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Pickleball and Tennis: 13 Differences You Need To Know

pro player playing pickleball
(Pro Player Tyson McGuffin)

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Pickleball was invented 50 years ago, but it experienced a surge of popularity over the last decade or so, becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. It combines elements of several different racket sports, including tennis. If you are new to pickleball, some of the elements may seem mysterious to you, particularly the differences between pickleball vs tennis.

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What Are Some of the Most Important Differences Between Pickleball Vs Tennis?

If you are new to pickleball but familiar with tennis, it may be helpful to compare the two so that you can better understand the differences.

1. Court

A regulation pickleball court is 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. This is smaller than a typical tennis court, which measures 36 feet wide and 78 feet long. Some pickleball players use tennis courts if there are none dedicated to their own sport available, but it requires marking different boundaries.

Since a pickleball court is narrower than a tennis court, it follows logically that a pickleball net doesn’t cover as wide a span. A pickleball net is also shorter than a tennis net by 6 inches though, again, pickleball players who only have tennis courts at their disposal may have to make do.

2. Kitchen

In pickleball, the kitchen is a 14-foot area in the center of the court divided by the net into 7-foot segments on either side. Also known as a no-volley zone, the kitchen is intended to prevent spikes that are close to the net from hitting and possibly injuring players on the other side. Players cannot enter the kitchen to hit the ball until after it has bounced.

3. The Pickleball

If you have ever played with a wiffle ball, you have an idea of what a pickleball looks like. A pickleball is made of smooth plastic that is much lighter than a tennis ball. It is hollow and perforated with holes that cause it to create less drag. As a result, its movement in the air is cleaner than that of a tennis ball, but it doesn’t bounce as high.

4. Racquet

When pickleball was first invented, before it developed its own equipment, players used ping-pong paddles. Today, pickleball racquets still bear more resemblance to ping-pong paddles than to tennis racquets. Tennis racquets have strings woven together to create a particular pattern and texture. Pickleball racquets are flat and typically smooth to the touch, though some have air holes built in. To accommodate different playing styles, pickleball racquets can come in different thicknesses and sizes. In this, they are similar to tennis racquets. However, even though racquets for both sports come in different sizes, pickleball racquets are generally smaller than tennis racquets.

5. Serve

In pickleball, you only get one service attempt, unlike tennis where you get two attempts.Tennis requires an overhand serve that involves tossing the ball up into the air and then hitting it with the racquet. Overhand serves are against the rules in pickleball, and underhand serves are required. The pickleball serve and the tennis serve are similar in that the direction is diagonal or cross-court, but for a pickleball serve to be valid, the paddle must make contact with the ball below the level of the server’s hip. It also has to clear the kitchen. Before volleying, i.e., hitting the ball back and forth without letting it hit the ground, can begin in a game of pickleball, the ball has to bounce twice after the serve: once on the opponent’s side and once on the server’s side.

6. Scoring

Tennis has a complicated system of scoring based on the various phases of the match, known as games and sets. Pickleball scoring is simpler, with no games and sets. Nevertheless, it has its own idiosyncrasies.

You can only score in a game of pickleball if you are the one who served the ball, another respect in which the scoring is different between pickleball vs tennis. A game of pickleball is played up to 11 points, but to win, you must exceed your opponent’s score by two points. When both of those conditions are met, a game of pickleball comes to an end with one side the victor.

7. Singles Vs Doubles

As with tennis, pickleball can either be played as singles or doubles. However, pickleball is usually played as doubles and singles pickleball is rare, whereas singles and doubles tennis are roughly equal to one another in popularity.

8. Speed and Physicality

Tennis tends to be a more physically demanding game due to the size of the court and the distance the ball can travel. This requires players to cover more ground and use more energy. Pickleball, on the other hand, because of the smaller court and less bounce from the ball, tends to be less physically demanding and is often favored by older players or those looking for less strenuous activity.

9. Strategies and Techniques

Tennis and pickleball also require different strategies and techniques. Tennis often involves powerful strokes and serves, topspins, backspins, and slices. On the other hand, pickleball involves more strategic placing of the ball, less power and spin, and more finesse. It also often involves more volleying and quick reflexes due to the smaller court.

10. Game Duration

Typically, a game of pickleball is shorter in duration compared to a game of tennis. This is largely due to the scoring system and the smaller court size in pickleball.

11. Equipment Variation

Due to the different court surfaces (pickleball courts are usually hard court while tennis can be played on grass, clay, or hard court), the type of shoes recommended for each sport varies.

12. Audience and Popularity

Tennis is internationally recognized and has a larger professional following compared to pickleball. Grand Slams in tennis attract a massive global audience, whereas professional pickleball tournaments are usually followed by a more niche community.

13. Noise Level

Pickleball can be significantly noisier due to the sound the ball makes when hit by the paddle. This has led to conflicts in some communities over noise issues.

What Are the Benefits of Pickleball Vs Tennis?

The game of tennis has roots in the Middle Ages. It has been popular for centuries and probably always will be. Nevertheless, pickleball offers some advantages over tennis that may account for its recent surge in popularity.

Accessibility to Beginners

People learning to play tennis for the first time can struggle with some aspects of the game, such as the complicated scoring system and the overhand serve. Pickleball’s simpler scoring can be easier to understand and learn. Similarly, the underhand serve can be easier for beginners to master. If you have experience bowling, you should pick up the underhand pickleball serve fairly easily as it involves a similar motion.

Low Impact on Joints

High-impact sports such as tennis can put a lot of pressure on the cartilage of the joints of the lower extremities, particularly the knee. Over time, this can contribute to wearing down the cartilage, resulting in arthritis. Pickleball is considered a lower-impact sport than tennis. It has been recommended as a way for elderly people, who are more likely to have osteoarthritis from cartilage wear, to stay active without causing any further damage to their joints. The aging of the baby boomer population may be partially responsible for its sudden rise in popularity.

Appropriate for Multigenerational Play

While the elderly population may be responsible for raising awareness of pickleball, its popularity has grown among younger generations as well. Its accessibility to beginners as well as its low impact on the joints makes it a good family activity that parents and children or grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy together.

Having contrasted the differences between pickleball vs tennis, are you interested in giving pickleball a try? Newcomers are always welcome, and you can equip yourself with gear from Pickleball Portal.

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About Dan Langston

With experience in the ecotourism industry and time well spent as a fly fishing guide in the remote absaroka mountain range for 6 years, Dan brings a unique perspective on customer service to the digital world. As the operator, Dan is now committed to revitalizing Pickleball Portal and plans to build a support system for content creators and provide helpful information for the pickleball community. dan@pickleballportal.com

2 thoughts on “Pickleball and Tennis: 13 Differences You Need To Know”

    • Give it a shot! I recently introduced my parents to the game, and now mom plays twice a week! It was an easy transition for her too because she used to play tennis.


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