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.
10 Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis
Let’s start with the differences between tennis and pickleball. While there are some obvious differences – such as the longer tennis racket with strings vs. the smaller, solid pickleball paddle – there are other 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.)
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, the serve must be hit underhanded. 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.
Both sports can be confusing when it comes to scoring. 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 team 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 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 is Similar in Height
36 inches in the middle for tennis, 34 inches in the middle for pickleball.
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
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.
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.
What I absolutely love about both sports is that they can be played at any age.
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.
What about you? Do you play both sports? If so, what are the differences and similarities between the two sports that you have encountered?
Hope to see you on the court – whether it be the tennis court or the pickleball court.