Pickleball vs Tennis
Last Updated: September 19, 2022
When comparing pickleball vs tennis, the major differences are the court size, net height, balls, paddles vs racquets, scoring, and serving. Another key difference is the strategy used in each sport. Tennis games are typically played from the back of the court, whereas pickleball is played closer to the net.
In fact, pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in the United States.
Once thought of as a sport for older people, played at a slower pace than tennis, has now grown into a sport that attracts younger players and active tennis players.
9 Main Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis are:
- Size of the court – One of the big differences between pickleball and tennis is that a pickleball court size and design is different than a tennis court. A pickleball court is a much smaller court than a tennis court.
- Net height – another big difference is that the tennis net height is 36 inches in the middle and 42 inches at the poles. Whereas, a pickleball net is 34 inches in the middle and 36″ inches at the poles.
- Types of balls – The design, size and weight of the balls are different – considered the biggest difference by many tennis players. Pickleball balls (also called a wiffle ball) are a hard plastic ball, have holes and are larger than tennis balls. Pickleball also has indoor balls and outdoor balls.
- Pickleball paddles vs tennis rackets – The design, size and weight of a pickleball paddle vs a tennis racket are different. A tennis racket 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).
- How Points are Scored – The scoring system for pickleball is different than tennis. Pickleball games are played to 11 points, but a tennis game is played to 21 points. This is a significant adjustment for first time tennis players.
- Serving Rules – Only an underhand serve is allowed in pickleball. Tennis players love a wicked overhand serve but when pickleball was originally invented, the ‘no overhead rule’ was created to discourage a lot of smashing of balls.
- 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.
- Non-Volley Zone – Pickleball has a Non-Volley Zone, an area that is 7 ft from the pickleball net on both sides and runs the entire width of the court. Players can’t volley the ball while standing in the non-volley zone or on the non-volley zone line (sometimes called the kitchen line).
- Pickleball is played by the non-volley zone whereas tennis is played further back in the court.
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.
A pickleball ball is larger and made of plastic vs a tennis ball.
A Pickleball is made of hard plastic, is hollow, and is larger than a tennis ball. It also doesn’t 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 balls and outdoor balls. Both are approximately the same size but outdoor pickleball balls have slightly smaller holes and more 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 ping-pong paddles (table tennis). 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.
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 (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 pickleball net on both sides and runs the entire width of the court.
As you may have guessed, the non-volley zone (or kitchen) 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 pickleball net on both sides.
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 pickleball 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 net play.
In pickleball, you hit the ball while in front of you, whereas with tennis you turn sideways and then return the ball.
Summary – 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 paddle sports and racket sports, including tennis, to be curious.
Now that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, more tennis players are becoming pickleball enthusiasts.
Once thought of as a sport for older people, played at a much slower pace than tennis, has now grown into a sport that attracts younger players and active tennis players.
Not only is it a fun game but it’s a great sport that has elements of tennis.
I hope that you now have a better understanding of the major differences between pickleball and tennis.