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Pickleball vs Tennis

Author: Andrew Gilman | May 13, 2024

Tennis and Pickleball Courts

Pickleball and tennis have a number of similarities, but the two sports have a lot of differences, too. Many tennis players have either added pickleball to their recreational activities or switched entirely to playing pickleball.

Playing one of the two will certainly help you be better at the other. 

Here are some of the similarities, rule differences, and other facts about the two sports:

Layout and court size

Tennis courts measure 78 feet in length and 27-feet wide for singles play. It measures 36-feet wide in doubles play.

Pickleball court is much smaller, going 44-feet long by 20-feet wide. There’s a  non-volley zone for pickleball seven feet from the net on both sides of the court. The net in pickleball is 36-inches high on the ends and 34-inches high across the middle section of the net. The net in tennis measures 36-inches high in the middle and 42-inches high on the posts.

Pickleball courts and tennis courts
Two Tennis Courts with Four Pickleball Courts Over

Equipment

Tennis is played with rackets, made from graphite, aluminum or other materials. The ball is rubber and covered in felt.

Pickleball is played with paddles made of wood, composite materials like graphite or carbon fiber. The ball is similar to a wiffle ball, but is a bit heavier. It has holes in it, as is usually made out of a composite plastic. There are both “indoor” and “outdoor” balls.

Gameplay

Tennis is known for its fast-pace. It’s dynamic, because the court is so big, requiring players to use a variety of shots. You’ll definitely need excellent reflexes, agility. Be ready for a demanding cardio workout.

Pickleball is known for its strategy, engaging in short shots near the non-volley zone, favoring placement over power. 

Pickleball is more commonly played in the doubles variety. Tennis has a lot of emphasis on the singles game, but the doubles game is very entertaining, more social and lively.

Scoring

Tennis scoring is complex. There’s no other way to describe it. The match is made up of sets and games. Typically, to win a match, t’s the first team or individual to win two sets out of three. Sets are made up of games. Each game is played to four points, scored as “15, 30, 40, 45,” but each game must be won by two points. If each team or player is tied after six games, there is a tiebreaker played to seven points, which must be won by two points.

After a team or individual wins a game, the other team or individual serves the next game.

(Learn more on scoring in pickleball)

Pickleball games are generally played to 11 and a team must win by at least two points. Matches are usually formatted to a best two-of-three style. The serving team is the only team that can score points. After the serving team commits two faults, the other team then becomes the serving team.

Serving

Mastering the serve in tennis is complex and difficult. However, it’s a valuable skill to understand and execute as it can be the difference in the game. Unlike pickleball, the tennis serve is overhand.

The player is required to stand behind the baseline within the service box corresponding to their side of the court and must serve into the diagonal box on the opponent’s side of the court. The server alternates between serving to the right and left sides of the court. The serve is initiated by tossing the ball in the air and striking it with the racket before it hits the ground. 

If the ball hits the net and still lands in the appropriate space, it is considered a “let” serve and is replayed. If the ball does not end up in the appropriate space, it is a fault. The server gets a second chance to serve the ball in. If on the second chance there’s another fault, it’s considered a “double fault” and the opponent receives a point.

In pickleball, the underhand serve is pretty much the standard, at least at the pro level. Serves must be diagonal, cross-court, with both feet behind the baseline. The serve must be in an upward motion with the impact coming below the waist. Serves also have to land beyond the non-volley zone or it is a fault. Each server in pickleball gets one attempt. 

If the serving team earns a point, the server will switch sides with his or her partner and serve to the opposite side. This continues until the receiving team wins a rally.

(Learn more on serving in pickleball)

How hard is it to play?

Tennis can be very rewarding and is a sport people can play, starting very young and continue to play for many years. However, tennis is also difficult, requiring the mastery of the serve, which can be tricky and other factors like judging trajectory of the ball on a large playing area, which takes a lot of time and practice.

Good footwork and agility are mandatory and balance and control are also important. One of the other factors tennis requires is mental toughness. It’s a physical game, but dealing with pressure, staying focused and maintaining composure during matches is a challenge, particularly in the singles game.

Pickleball requires a number of these things as well, but because the court is significantly smaller, the game is easier to play. Meanwhile, by most accounts, from scoring to actually having success on the court, the learning curve to pickleball is much easier than tennis. Both sports require precision, accuracy, power, footwork and composure, but because the pickleball is much less bouncy, it’s easier to manage to get the ball over the net and have some relative success, compared to tennis.

How physically fit do you need to be ?

Pickleball still demands good footwork, excellent eye-hand coordination and quick reflexes, but because the court is shorter, the ball a bit slower, the demands on the body are definitely less than padel, tennis or squash.

Tennis is the most-demanding of any of the racket sports. It requires good cardiovascular endurance, agility, strength and flexibility. Because matches can be long and difficult at the higher levels of play, good physical fitness is a must for success.

Both sports ask a lot out of the player, because of movement, agility, footwork and flexibility.

How popular is the sport?

Pickleball might be gaining in popularity, and it is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, but tennis has the advantage of history. Because the sport has been around much longer than pickleball, it has gained millions of followers as well as players. Many tournaments are broadcast world-wide, which increases the popularity of the sport.

Tennis is played and followed by countries all over the world. It has massive appeal in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. South America also has many players. Tennis also has a recognized professional circuit and events like Wimbledon, Australian Open, the United States Open and the French Open attract players and viewers from all over the world.

Locally, most cities give residents access to free tennis courts, making the game accessible to all. 

Similar to pickleball, there are health benefit to playing, considering it helps promote a physical and active lifestyle. And like pickleball, tennis can be a social activity as well, it bring people together to play in a less-competitive, fun environment.

Pickleball courts are more abundant today than they were a year ago and absolutely more than 10 years ago. There are numerous places to play for any skill level player. In addition, there are numerous professional tours, which means more people are watching the sport today than ever before. 

Pickleball also has all the social benefits of players being close together, teamwork and ease of learning that make the sport increasingly popular to try out.

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