Most of us usually play pickleball as a doubles game, but it’s also important to know how to play pickleball singles when the occasion arises.
Pickleball singles is a more challenging variation, as you have to cover your side of the court all on your own. That said, it can also be tons of fun and will improve your overall pickleball skills.
In this article, we'll delve into the similarities and differences between singles and doubles pickleball. We’ll also give some tips and strategies to improve your singles game.
How to play pickleball singles
Pickleball singles follow basically the same set of rules as doubles. The main difference is that you’re alone on your side of the court, without a partner to lean on. We’ll look at the technical differences between singles and doubles in more detail later.
Court positioning for serving in singles is the same as in doubles. You must be standing behind the baseline when you serve. The first serve is made from the right side of the court.
Throughout the game, players serve from the right side when their scores are even, and the left side when their scores are odd.
Whether you're playing doubles or singles, you should aim to get up to the non-volley zone (or 'kitchen') as soon as possible after a serve. Being in that position allows you to cut off your opponent’s angle shots.
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' by 44'. For singles, this gives you 440 square feet all to yourself.
The equipment needed for singles and doubles pickleball is identical. The balls are the same and the court is identical, along with the pickleball net height. Just as in doubles, you need a good quality pickleball paddle.
One bonus to singles is that you won’t need to worry about your outfit clashing with your teammate, so you can go as crazy as you want when it comes to choosing clothes for pickleball. Just so long as your shirt doesn't match the color of the ball!
Pickleball singles rules
As we’ve discussed, pickleball is predominantly played as a doubles game. However, pickleball singles is becoming more popular these days, especially among younger players and those with tennis backgrounds.
Singles used to involve very short bursts of action, maybe 3–4 shots back and forth. But as players start younger and are physically training more, it’s becoming a different game, with longer and more exciting rallies.
Server rules (and determining serving team)
Just like in doubles, the first serve in singles pickleball is taken from the right-hand side of the court. To determine who serves first, traditional methods are used, such as a coin toss.
If the server wins the rally (or scores an ace), they serve again, but this time, they move to the left-hand side of the court. They continue serving from alternate sides until they lose the rally or commit a fault.
Once a fault occurs, the service moves to the opponent (called a 'side-out'). If this is their first time to serve in the game, they serve from the right-hand side of the court.
As the game progresses, remembering your score is a simple way to know which side of the court you're serving from. If your score is an even number, then you serve from the right. If your score is odd, you serve from the left.
Learn more about serving rules in pickleball:
Scoring in singles pickleball is easier than in doubles because there is no third number. In doubles, the third number in a score indicates which teammate is serving, so it’s not used in singles.
The score in singles shows the number of points each player has won (e.g. 2–1). That score tells us the person with 2 points is currently serving, as the server’s score is always called first.
Scoring in pickleball couldn’t be simpler when it comes to singles. Just as in doubles, you must earn 11 points to win the game and be ahead by two points. Learn more about scoring in pickleball:
Volleys and double bounce
In the singles game, volley rules are identical to doubles: there’s no volleying in the kitchen (non-volley zone) and the 'double bounce rule' applies.
This means that the player receiving the serve must allow the ball to bounce before returning it. Once returned, the server must also let it bounce once. After that, it’s game on and shots can be volleyed back and forth without bouncing.
Learn more about the double bounce rule:
Line calls in singles pickleball are identical to doubles. If the ball lands outside of the lines and you clearly see a space between the ball and the line, the correct call is "out".
The benefit of the doubt is always given to your opponent. If you aren't sure, the call goes to your opponent's favor.
What are the differences between pickleball singles vs doubles?
As we’ve seen so far, singles pickleball is very similar to the doubles game. However, there are a few crucial differences.
Key differences between pickleball singles vs doubles
The main difference between singles and doubles pickleball is that you are on the court alone in singles. With no teammate to rely on, you have to cover the entire court yourself.
This is much more physically demanding and requires speed and agility, as well as a lot of strategy and shot placement.
Secondly, in singles pickleball, less of the play is concentrated near the net. While it’s beneficial for players to get to the kitchen line, it’s easy for one player to get trapped in the backcourt and unable to move.
In this way, the game tends to be more open, with longer shots. Since players are covering their entire side of the court, they’ll hit more ground strokes from the backcourt rather than block shots and angles from the kitchen line.
Another important difference is that singles can feel less friendly. When played recreationally, pickleball is a super social game, and the doubles format lends itself to that quality.
With four players bunched up on a small court, there’s plenty of opportunity for conversation and laughs.
With pickleball’s recent growth in popularity, there’s a lot of pressure for court time. Doubles play allows twice as many people to play at the same time, which is another reason it’s the favored format most of the time.
Reasons you should play pickleball singles over doubles
There are numerous benefits to playing singles that even those who prefer the doubles format can’t deny.
Firstly, all that running about is a great workout. You take significantly more steps per hour and burn more calories playing pickleball singles.
Player take around 3,322 steps per hour in a game of singles pickleball. In contrast, this number is around 2,790 steps in doubles. That’s 16% more when playing singles.
Pickleball singles will help you to hone your overall pickleball skills too. You'll be hitting groundstrokes from the backcourt, and sometimes shots on the run. When you return to playing doubles pickleball, covering half of the court will feel like a breeze!
Pickleball singles strategies: what separates pros from amateurs
Here are some strategies for singles pickleball:
- Hit your serve from near the middle T of the court to get yourself into position quickly for your next shot. This also helps to prevent your opponent from getting too much angle on their return.
- Serve deep to keep your opponent back behind the baseline and force them to make a longer return shot. Take care not to go too deep and out of bounds.
- When you are the receiver, hit an arcing and deep return shot
- Head for the middle of the court. After you hit your shot, move to a central position to avoid leaving a large space for your opponent to aim for.
- Aim for your opponent’s weak side (usually their backhand) and use their momentum against them. If you see them moving one way, hit your shot the other way, as it's very difficult to reverse that momentum.
Check out this strategy guide from USA Pickleball:
Other tips on how to win pickleball singles
- Identify your opponent’s weaknesses early.
- Be more aggressive – go for your shots.
- Deep returns are key.
- Settle into the game and stay positive.
How skinny singles pickleball works
Skinny singles is an alternative to standard singles, and is gaining popularity on courts across the US. Many players who usually avoid singles can get on board with skinny singles, and it’s also used effectively as a great pickleball drill.
What is the difference between pickleball singles vs skinny singles?
The difference is simple: only half the court is used. How the court is divided is where it becomes interesting. In skinny singles, there are two ways to split the court:
Down the line: You and your opponent play directly across the net from each other, changing sides with each serve, depending on the score.
Cross court: You and your opponent play in diagonal courts, changing to the opposite diagonal with each serve, depending on the score.
This variation of pickleball removes the challenge of covering the entire court by yourself, so it's less of a workout. It makes the game a little more like the doubles game, and you use the same shots and strategies as you would typically use in the doubles game.
Skinny singles pickleball rules
In skinny singles, only half of the court is used. This means the 440 square feet on your side of the net reduces to just 220 square feet, or 10’ by 22’.
‘Slender singles’ is a variation of skinny singles. In slender singles, the actual court is reduced in size by 20% by removing two feet of space on either side.
This makes for an even easier singles game than skinny singles, reducing some of the challenges that put many pickleheads off the singles game.
So folks, our guide on pickleball singles is coming to a close. After hearing our take on it, do you think you’d give it a go? If you’re already an avid player, what advice do you have for those wanting to try singles pickleball for the first time? Let us know on our social media. We always love hearing from you!
In the meantime, the next time you’re looking for a game, whether it’s singles or doubles, check out the sessions at your nearest court.