Tennis vs Pickleball: What’s Your Preference?

comparing tennis and pickleball

Tennis vs. Pickleball… Where tennis has a storied history and is enjoyed by tens of millions of people around the globe, pickleball is a relatively new sport that has become wildly popular over the last ten years.

Since pickleball borrows some of its rules from popular racket sports, it only makes sense that many people wonder how it compares to another racket sport like tennis.

To help clear up some of the confusion, we are going to take a look at some of the main differences between these two sports, as well as compare some of their similarities.


What are the Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis?

While some of the differences are more subtle, the major differences between tennis and pickleball are fairly easy to see. For starters, tennis is played with a stringed racquet, while pickleball is played with a solid paddle.

The types of balls used to play either sport are also very different, as are the dimensions of their court and net. Then, of course, the scoring system and rules are noticeably different.

Aside from both being played with a racquet and on a court, there are quite a few differences!

Tennis vs. Pickleball – Racquet vs. Paddle

pickle ball paddle

Where a tennis racquet consists of a firm handle that leads to a large head with a bed of tight strings, a pickleball paddle has a short and stocky handle that leads to a flat and closed surface.

Essentially, a pickleball paddle looks like an exaggerated ping-pong paddle and has a smaller surface than a tennis racquet.

The differences between a tennis racket and a pickleball paddle are not just cosmetic, they are specifically designed to interact with each sport’s respective ball in a specific way.

When the tennis ball makes contact with a tennis racket, the strings compress and send the ball back in the same manner in which a trampoline works.

Holding Tennis Racket

A pickleball paddle reacts to the ball like a solid and unforgiving surface. The paddle’s solid surface will not compress, which is why the ball reacts with the sport’s distinct popping sound.

When you are striking a pickleball with a pickleball paddle, the ball will pop off the surface of the racket immediately.

You can’t control the direction of the ball nearly as well in pickleball as you can in tennis.

While pickleball paddles are becoming more sophisticated, they have a lot of catching up to do before they get anywhere near as advanced as modern-day tennis racquets.

Different Types of Balls Used for Tennis and Pickleball

The iconic tennis ball is usually fluorescent yellow in color and consists of a pressurized rubber core that is covered with a fuzzy material. They are designed to bounce off the strings of a racket, as well as the surface of the court.

On the other hand, the ball used to play pickleball is made from a plastic material, so it does not compress or bounce very high when it makes contact with the ground or a player’s paddle.

A pickleball has a similar appearance to a whiffle ball, as they have distinct, Swiss cheese-like holes across the surface. Not only do the holes make the ball really light, they create drag, which slows its flight after it’s been hit.

The lightweight ball used for pickleball is very susceptible to movement caused by the wind. The combination of the hard surface of a pickleball paddle and the hard plastic surface of the ball means its flight is far less predictable.

While this might sound annoying to tennis players, this unpredictability is part of what makes pickleball lively.

Pickleball vs Tennis – The Net and Court

pickle ball court lines

At just 20’ x 44’, a pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court. In many ways, it almost looks like a badminton court, but with a much shorter net.

In fact, the inventors of pickleball first used a badminton court with the net brought down to the ground.

A tennis court measures 78’ in length, and 36’ in width; however, a singles match is played with a slightly smaller court, as the width is brought in to 27’.

The nets used for both sports also differ. A tennis net has a height of 42” at the posts and 36” in the center. A pickleball net is to measure 36” at the sidelines and 34” in the middle. While the heights are similar, the width of the two nets is quite different.

Scoring Differences

The way you score points in both sports is very different. In tennis, each match is made up of two-to-three sets. To win a set, you must win at least six games.

Tennis games begin at “love,” meaning zero, then goes up to 40, which is actually just four points. The scoring progresses from love, to 15, to 30, then to 40, with the winner of the game needing to win by two points.

In pickleball, the aim is to reach 11 points, which are just counted from 1-11. Unlike tennis, points can only be scored on the serve – the receiving side cannot score a point. Like tennis, the winning side must win by two points.

When playing doubles, each side has two opportunities to serve. After they have lost two rallies, the possession switches to the other side, and now they have an opportunity to score points.

Rule Differences

One of the major differences between pickleball and tennis is pickleball’s use of a “kitchen,” or non-volley zone. Essentially, you are not allowed to volley the ball in the area that measures 7’ out from the net on both sides of the court.

This non volley zone was created because the court is too small for up-close smashes.

A fault is also called on the serving player if the ball touches any part of the opponent’s non volley zone on the serve.

Tennis players are allowed to hit the ball before it bounces on their side of the court at any time after the serve occurs.

Like tennis, pickleball serves must be made diagonally. But, unlike tennis, it must be made underhand, and the paddle must contact the ball below the player’s waist. The ball must then clear the non volley zone on the opposite side of the court.

How Do the Rule Differences Impact Gameplay?

fun playing pickleball

In pickleball, the serve is not overly serious, as points are rarely scored from a serve. In tennis, serving can be a weapon for some players. A fast and accurate serve is one of the most valuable skills a tennis player can have. The good servers win many free points from their serves.

Due to the fact that serves are underhand in pickleball and the ball is both lightweight and perforated, it is extremely rare to score an ace.

The ways you hit the ball in tennis are also extremely varied. Players will swing to either side of their body with a variety of different strokes. In pickleball, the ball is usually struck when it is directly in front of you. Because the ball is so light, swinging forward is the only way to generate enough pace to make sure it will land on the opposite side of the court.

Another major difference is the fact that pickleball is rarely played one-on-one. Instead, it is almost exclusively played as a doubles sport.

In tennis, singles and doubles are both played on a regular basis.

Pickleball was invented to be a fun and light-hearted group game. The ball is also so unpredictable that playing singles tends to be somewhat difficult and far less enjoyable.

Should Tennis Players Try Pickleball?

Pickleball is played at a different pace than tennis. The lightweight ball and small court can make things interesting. However, playing pickleball will do very little to improve tennis-specific skills other than improving hand-eye coordination.

You have far less control over the ball in pickleball than you do in tennis. For some, this can be somewhat frustrating. The precision that is so integral to the sport of tennis is not a major component on a pickleball court.

Aside from being a fun change of pace and an opportunity to possibly work on your fitness while being social, playing pickleball will not offer many competitive advantages for tennis players, but it will certainly be entertaining.

With that being said, it can be really fun, especially if you do not take it too seriously – just like badminton!

For even more information regarding pickle ball, check out the USA Pickleball Association. If tennis is still more your style, be sure to check out many other posts about your this incredible racket sport!