Pickleball vs Tennis – 9 Key Differences

Pickleball vs Tennis

Many people have heard of pickleball but they don’t know how the game is played, the rules, etc… And it’s not uncommon for players of racquet sports, including tennis, to be curious. This article describes the 9 key differences between pickleball and tennis.

9 Basic Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis

  1. Pickleball court size and design are different. A pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court.
  2. The design, size and weight of the balls are different. A pickleball is made of hard plastic, and larger than a tennis ball.
  3. The design, size and weight of a pickleball paddle vs a tennis racquet are different. A tennis racquet has a long handle with a large, slim rectangular-shaped face that has strings and weighs approximately 10 ounces. A pickleball paddle has a much shorter handle, with a broader rectangular face that is solid and weighs approximately 7.5 -8 ounces (mid-weight paddle).
  4. How Points are Scored. Pickleball games are played to 11 points, while tennis games are played to 21 points.
  5. Serving – Overhead serving is not permitted in pickleball but tennis players love a wicked overhand serve. in tennis.
  6. Court – In pickleball, the sides of a court (on either side of the centerline) are called even or odd. In tennis, it’s ad or deuce.
  7. Pickleball has a Non-Volley Zone, an area that is 7 ft from the net on both sides and runs the entire width of the court.
  8. Pickleball is played by the non-volley zone whereas tennis is played further back in the court.
  9. Pickleball can be played quite easily by people of all age groups and skills. It’s more difficult for most people to play tennis.

The design and size of the courts are different. A pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court.

A regulation-size pickleball court is 44 ft long and 20 ft wide, only one-fourth the size of a tennis court, which helps to make the game more accessible for players of all ages and abilities. It’s the same size as a standard badminton court.

A tennis court is 78 ft long and 36 ft wide (for doubles), much larger than a pickleball court

It also means that a pickleball game can easily be played on a badminton or volleyball court. Quite often tennis courts are adapted for pickleball play and can accommodate 2 pickleball courts.

pickleball court vs tennis court

A pickleball ball is larger and made of plastic vs a tennis ball.

pickleball ball vs tennis ball

A Pickleball is made of hard plastic, is hollow and is larger than a tennis ball. It also does not have much of a bounce, unlike a tennis ball which does have a lot of bounce and can bounce quite high.

There are 2 types of pickleball balls: indoor and outdoor. Both are the same size but outdoor pickleball balls have slightly smaller holes and more of them than indoor pickleball balls. When playing outdoor pickleball, the wind can play havoc with the ball so more holes help with controlling the ball as it’s flying.

Pickleball paddles have a very different design to tennis racquets

When the game of pickleball was originally invented, the game was played with a ping pong(table tennis) paddle. The size, shape and weight of a pickleball paddle have changed over the years but you can see how a modern-day pickleball paddle evolved from a ping pong paddle.

pickleball paddle vs tennis racquet

When playing pickleball and you hit a pickleball ball with your paddle, the ball will pop off or deflect off the paddle unlike in tennis where a tennis racquet has strings so that when you hit a tennis ball, the strings bend slightly before deflecting the ball.

Another major difference between a pickleball paddle and a tennis racquet is that a pickleball paddle is much smaller than a tennis racquet. The handle is much shorter and in most cases, the paddle face is smaller with a more rectangular shape. Although there are elongated pickleball paddles that have slightly longer handle than a traditional pickleball paddle handle and the paddle face is also longer.

A pickleball paddle is made of composite material. The original pickleball paddle (post ping pong paddle) was made of wood.

A composite paddle has a core, a face, and an edge guard (in most cases). The core isn’t just a solid material. In order to make paddles light (anywhere between 7 oz to 8 oz), the cores are made of a honeycomb-shaped empty cell. This design allows for solid paddles that are also lightweight.

Paddle cores can be made of Nomex, aluminum or polymer – the most common. If you want to read more about pickleball paddles cores and all the differences.

The core is covered with face material in order to give your paddle a smooth striking surface. This surface material is usually made of graphite or fiberglass.

Most pickleball paddles have an edge guard that goes around the circumference of the paddle face and helps protect the paddle from fraying and chipping on the edges. There are some pickleball paddles that are called ‘edgeless’ and are made specifically without an edge guard. Some pickleball players prefer this paddle because they feel that the edge can deflect a ball in the wrong direction.

Head over to Pickleball Paddle Buyer’s Guide

How Points Are Scored

When playing pickleball doubles, there are 3 numbers called for the score.

1st number -> player 1 or 2

2nd number -> serving team score

3rd number -> opponent score

A pickleball score would look something like 2 – 9 -3, meaning: the 2nd player is serving, the serving team has 9 points and the opposing team has 3 points. Learn more about scoring.

Over-hand Serving In Pickleball Not Allowed Vs. Is Expected In Tennis

When pickleball was originally invented by Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard, they were looking for a family-friendly sport to keep their kids busy during summer break. So, they cobbled together a game that they thought everyone could play, kids and grandparents included – what is now known as pickleball.

This meant that they created rules that would remove competitive play that could end a game or rally, really quickly. Or make it difficult for all age groups and capabilities to play. This included a rule that would not allow over-hand serving. This is a very significant difference between tennis and pickleball, because, with tennis, it’s key for tennis players to have a strong over-hand serve – it’s very much a differentiator when it comes to winning games.

However, in pickleball, you can’t serve overhand so it’s important to focus on ball placement and for more advanced players, putting some spin on the ball can make it more difficult for your opponent to return the ball.

Pickleball has a Non-Volley Zone, an area that is 7 ft from the net on both sides and runs the entire width of the court.

As you may have guessed, the non-volley zone (or Kitchen as it is often called) is a section of the court in which a pickleball player cannot stand in while volleying a ball.

It’s a section at the front of the court, that runs from either side-line and 7 ft back from the net on both sides.

pickleball court diagram - non volley zone

As with the no over-hand serve rule, the non-volley zone was created to prevent players from smashing or at least make it difficult to smash the ball over the net and subsequently end the rally or game quickly.

In basic terms, you can stand in the non-volley zone anytime throughout a game, however, if you step in the non-volley zone, the ball must bounce before you can hit it.

There isn’t a non-volley zone in tennis or any other racquet sport or paddle sport. It is definitely one aspect of pickleball that makes it very different. Keep in mind that the non-volley zone applies to playing doubles or singles.

Keep reading more about pickleball at the USA Pickleball Association.

Pickleball games are played at the non-volley zone.

I’ve played a lot of racquet sports including tennis, racquetball and squash and the strategy of playing up-close is unique to pickleball.

It’s not to say all pickleball games are played all the time at the non-volley zone but if you watch a professional game, you will almost always see the game played this way. Whereas in tennis, you would never spend a significant amount of time driving netplay.

In pickleball, you hit the ball while in front of you, whereas with tennis you turn sideways and then return the ball

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