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Pickleball vs Tennis: Similarities & Differences

Tennis vs Pickleball. Pickleball vs Tennis. Regardless of the word order, the phraseology seems to suggest that one sport is pitted against the other and the two can’t coexist in peaceful harmony. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While there are certainly differences, there are plenty of similarities that should foster mutual respect – and dare I say it – admiration between the two.

Both are racket sports. Both can be played wearing tennis shoes. One is played with tennis balls, the other with a hard plastic wiffle ball or pickleball ball. One is played with tennis rackets, the other is played with pickleball paddles. One has been a top sport over time while the other is the fastest-growing sport in the United States in recent years. One can be enjoyed by players of all ages, while the other excels with younger players. The game of pickleball and tennis both offer health benefits and can be enjoyed by all!

10 Major Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis

Let’s start with the main differences between tennis and pickleball. While there are some elements of tennis in pickleball, there are obvious differences – such as the longer tennis racquet with strings vs the smaller, solid composite paddles in pickleball – there are other key differences that are more subtle in nature.

1. Pickleball Court vs Tennis Court

The square footage of a tennis court is just over 3 times that of a pickleball court. More specifically, whereas a pickleball court has court dimensions equal to 20′ x 44,′ a tennis court (including doubles alleys) has dimensions equal to 36′ x 78′.  (A pickleball court has no doubles alleys). Pickleball and tennis are both played on hard courts, however, tennis can also be played on grass or clay.

2. The Serve

In tennis, the server gets two attempts to hit the serve into the correct service box. Almost always hit overhanded, the serve can be a powerful weapon. In pickleball, however, it is an underhand serve. Furthermore, the pickleball server is only entitled to one attempt to get the ball into the correct service box. Because the serve is hit underhanded – and the server only gets one chance to get it in – the serve is typically not as big of a weapon in pickleball as it is in tennis.

3. Scoring

Both sports can be confusing when it comes to their scoring system. In tennis, for example, games consist of scores of 15/30/40/Deuce and Ad-In or Ad-Out. Not to be outdone with respect to confusing the newbie, pickleball scores are called using 3 numbers!  Tennis is played using rally-scoring (both the serving and receiving teams can score). In pickleball, only the serving team can win and score points.

4. Length of Matches

Tennis matches are typically longer – typically ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours in length. Pickleball matches will generally run between 20 minutes to 1 hour. If playing a tournament, however, in tennis you might play a maximum of a match or two per day, whereas, in pickleball, the entire event would be played in one day.

5. Learning Curve

As I have played both collegiate tennis and high-level pickleball, I can tell you first-hand that pickleball is an easier sport to learn. The learning curve for pickleball is so much quicker. Because of the shorter paddle length and smaller court dimensions, no doubt, one can go out and have several long rallies after having played just a time or two. That could not be done in tennis. In tennis, it takes years and years to become somewhat adept at the sport.

6. Serve & Volley

In tennis, you can hit a serve and rush the net to hit a volley (hitting the ball out of the air before it bounces). In pickleball, however, one has to let the ball bounce one time on each side before hitting it out of the air. That makes it illegal for the serving team to hit the return-of-serve out of the air before it bounces. So much for Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, or Pete Sampras dominating on the pickleball court.

7. High School, College, and the Olympics

While tennis is currently played in high school sports, college athletics, and the Olympics, the same cannot be said for pickleball – at least not yet.

8. Prize Money for Top Professionals

While the total prize money purse is in the millions of dollars for top-tier tennis tournaments, the prize money purse for pickleball players is in the tens of thousands of dollars.

9. Volleying Close to the Net

In tennis, a player can stand an inch away from the net and hit the ball out of the air before it bounces. Pickleball, on the other hand, has a non-volley zone – an area extending 7 feet from the net and bound by each sideline – where hitting the ball out of the air is not allowed.  This non-volley zone extends rallies and also has unique, strategic implications as well.

10. Open Play

While both sports have courts open for the public to play, pickleball is unique and special in the sense that it is much more “socially” focused. Show up, stack paddles, and get in the next open game. When playing tennis, you’re usually calling one other person to play singles or three others for doubles.

10 Similarities Between Pickleball and Tennis

So now that we have a better understanding of the differences between the two sports, how are they similar? For those looking to “pick a fight” with the other side, you may be surprised at how similar the two sports actually are.

1. Net Height is Similar

A tennis net is 36 inches in the middle. A pickleball net is 34 inches in the middle.

2. Singles or Doubles

Both tennis and pickleball can be played as singles or doubles. Pickleball singles is a very similar game to tennis singles. However, pickleball doubles is completely different than tennis doubles. Trust me.

3. Bend Knees and Make Contact in Front

The technique is very similar between the two sports. In both, bend your knees and make contact with the ball out in front of your body for best results.

4. Don’t just use your Arm when Swinging

A second technique tidbit that applies to both sports is this: Don’t just use your arm when swinging. Use your legs, hips, core, and larger muscle groups.

5. Topspin, Backspin (slice), and Sidespin

Shots in both pickleball and tennis can be hit with a variety of spin. Although the tennis racket strings will exacerbate the spin, players in both sports can make use of topspin, backspin, and sidespin to manipulate the flight and bounce of the ball.

6. Eye-Hand Coordination

Typically, if one is good in one racket or paddle sport, they will be pretty good in others. Having good eye-hand coordination is a prerequisite for both tennis and pickleball.

7. Mental Toughness

Same for mental toughness. Both sports require the ability to focus on the present and “forget” past points or rallies.

8. Competitive

Tennis players and pickleball players are both competitive – so much so that there are an ample number of tournaments and leagues happening seemingly every week.

9. Professional Tours

Both pickleball and tennis have professional tours. In tennis, there are the ATP and WTA tours. In pickleball, there are the APP and PPA tours.

10. Multi-Generational

What I absolutely love about both sports is that they can be played at any age.

Is Pickleball Easier Than Tennis?

As someone who has played and instructed in both sports, I have to say, yes, pickleball is easier than tennis. In terms of its learning curve, pickleball is pretty quick. As new players, if you have a racket sports background, it can make it even faster. Additionally, it’s easier to find people to play with so you can get more practice. Since pickleball is a social sport, you can typically show up at a court and find people playing.

Even though pickleball might be easier, it still can take time to master as there are strategies to be learned if you want to advance skill levels.

Is Pickleball More Fun Than Tennis?

There are many similarities and differences between pickleball and tennis, so it might just come down to which sport is more fun to play. Actually, that’s a loaded question. Depending on who you ask, you are sure to get a different answer. I know many tennis players who have crossed over to pickleball, others who have tried pickleball and have gone back to playing tennis, and others who play both sports.

As someone who has played both sports for many years – tennis for the first 25 years of my life and pickleball for the last 7 or 8 years – I can say, without a doubt, both are fun. Having said that, however, I am now partial to the sport of pickleball.


Can Pickleball be Played on a Tennis Court?

Yes, pickleball can be played on a tennis court. Actually, you can put multiple pickleball courts on a tennis court. A tennis net can be used as a divider between 2 pickleball courts.

Why is Pickleball Popular?

Can You Play Pickleball with Two Players?

Pickleball vs Tennis

What about you, pickleball enthusiasts? Do you play both sports? If so, what are the big differences and similarities between the two sports that you have encountered?

Hope to see you on the court – whether it’s at the tennis courts or pickleball courts.

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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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  1. Hi,
    I’m a 3.5-4.0 player and I use a low drop serve with spin in both directions depending if the receiver is right or left-handed or whatever the situation may be. Sometimes serving from the left side, I will drop the ball in the court right of the centerline, but still standing behind the baseline and to the left of the centerline. Is this still legal?

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