longer to get to our opponent. That gives us a few more seconds to get to the kitchen, and who couldn’t use a few more seconds?
The Power of the Passing Shot
If you’ve done your job as the returner and gotten to the non-volley zone, you’ve limited the servers’ third shot choices.
While you see the pros use the third shot drop reasonably frequently, that’s not always the best or easiest shot for us mere mortals, which makes most of us consider a drive. As often as I see players drive the ball in doubles, most of those groundstrokes are to the center of the court. In pickleball singles, if you drive the ball to the center, which is where your opponent is standing, a quick block from them reduces your time to react.
A more logical shot is the down the line passing shot. But how often in doubles do you see a player driving the ball down the line? While they may be able to execute the shot, doubles players so rarely use it that they may not have much confidence in it.
Let me clarify what I mean by a down the line passing shot. I am not thinking of a hard passing shot with perfect placement right on the line. I’m thinking of hitting a bullet between my opponent and the line that makes them stretch a bit. The stretch increases the likely hood that the paddle face will open, creating a higher return. Downline skinny singles offer the chance to practice your passing shot.
Adding a down the line passing shot to your arsenal is extremely useful in doubles when there’s a big, tall person trying to dominate the center of the court. The downline shot makes them defend the sideline and confines them more to their side of the court
Pickleball Singles Conclusion
Click on this video for examples.
Hopefully, you’ve seen that the strategy for singles is a little different than doubles. Most people find that when they’re without a partner, they focus more effectively on the shots needed to win.
Oh, and did I mention singles pickleball will make you more fit? Yeah, that too!
CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J.
Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well
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Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)
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Great tips. I work with students on these. Good that I can send them to this site for confirmation.
I play with Gearbox.
I’m with you Oike, I really enjoy the Gearbox.
Great instructions easy to understand
At 70+ I love playing singles. Mostly full court where, much like tennis, it’s a baseline game while attempting to move the opponent and force him to make a short soft return which I can come in on and out away. When playing skinny, either diagonal or cross court I play much like doubles and use a soft deep return to get to the NVZ… I actually like full court better as it really improves deep ball placement. Love to see an opponent run sideline to sideline!
I like full court too but have a limited number of players who will use the full court. Oh well, skinny singles is fun and challenging too.