Pickleball vs Tennis: Which Is Best For You?
Ah, pickleball. The new kid to the block. Often summarized as a mix of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, it’s an exciting sport with rapidly exploding popularity. The question is, is pickleball like tennis? As we are so often led to believe.
Today we will answer that very question: pickleball vs tennis.
While there are certainly similarities between the two, there are many differences in our eyes!
1. Pickleball Court vs Tennis Court
Perhaps the biggest difference between tennis and pickleball is the pickleball vs tennis court size. Tennis courts measure 78 ft long with a width of either 27 ft or 36 ft, depending on whether you are playing singles or doubles.
Yet pickleball courts, by comparison, are an itsy bitsy 44 ft x 20 ft. This means you have far less distance to cover. As such, the game places less emphasis on physicality than tennis, and more on technique. This levels the playing field somewhat for older players with great technique and high match IQ.
In fact, you might recognize the court size from somewhere else. Care to take a guess? It’s badminton! One of the other sports, pickleball is commonly compared to. Of course, the net height differs greatly from badminton, but it’s not far off of tennis. It’s only 2” shorter at 34” at the center.
No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled onto an article for cooking. The term “kitchen” refers to the non-volley zone located on either side of the net.
Measuring 7ft long of your 22 ft of available space on each court half, the kitchen prevents smashing for short shots. This is pickleball’s unique quality over other sports, as it significantly changes the way you play the game. If a pickleball player was asked ‘how is pickleball different from tennis?’ the kitchen is undoubtedly one of the first areas they would discuss.
There is little incentive to stand there because you can’t volley the ball while in the kitchen. Equally, if you stand too far back, you are prone to drop shots. Therefore the best place to stand in pickleball is just outside the kitchen. From this position, you can volley and drop shot and have excellent coverage of the entire court.
In tennis, on the other hand, players instead stand behind the baseline so they are effectively standing outside of the marked court. This is because tennis players have a larger court to cover and most shots land deep in the court. It’s not so easy to volley a ball back there without being punished in tennis!
3. Pickleball vs Tennis Scoring
The difference between pickleball and tennis regarding scoring is very apparent. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tennis scoring, you need just 4 points to win a game. However, to secure the game, you must win by a 2-point lead. The first three points you win are known as 15, 30, and 40, after which if play reaches 40-40, the winner of the next point has an “advantage”. In terms of sets, you need to secure 6 to win a set, and either 2 or 3 sets to claim the match.
Pickleball’s scoring is first to 11 with a 2-point lead (much like table tennis). However, there’s a catch. You can only win a point in pickleball if you are on the serving team. You also hold serve until you lose a point. This is different from tennis, where each player serves for an entire game. And once again like table tennis, you usually play matches to the best of 3 or 5 games.
Read More: How To Play Pickleball
4. The Importance of Serving and the Double Bounce Rule
The double bounce rule is a condition in pickleball to establish a rally. Unlike in tennis where you can volley the ball after serving, pickleball restricts volleying until the second strike following the serve. This means both the receiver of the serve, and the server who hits the third ball must let the ball bounce before striking it.
While this isn’t a major change from tennis, the restrictions for serving certainly are. We all know how powerful serving is in tennis — breaking one’s serve is a tough feat and effective servers can beat more complete all-around players.
Yet in pickleball, serving is not a particularly powerful tool. The rules even state that serving “is simply to place the ball in play and is not intended as an offensive weapon”. Therefore you shouldn’t expect to win many points directly from your serves at all.
To play a serve in pickleball you must use an underhand motion and strike the ball below waist level. This prevents you from having a large enough angle to play a deadly serve.
5. Ball Comparison
Pickleballs may be a similar yellowy color and shape to tennis balls, but for the most part, that’s where the similarities between tennis and pickleball balls stop!
You see, tennis balls are essentially bouncy rubber spheres encased by felt. They need to bounce, as tennis courts are so damn big. If they didn’t, players wouldn’t have enough time to strike the ball before it bounced twice.
So what kind of ball is used in pickleball? Pickleballs are instead made of a hard non-compressive material such as plastic. As a result, they do not bounce very high like tennis balls do. They also have many holes in them, which may seem strange if you’ve never seen them before. Pickleballs come in two different types: indoor and outdoor. Their holey build means they are pretty susceptible to the wind. As such, outdoor pickleballs have more holes that are smaller in diameter.
6. Paddle Comparison
As you play pickleball on a much smaller court, the pickleball vs tennis paddle requirements are rather different. You don’t need a heavy-duty springy racket, but something smaller and offers more control.
Pickleball paddles are a little over half the size of tennis rackets, and the main difference is that woven strings are swapped out for a flat rock-hard surface like fiberglass.
As such, the effect of striking the ball in each sport is rather different. In tennis, the moment of contact is much longer, and while the strings are highly taught, a soft tennis ball will actually displace them. As the ball compresses against the strings they quickly ping bang into place releasing the ball at high speeds.
On the other hand, pickleball paddles have very brief contact with the ball. This is because both the paddle and the ball are much harder. Consequently, the ball immediately rebounds with little spin.
7. Singles vs Doubles
While lots of people play doubles in tennis, singles are generally the most popular, but for pickleball, it’s the other way around. As the ball doesn’t bounce very high it’s tremendously difficult to cover the whole court in singles.
The other aspect to consider is that according to USA Pickleball, of the sport’s core player base (those who play more than eight times per year), 32.7% are aged 65+. This is the largest of any age group. With such a significant elderly player base, it is no surprise that doubles games are the most common. Many will lack the fitness to cover the entire court alone in singles.
Read More: Best Pickleball Sets
Hopefully, that puts the pickleball vs tennis questions to bed. While there are many differences, including the tennis vs pickleball court size, there is no arguing that there are also many parallels between the two sports. This is one of the reasons, so many existing tennis players are making the switch. They find it highly enjoyable, and the sport already feels fairly natural to them.
If you haven’t yet given pickleball a go we strongly recommend that you do. As mentioned earlier, it’s a great sport for people of all ages and a must-try if you’re a racket sports enthusiast like us.
What Is Pickleball a Combination Of?
Pickleball is often characterized as a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. While we agree that pickleball possesses elements of all three, tennis is the front-runner.
When comparing sports most similar to tennis, pickleball is right up there because most game elements are very similar. With badminton, however, the shuttlecock does not bounce as the ball does in pickleball. And in ping pong, the striking motion is rather different, and far more spin is involved.
What Is the Difference Between Pickleball and Tennis?
The main tennis vs pickleball differences are:
- Smaller court size
- The presence of the kitchen
- Different scoring system
- Double bounce rule
- Serves are less important
- Paddles are shorter and more rigid with no strings
- Balls are harder and bounce much lower
- Most people play doubles rather than singles
Is Pickleball Easier Than Tennis?
For most people, pickleball is significantly easier than tennis. This is because there is less running involved, and you use a paddle which is much easier to control.
On the flip side, you generally have less reaction time than in tennis due to the smaller court size, so the game is still very demanding.
Is Tennis or Pickleball Better?
The question of whether tennis or pickleball is better depends on the metrics you use. For enjoyment, it’s subjective. For cardiovascular training, it’s tennis. And for injury-prone individuals, it’s pickleball.
Do Any Pro Tennis Players Play Pickleball?
Many tennis players switch over to pickleball before they go pro, such as world number 1 pickleball player Ben Johns. However, some pro players have made the switch, such as Gina Cilento — a professional tennis player with a 27-year-long career.
Other current tennis pro players also enjoy playing pickleball occasionally, the most notable of which is Andy Roddick.