One of the best drills in pickleball is skinny singles. Skinny singles only requires you and one other player. You can play skinny singles straight on or crosscourt (be sure to try all directional combinations!), but the key is that you will only play in half of the court on each side of the pickleball net, with regular scoring. To note, one key difference with skinny singles is that you only get one serve, which is like singles pickleball rather than doubles pickleball. So, as the serving player, once you lose the point, you lose your serve, and your opponent will now serve. Also, remember to only play half of the pickleball court, so the center line will be considered one of the sidelines.
Although skinny singles is a great drill, it is also becoming a game of its own. Many clubs, communities, and other event organizers are hosting skinny singles tournaments, leagues and other events. So, since skinny singles is becoming a bit more advanced and organized, we figured it may be helpful to have a pickleball blog dedicated to skinny singles strategy. So, let’s dive right in…
1. Consistently Serve Deep, to Backhands & in the Skinny Singles Court
A strong serve is important no matter what kind of pickleball you are playing—doubles, singles, or skinny singles. To hit a strong serve that is difficult for your opponent to react to, try the following two tips:
- Target your opponents’ weaker side, which is often their backhand side, as most pickleball players have stronger forehand shots than backhand shots; and
- Hit your serve deep into the service box, which will push your opponents back beyond the baseline and make for a more difficult longer return for your opponents (and, hopefully, an easier third shot for you and your partner). However, while a deep serve is the rule of thumb, be sure to avoid hitting your serve out of bounds due to giving yourself too small of a margin for error.
A strong serve will give you an edge over your opponent from the very first shot. And, remember, the serve is one shot on the pickleball court that you can really perfect with practice and have complete control over (but for, maybe, wind). As a result, you should have extremely high accuracy on the serve.
2. Return Deep, to Backhands & in the Skinny Singles Court
The second pickleball strategy tip relates to the second shot of every pickleball rally – the return of serve. Like the serve, the return of serve should be deep in your opponents’ side of the skinny singles pickleball court (in other words, close to the baseline, but within the court, which is only half the size of a typical pickleball court). By keeping the pickleball deep in the pickleball court, you will make for a more difficult third shot for your opponent and give yourself more time to react and get in to the pickleball net (more on this strategy below!). Also, the return of serve should target your opponent’s weaker side (which is often their backhand side).
However, like the serve, while a deep return is the rule of thumb, be sure to avoid hitting your return out of bounds due to giving yourself too small of a margin for error. Give yourself some margin for error because a missed return results in an easy point for your opponents!
3. Get to the Kitchen Line & Hold the Line!
Just like both doubles pickleball and singles pickleball, most points in pickleball are won at the Non-Volley Zone Line (also known as the Kitchen Line). As a result, it is important to get to the Non-Volley Zone Line as quickly as possible.
If you are the server, then this will likely require a quality third shot in order to move in to the Kitchen line. If you are the receiver, then you should immediately move in to the Kitchen Line after striking the return of serve. If you are struggling to get in to the Non-Volley Zone Line, consider hitting a return of serve with a high arc – in other words, a lob return of serve. This will give you more time to get to the Non-Volley Zone Line. However, beware of this strategy in two situations:
- Windy days, as the wind may cause havoc on your shot and carry it out of bounds; and
- Playing against a banger, as a lob return of serve will have the tendency to have a high bounce, which will more easily allow the banger to hit a drive (as opposed to a low return of serve that is below the pickleball net where the banger would have to hit up on the pickleball, which may cause the pickleball to sail out of bounds).
Bottom line – Get to the Kitchen Line and then hold that line!
4. Move Your Opponent Around the Skinny Singles Court
In the world of skinny singles, it is just you versus your opponent. As a result, you need to cover the court (at least it is not as big as a singles pickleball court). Since your opponent does not have a partner to help cover the skinny singles court, it is important to move your opponent around, which will open up court space and angles for you to attack. So, take your opponent wide with dinks, take your opponent to the middle of the court with shots, go over your opponent with lobs, and even consider drop volleys to cause your opponent to run into the net if he or she is behind the baseline. In other words, make your opponent move!
5. Work the Angles
If you are playing skinny singles and you find yourself in a crosscourt match-up, consider working your angles (to note, angles are less applicable if you are in a straight-on match-up with your opponent). For instance, say you and your opponent find yourself both on the right-hand side of the pickleball court. You both are engaged in a crosscourt dinking battle. You have your opponent pinned to the sideline because of your penetrating crosscourt dinks, and your opponent is unable or not willing to move his or her feet to cover the middle of the court between each shot. So, you have a beautiful angle from your sideline to the baseline in the middle of the court (near the T) behind your opponent. The angle allows you to just push the pickleball up the middle of the court for a winner.
Pay attention to angles in skinny singles. You will have shots that are uncommon in doubles pickleball or singles pickleball because you are playing only half of the court, and there is no partner to help back-up your opponent. Angles can be valuable assets in skinny singles pickleball.
6. Move Your Feet to Cover the Angles
On the other hand, avoid giving your opponent angles by moving your feet and following your shot. It is important to follow your shot each time you strike the pickleball. By following your shot, you cut off the angles in favor of your opponent.
For instance, imagine you are engaged in the same crosscourt dinking battle with your opponent from the right-hand side of the pickleball court. Every time you strike the pickleball crosscourt, you should move your feet and slide to the middle of the pickleball court. By following your shot in this pattern, you close the gap described in tip #5, as your opponent will not have a strong angle down the middle of the pickleball court. So, move your feet, follow your shot, and cut off your opponent’s angles (which may be unique to this skinny singles version of pickleball).
7. Work the Lob
Along the lines of tip #4, work the lob when you are playing skinny singles, especially if your opponent has a weak overhead or poor mobility. Also, particularly work the lob against your opponent’s backhand side, as most players have a weaker backhand overhead than a forehand overhead.
A solid lob—particularly one that is deep in the court and over your opponent’s backhand side—is a great shot because your opponent will not have the help of a partner to track down the lob. So, your opponent will have to run back and then hit a strong shot using a backhand (which, again, is most player’s weaker side). Plus, a lob will help push your opponent back off of the Kitchen Line, giving you more space to hit offensive shots down at your opponent’s feet.
Play More Skinny Singles!
Generally speaking, the strategy of skinny singles is more like doubles pickleball than singles pickleball. However, there are elements of both. And, skinny singles is really its own animal that has its own strategy, as described in this pickleball blog.
Whether you like doubles pickleball or singles pickleball, one of the best things you can do for your pickleball game is to play more skinny singles. Skinny singles is one of the best drills in pickleball because you have the opportunity to play every shot and work on your skills on every shot. You have to be ready on every shot. Also, with a smaller court, you are forced to focus on your placement of every shot.
So, get out there and play more skinny singles! Your pickleball game will thank you.
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