Singles pickleball strategy is much different than doubles’ pickleball. High-level doubles players must master the finesse game; drops, dinks, and resets become vital while waiting for the perfect moment to speed up a point.
In singles, not so much. Many experienced tennis players are able to pick up a pickleball paddle (not racquet!) and play competent singles within one short session.
Whether you are a new pickleball player or an advanced doubles player, singles pickleball is definitely worth a go.
Aside from being an excellent workout, it will also dramatically improve your doubles game by making you quickly improve your serve, return, passing shots, ground strokes, and volleys, or… suffer the consequences.
Here are the top 10 best strategy points of emphasis to zero in on to take your singles game to the next level!
1. Work on your serve
You aren’t playing doubles anymore, where you can just loft a serve over the net that lands somewhere in the kitchen and get ready to hit a nice little drop shot.
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Try out a few cupcake serves versus competent singles players, and they will crush the ball back to you, setting themselves up for an easy putaway volley.
Getting on the pickleball court with a bucket of balls and putting in time working on power, placement, accuracy, spin, and variation of serve will be huge for your singles game.
If you don’t have time for all that, at the very least, develop a solid deep serve that lands in play and you will be on your way.
2. You need a good return of serve
You may have seen this one coming. Equally important, if not more so, than a good serve in singles pickleball is a good return of serve. A deep return that is well-placed will give you time to get up to the kitchen line and be ready to volley.
A good return will also ensure that your opponent is less likely to blast a passing shot by you.
3. Identify and attack your opponent’s weaknesses
Many players have weaker backhands than forehands, so start out hitting serves and returns there. If they start crushing two-handed backhands down the line and cross-court that go whizzing right by you, try the forehand.
The point is, find out what shots and situations they are really trying to avoid and focus on putting them in those very spots as much as possible. Seem ruthless? It is! But it kind of has to be. A pickleball does not bounce very high, so the margin for error in singles is not great.
You have a lot of court to cover in a short amount of time, so getting strategic is vital to any level of success.
4. Know when to charge the kitchen line and when to hang back
Volleying at the kitchen line is a powerful and important strategy in singles pickleball, but knowing when to use it is paramount. A lot of new players tend to hit a soft return down the center line and race up to the non-volley zone, just in time to see the ball fly by for a winner.
When you have hit a deep ball with some pace and your opponent has to hit it on the move, that is often the time to sprint up to the kitchen and get into a ready position.
This will take a bit of practice to identify the right moments to go, but once you do, it will lead to many easy points.
5. Develop good drives
In an ideal world, you are able to drive and drop on the forehand and backhand side with ease. Unfortunately, this world is not always ideal, so you may not possess every tool.
That is okay; you just have to work on it.
Practice hitting drives low to the net with good pace and topspin. Hit them down the line and cross court over and over again. Unlike in doubles, where you don’t necessarily need groundstrokes, in singles pickleball, there really is no replacement for power and accuracy.
6. Third-shot drives are key
Again, unlike doubles, where you must have a good third shot drop to progress, in singles, you don’t need one nearly as much. Power, speed, and accuracy are king in singles.
So if you see your opponent return the ball a little short or in a good pocket for you to take a swing at it, let ‘er rip. See if you can catch them moving forward and leaning in a direction and go the other way to pass them and score yourself a well-deserved point.
7. Let out balls go
This is a widely overlooked skill in doubles pickleball as well, but in singles can get you easy points and ultimately save you precious energy. “If it’s shoulder high, let it fly” is the conventional wisdom, and it generally holds true when standing at the kitchen line.
Whatever mental/visual tricks work best for you, try and really pay attention and work on not volleying balls that would otherwise sail out of bounds. This is an easy way to make you a much better singles player.
8. Read your opponent’s positioning/tendencies
You can hang with and even beat players much better than you by being observant and smart. When you are at the kitchen line and they are winding up, try to note their body and paddle orientation. If you do this you may start to see clues to where they will hit the ball before it takes place.
Similarly, try to notice patterns and preferences. Do they love to hit down the line? Are they big cross-court passers? Observing and recognizing patterns can give your brain information ahead of time, allowing you to prepare and react instantly and make you feel like you are lightning fast.
9. Play the angles
After a good return, don’t just sprint up and take a spot right in the middle of the court. Instead, position yourself such that you may more readily intercept a passing shot by moving forward intelligently (keeping angles and geometry in mind).
According to whatever side of the court you hit to and how short or deep you hit it, you may need to move a little to the left or right of the center to accomplish this.
10. Don’t abandon finesse
You may have developed a really nice soft/dink game in doubles. Don’t think that was all for nothing in singles! Picking your spots to hit a drop or dink in singles can be just as devastating as a ferocious passing shot.
If you are behind the baseline on your back foot and a fast topspin shot is coming at you, a drop may serve you better than a poor attempt at a pass. Similarly, hitting a reset from the mid-court or a targetted dink can upset an opponent’s pace and put you in a position to attack on the next shot or two.
Singles pickleball is a wonderful cardiovascular workout and a great way to work on vital components of the doubles game, while having fun. Utilize these 10 tips and you will be climbing the ladder at your local court in no time!