Pickleball is both a doubles and singles game. Much like tennis, the rules vary depending on how many people play against each other. Learning how to play 1-on-1 pickleball is the best ruleset as it is the most traditional way of playing pickleball. This guide is designed for beginners and people already familiar with pickleball. It will cover all the rules for singles games, which is always good to have as a reference, and will compare the differences between the rules of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 pickleball.
Rules for 1 vs. 1
Pickleball singles games involve one player on each side of the court competing against each other. The winner is the first person to score 11 points or win by 2 points. A match is best for two-out-of-three games won, but the third game of a match is played until 5 points are earned or won by 2 points. Tournament games can be played to 15 or 21 points and must be won by 2 points.
Only the serving player is able to score. When the serving player has an even score, the player who first served in the game plays on the court's right side when receiving or serving. The right side of the court is referred to as the even side of the court, and the left side is the odd side. When the serving player's score is off, that player will be on the left side of the court when receiving or serving.
You may serve twice or more in singles pickleball because the server keeps serving until they lose the rally. The serve then goes to the receiver. If the receiving player wins the rally, neither player will switch sides of the court, and there will be a side out.
Common faults made during singles games include:
- Serves landing in the non-volley zone: If a serve lands anywhere in the non-volley zone, even the line, it is counted as a fault. This zone is commonly referred to as the kitchen.
- Hitting the ball before it lands: The ball can only be hit after hitting the ground one time on each side of the court after a serve. Hitting it in the air before is a fault. This is called the two-bounce rule.
- Serve hits the net: Serves that fail to clear the net are common faults.
- Illegal volley serve: Serving must always be underhand, and the paddle must contact the ball when it is below the server's waist. You must always follow the singles pickleball serving rules for a legitimate win.
Difference from 2 vs. 2
The rules for 1 vs. 1 pickleball differ significantly from the rules of doubles games. The rules vary quite a lot in a doubles game, and many assume the only change in the rules is that the game now has four players rather than two. Two major rules differentiate doubles and singles games in pickleball.
The first major difference is the serving sequences. In singles, the serving player will alternate their side of the court when they win the point, but the sides change when they lose the rally. This then allows the opponent to serve. The same applies to 2 vs. 2 games when a team wins a rally with a slight twist. In doubles games, the serving team's players will only alternate sides if a point is scored. The side that receives doesn't change sides.
The first server continues serving until they lose a rally or commit a fault, then the serve is passed on to the team's second server. When the second server loses their serve, the other team gets it, and the player on the right side has the first serve. This sequence continues until the end of the game.
The score is called out as three numbers in doubles games. The sequence for calling the score starts with the server score, then the receiver score, followed by the server number, either one or two. The server number only applies to that turn of service. Whoever is on the right side when the team gets to serve again is the first server, but only for that service turn.
The first server exception is a rule designed to reduce the advantage of being the first team in the game to serve. Only one player, the right-side player, can serve on the first service turn of a doubles game. Because the serve foes to the other side then they lose a serve, that player is designated as the second server. This means the score is called 0-0-2 at the beginning of the game. The 2 specifies that it is the second server which means it goes to the opposing side when the serve is lost.
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