What a Pickleball Player Has Learned on the Tennis Courts

It’s that time of year again — the hot and muggy dog days of August giving way to the crisp mornings of early September. For tennis fans, this means the US Open in Flushing, NY being played on the heels of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Just a few short weeks ago, I had the privilege of witnessing the world’s greatest tennis players in my virtual backyard at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Between the stellar action on the courts and visits to the Graeters’ Food Tent for some black raspberry chocolate ice cream — and hopefully not eating it a la George Costanza — I had the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the sport of tennis has helped my pickleball game.

Now to be totally honest — the tennis experience has been both a blessing and a curse.  Afterall, there are tennis habits and techniques, especially with the volley, that are difficult to rid myself of. But having said that, it’s been a pretty painless transition — particularly as it relates to the following aspects that have been honed from my days on the tennis courts.

Court Sense / Court Awareness

Years of playing tennis have, no doubt, heightened my pickleball court sense — my ability to see the whole court and make good, quick decisions in a variety of situations. Where is the ball? Where am I on the court? Where is my opponent on the court? This is just a sampling of information that needs to be continually processed to enhance one’s court sense and court awareness — all while playing to your own strengths and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses.  Tennis has certainly helped.

Anticipation

It’s not always speed and quickness that will put one in the best position for each shot.  Anticipation plays a critical role as well. Having that tennis background has helped with the ability to anticipate — watching your opponents’ feet, torso, shoulders and head — as well as being cognizant of the angle of their paddle face. Tennis has also helped in quickly recognizing tendencies — allowing one to anticipate your opponents’ next move before the ball is even struck.

Match Toughness

Learning to win. Yup. I said it. Pickleball players have many different motivations for playing — exercise, camaraderie, health reasons — and, for some, competition.  But winning is a learned skill.   It’s only after grinding through momentum shifts, being on the receiving end of bad line calls and other gamesmanship attempts and not playing your best — but still coming out victorious — that you become match-tough. Having the experience to put your foot on the throat of your opponent when you’re ahead and can smell victory and to battle back when you’re behind and things aren’t going your way is central to being match-tough. Most tennis players have had these experiences.

What Say You?

When people think of others as having a tennis background they likely think of those players as having superior shot-making fundamentals.  That may or may not be the case.  It’s likely, however, that they have heightened court sense, uncanny anticipation and are match tough.  Would love to hear your thoughts on any advantages you think tennis players may have in the game of pickleball.  Please comment below.  See you on the courts!

Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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4 Comments

  1. Yes, I played high school and college tennis as the #1 seed for 3 of the 4 years at each institution (but small school). Stopped playing 30 years or so ago.

    I played pingpong as a kid and started banking upwards of 15 hours a week as opportunity present in the last 2 1/2 years. Also started banking a like number of hours on pickleball courts when in communities that had copious opportunities for play (actually some weeks it was in the 20 hour range). The hand/eye coordination and the way I use spin has carried over from early tennis. But essentially, I just play and play and play and play.

  2. I tend to agree with you. I know some of the people that I play with have a long history of tennis. I watch those players and the technique and form they use while playing pickleball is much more relaxed and I would say disciplined. I would agree with you on match toughness as well. Its my guess that most players have had to face difficult opponents and analyze quickly what their weaknesses are and capitalize on them and at the same time come back from a potential loss to winning the match.

    I think that the biggest difference I see is each individual’s goal a pickleball. The measure of success varies greatly. I play with many people that just refuse to lose. I believe that skill has to come along to match that mindset in order for winning to happen more often. Once skill combines with Court Sense, Anticipation and Toughness winning frequency increases. If you have had previous experience in tennis, I see several of these skills already developed. So the learning curve is possibly substantially decreased.

    I also believe that a tennis player has had to develop shot making fundamentals. So those same disciplines can be translated over to pickleball. So a player who has never been coached on some of those disciplines must develop them to become more successful.

    1. Thanks, Mike, for your comments. Although tennis players may have an initial advantage in some of these areas, the good news is that these skills/mindsets can be quickly learned for somebody without similar experiences.

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