Pickleball Singles vs Doubles: Scoring, Rules, and Strategies

Est. Reading: 5 minutes

Like tennis, you can play pickleball in singles or doubles, which is more popular. As the names suggest, singles pickleball is played by two players one-on-one, while doubles are played by four players two-on-two. Although both formats offer a unique and exciting experience on the court, they have some similarities and differences that you should know. So, without further ado, let's discuss them in full detail.

Similarities Between Pickleball Singles and Doubles

Despite having different numbers of players, pickleball singles and doubles have a lot in common. First, both have the exact court dimensions and net height, and players use the same paddles and balls. They also use the same scoring system - points are scored when the serving side wins a rally. In both formats, the serve must be made diagonally across the net and within the opponent's service court.

Singles and doubles in pickleball also share some common faults, such as stepping into the non-volley zone (the "kitchen") during a volley or not clearing the net with the serve. Players from both formats cannot volley the ball (hit it out of the air) while standing inside this zone. And lastly, the boundary lines on the court are also the same, determining whether the ball is in or out of play.

Key Differences Between Singles and Doubles in Pickleball

There are three main differences between singles and doubles in pickleball - the scoring rules, the serving rules, and the playing strategies. Among them, it's the scoring rules that confuse a lot of beginners. So, make sure you read carefully.

Scoring Rules

Pickleball singles and doubles use the same scoring system, but because the number of players is different, the rules are different, too. In singles, the score in single pickleball is composed of two numbers - the server score and the receiver score. The server earns a point once the receiver commits a fault. But if the server commits a fault, the receiver will not score a point but will be the one to serve.

This traditional scoring system in pickleball is called side-out scoring and is being implemented by USA Pickleball. Note, however, that the Major League Pickleball (MLP) is now implementing the rally scoring system. Unlike the USA Pickleball rules, a point is awarded at the end of every rally, regardless of who the server is. If you want to know the detailed comparison between the two, read our post - Side-Out vs Rally Scoring.

In pickleball singles, the score of the server determines the serving position. If your score is an even number, you should serve from the right side of the service court. On the other hand, you should serve from the left side if your score is odd. In pickleball doubles, the server moves to the left side (odd court) once a point is scored. That player should serve diagonally to the opposing team.

The score in pickleball doubles consists of 3 numbers - the server score, the receiver score, and the server number, 1 or 2. Before a pickleball doubles game starts, the score is 0-0-2. This so-called First Server Exception rule means that the serve goes to the opponent once the serve is lost. For more details, we have a separate post about the scoring rules in pickleball.

Serving Rules

Like in singles, the server in doubles should also serve diagonally from the right side to the other side of the court. In both formats, the serve should be done underhand below the waist. Also, the serving player or team shall continuously serve after a point is scored. The receiving player or team will not have a chance to score a point unless it's their time to serve.

The main difference between the serving rules in singles and doubles pickleball is that the latter has two players on each side. Except at the start of the game, both teammates get to serve. After scoring a point, they will switch places so the other player can serve. The receiving team will remain in their positions until the serve is lost and they are allowed to serve.

Simply put, players in singles can only have one fault per serve. Afterward, the opponent is the one to serve until that player commits a fault. The doubles serving team can commit two faults before the opposing team can serve. But again, the First Server Exception rule should be applied. Therefore, only the second server can serve at the beginning of a game. Once there's a fault, the opposing team should do the serving.

Playing Strategies

Given the differences between singles and doubles in scoring and serving, some of their playing strategies should also be different. Remember, you are alone in singles, and the court is wide enough for your opponent to win a rally. On the other hand, you have a partner in doubles, and you should coordinate with him properly. Here are some playing tips for singles and doubles pickleball.

Pickleball Singles Strategies

  • Proper positioning. Position yourself near the back third of the court and face your opponent. It will help you return the shot on either side of the court.
  • Serve near the T area. This area is the intersection of the centerline and the baseline and the center area of your opponent. In doing so, you can help prevent that player from making a hard return.
  • Hit deep serves. Serve deep from near the centerline in various directions. Keep your opponent near the baseline to make returns more challenging.
  • Return deep serves into the corner. When returning a deep serve, force your opponent to the corner. It will help you run to the kitchen line and hit a passing shot.
  • Correct a bad return. When hitting a bad return, you have two options to correct it. Move in and play aggressively, or stay back and play defensively.
  • Vary your shots. Pretend to prepare to do a shot but do another. This strategy can confuse your opponent when trying to anticipate your move.

Pickleball Doubles Strategies

  • Know your partner. Practice before the actual play so you will know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Know who is right-handed or left-handed.
  • Practice good serving positions. If you are the server, stand behind the baseline when serving and stay there or inside to prepare for the double-bounce rule.
  • Practice good receiving positions. If you are the receiver, stand near the baseline but prepare to move forward fast so you can return a shorter serve quickly.
  • Constant communication. To help avoid faults, always say "Mine"," Yours," "Switch," and other signal words. Warn your partner if you're sure the ball is going out.
  • Practice the string strategy. Pretend that you and your partner are both tied by a string. If your partner moves to the right in two steps, follow him. In short, you should move together.
  • Get to the NVZ line ASAP. If you are on the serving team, you and your partner should go to the kitchen line as soon as possible after the return of serve return (third shot). If you are on the receiving team, do the same after returning the serve.
  • Play smart, not hard. Since you have two opponents, you don't need too much power. Instead, keep the ball in play, focus on placements, and avoid committing errors. 

Final Thoughts

Pickleball is fun and tiring, whether singles or doubles. In singles, you will learn to challenge yourself and react fast. Therefore, you should be physically fit. Although pickleball doubles is less physically demanding than singles, you need great teamwork to win. But whichever format you choose, the sport can help improve your social skills. More importantly, pickleball is a fun form of exercise for all ages.

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