If you know who Frank Anthony Davis is in the pickleball world, you know he is one of the best singles professionals of all time…just ask Kyle Yates, Tyson McGuffin or Ben Johns. If you are like me, Frank is likely younger, faster and more athletic than you are but fear not…that is not a problem because the game of pickleball singles has evolved over the past several years and we believe deserves your attention because it can be oh so very fun and an absolutely fantastic workout!
In the past, pickleball singles was primarily a game of three maybe four shots per point: a serve, a return, a passing shot/smashing volley or an error. Over and over again….BORING! On occasion, the passing shot would be returned, a volley would follow and subsequently, the rushed opponent (who was desperately looking to score) would hit a drop into the kitchen and approach the net resulting in a five to seven ball rally. This was a rare occurrence but resulted in a more fun and entertaining exchange. Just five years ago, rarely, did anyone playing singles attempt to hit a drop into the kitchen and approach the net. It was just too tempting to hit a winner on the third shot and there was not enough time to hit one on the fifth shot… and the seventh shot…rarely, if ever, even happened.
Fortunately, over the past few years, singles pickleball strategy has slowly begun to change as FAD himself admits, “as an active singles player, I barely noticed the subtle change evolving in the singles game.” The man Frank credits with starting the evolution of the singles game is Marcin Rozpedski. Marcin is a 6-time major champion and the only singles players to win all three majors in the same year. What made Marcin special was his shot selection and patience. He never rushed a shot even under tremendous pressure. As Frank puts it, “even if his opponent hit a great volley, Marcin never rushed. It was shocking to see and in stark contrast to my full speed every point approach. I realized I was always rushing even when I didn’t have to.” Marcin’s calm under pressure gave him the ability to place his shots more accurately. This was somewhat of an epiphany moment for Frank and he realized that sometimes by pushing the fifth shot to a neutral area of the court, it allowed him to keep the point alive, buy him more time to reposition and allowed his opponent the opportunity to commit an error. Point being, Marin won and used his different (at the time) approach to win in dominant fashion.
Ben Johns is obviously super talented with extremely fast hands and a commanding ground game but early in his career he was by no means the dominant champion we know today. Over time, his singles game evolved and he began to implement a “no rush” style approach akin to Marcins’. But as with all champions, Ben put his own spin on this concept. Instead of simply pushing the ball to a neutral position on the court, as Marcin was doing, Ben started to use sharp angles to place and drop the ball into the kitchen, shots more often seen in doubles. This strategy adjustment by Ben helped to push the singles game in a different direction while giving his fellow professionals absolute fits. They had never seen this style played in singles and many didn’t fully understand why it was even working. But, it sure was! Ben went on to win numerous major titles and caused his fellow competitors to adjust their games immediately. Almost overnight, every other professional singles player started to adopt Ben’s new approach and implement what is now known as “The Cat and Mouse Game.” For what it’s worth, Tyson McGuffin and Frank have each added their own flair to this strategy and the results speak for themselves.
Gone are the days of boring three or four ball points and enter a dynamic, versatile and incredibly strategic game. Today’s game is far more exciting and often rallies extend beyond ten balls. Top singles players today implement skills formerly only reserved for doubles. The third shot in singles is no longer a risky, go for broke shot but instead a shot used strategically to get the point started. We now know that proper pickleball singles should be played at the net, just like in doubles! The return should be followed in and the server should attempt to get to the net as soon as possible.
A pickleball court is pretty big and there is a lot of space to cover. Sometimes your opponent will hit a shot so precise that there is simply nothing you can do. This can be incredibly frustrating but it is exactly what makes the strategy of the singles game so compelling. One wrong move or one misplaced ball can result in an immediate and sometimes embarrassing point against you. Ball placement is always important in pickleball but it’s of the utmost importance in the singles game. Not to be outdone, player position is also a crucial aspect. In doubles, it’s relatively easy to approach the net. Simply drop the ball into the kitchen and both players move forward. However, in singles you obviously don’t have a partner to help cover the width of the court so you have to approach the net more methodically and strategically but we now know for sure… hit those same angles, hit those drops and get into the net!
Pickleball singles has evolved into an much more entertaining and fun game to play. Doubles strategy has infiltrated it’s way into the game and provided some absolutely amazing points. Give it a try and if you want to improve your game, join us take a free lesson and more here.