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Singles Pickleball Strategies | Tips For Beginner To Advanced

singles pro pickleball
(picture Nick Uzunyan)

Looking to play singles pickleball? You are in for a game that tests your agility, strategy, and resilience. Unlike doubles, singles play in pickleball puts you alone on your side of the court, challenging you to cover more ground and make every shot count. 

Some strategies for singles pickleball include serving deep, maneuvering around the non-volley zone line, and optimizing shot placement. 

Whether you’re looking to improve your singles game or new in the game, these tips and strategies will help you dominate the court.

Singles vs Doubles Pickleball:

Singles and doubles pickleball, while similar in many ways, have distinct differences that significantly impact how you play the game. Here are three for you to know:

Court Coverage

In singles, you’re alone on your side of the court, responsible for covering the entire area. This demands high fitness and agility, as you need to move quickly to reach your opponent’s shots.

In contrast, doubles play involves a partner, meaning you only need to cover half the court. This difference affects your positioning and movement strategy, with singles requiring more endurance and speed.

Serve and Scoring

In singles pickleball, the serve must be diagonal, but you only have one serve opportunity per point. The server’s score determines the side from which they serve – if it’s even, they serve from the right side, and if odd, from the left.

In doubles, both players on a team have the opportunity to serve before the service changes to the opposing team. 

This means that doubles matches often have longer sequences of service opportunities, affecting the game’s rhythm and strategy.

Strategic Play

The strategy in singles is different than in doubles. Singles play often involves more baseline and groundstroke shots, as players have to cover the entire court. You’ll find singles players utilizing deep serves and long shots to move their opponent around the court.

In doubles, there’s a greater focus on volleys and shots in the non-volley zone, with players working in tandem to create openings and dominate the net area.

Singles Pickleball Strategy 1: Deep Backhand Serve And Return Aggressively

The ‘serve deep to baseline’ strategy in singles pickleball is a classic but useful strategy. It’s about maximizing the distance your opponent must cover, putting them under immediate pressure. You also get to control the rally from the start with this strategy.

When you serve, aim to hit the ball deep toward your opponent’s baseline. This forces them to hit their return from behind the baseline, limiting their ability to create aggressive angles.

Since the ball takes time to travel from the baseline to you, you have a lot of time to decide what to do with the return. In many cases, players like to return these shots aggressively. 

They move into the non-volley zone and then anticipate the ball for a quick return at a steep angle. 

To execute this service effectively, focus on two things: precision and power. The serve must land close to the baseline but within bounds. 

Practice serving to different areas near the baseline – both to the left and right sides of the court. This keeps your opponent guessing and prevents them from anticipating your serve.

Another insider tip is to observe your opponent’s position. If they stand close to the baseline, a deep serve can push them back, while if they are further back, a powerful serve can catch them off guard. The goal is to disrupt their rhythm and force them to hit a defensive return.

Singles Pickleball Strategy 2: Ensure You Can Cover The Court

Effective court coverage in singles pickleball is vital for dominating the game. Unlike doubles, where you have a partner to share the court, singles demand that you cover the entire area alone. This requires strategic movement and keen awareness.

Firstly, position yourself in the middle of the court. This central position allows you to reach shots on either side with minimal movement. It’s a balance between being close enough to the net to attack yet far enough back to defend deep shots.

During a rally, your movement should be fluid and efficient. Anticipate your opponent’s next shot by observing their body language and paddle position. For instance, if they’re preparing for a backhand, you might shift slightly towards that side, ready to cut off their angle.

Agility plays a key role. Practice lateral movements and quick sprints during your training sessions. These exercises improve your ability to quickly cover ground on the pickleball court. 

Also, work on your recovery steps – after hitting a shot, quickly return to your central position to be ready for the next ball.

Remember, in singles, every shot you make can be a tool to manipulate your opponent’s position. Use deep serves and groundstrokes to push them back, then hit a drop shot to bring them forward. 

This constant movement wears down your opponent, giving you a strategic advantage.

Pickleball Singles Strategy 3: Play The Mind Game

Psychological warfare in singles pickleball is a subtle yet powerful aspect of the game. It’s about outsmarting your opponent, not just with physical skills but with mental strategies, too.

Unlike doubles pickleball, you do not have a partner to help you on this side of the game. This means you need to be able to stay mentally strong on your own. This can be a challenge for many.

One key element is maintaining a calm and composed demeanor. In high-pressure situations, showing frustration or disappointment can give your opponent a psychological edge. 

Instead, keep a neutral expression, especially after losing a point. This unflappable attitude can be disconcerting to your opponent, making them question their strategy.

Another tactic is varying your shots to keep your opponent guessing. If you notice they struggle with backhand returns, for instance, target that area. 

But don’t become predictable – mix in some unexpected shots to the opposite side of the court or surprise them with a sudden drop shot. This unpredictability can cause your opponent to second-guess their next move.

Also, pay attention to their body language and playing patterns. If they show signs of fatigue or loss of stamina, increase the rally’s pace. Force them to move around the court, hitting shots to the corners and deep to the baseline. 

However, if they seem to gain momentum, slow down the game with softer shots, disrupting their rhythm.

How To Position Myself In Singles Pickleball?

When playing singles pickleball, positioning is key to controlling the game. Unlike doubles, where you share responsibilities, singles require you to cover the entire court alone. This demands strategic positioning and movement.

Look At The Scores: Always be aware of the score, especially the server’s score, as it dictates the side of the court from which you serve. This can influence your initial positioning and strategy for the rally. Serving positions in singles pickleball is the same as in doubles.

Stay In the Middle Of Court: Central to singles strategy is staying near the middle of the court. This position allows you to respond to shots on either side without overcommitting. When your opponent hits the ball, move towards it, but try to return to the center quickly.

This tactic cuts off your opponent’s angles and keeps you in a better position for the next shot. Staying in the middle also helps you cover the entire court quickly, moving from sideline to sideline and up and down the court. 

Behind The Baseline: After serving or returning, aim to position yourself behind the baseline. This gives you time to react to your opponent’s shots. A deep position is particularly effective against opponents who favor powerful groundstrokes or deep serves. 

However, be ready to move forward if you see an opportunity to hit a drop shot or a volley, especially when your opponent is behind their baseline. 

Use Pickleball Singles Rules To Your Advantage

Mastering singles pickleball involves understanding its unique strategies. Unlike doubles, you cover the entire court alone, requiring agility and strategic shot placement. 

Key tactics include deep serves to challenge your opponent, efficient use of the non-volley zone, and adapting your game based on the server’s score. 

Whether it’s a groundstroke battle or a carefully placed passing shot, every move counts. Embrace these tips to enhance your singles game and become a formidable pickler on the pickleball court.

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About Dan Langston

With experience in the ecotourism industry and time well spent as a fly fishing guide in the remote absaroka mountain range for 6 years, Dan brings a unique perspective on customer service to the digital world. As the operator, Dan is now committed to revitalizing Pickleball Portal and plans to build a support system for content creators and provide helpful information for the pickleball community. dan@pickleballportal.com

4 thoughts on “Singles Pickleball Strategies | Tips For Beginner To Advanced”

  1. You dismissed the short serve too quickly for my likeing.
    I play singles with a friend who has a very accurate short serve that just gets over the kitchen line and gives me fits. He uses it from both serving sides. I’ve tried to pick up his pre serve routine but he’s too smart to show me enough to predict when he is going to use it. If I cheat and set up inside the base line he powers his serve long making it tough for me to adjust so I mostly play back of the base line on his serves.

    Any thoughts on how besst to defend that short serve?

  2. Coming to pickleball from 40+ years of competitive tennis, it’s nice finally hear someone acknowledge that winning in singles requires hitting winners, just like in tennis, rather than waiting for a mistake at the kitchen. If a ball is attackable, a good player should do just that…but when they have a tennis background everyone calls them a “banger” even though they hit an outright winner or forced someone to be off balance. I have a feeling that once this sport attracts the young players, the game will evolve just like it did in tennis.

  3. Hitting winners whether on the attack or when your opponent runs to the net feels exhilarating.

    Singles pickle ball is awesome because you can hit crazy winners on the offense or defense!


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