Tips for Tennis Players Switching from Tennis to Pickleball

Making the switch from playing tennis to playing pickleball is not uncommon.

In fact, the popularity of pickleball has increased significantly with 4.8 million players in the US according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

There are similarities between pickleball and tennis that will help players with tennis backgrounds adjust reasonably easily which is one reason why so many tennis players are switching to pickleball. 

But there are some key differences that are important for former tennis players to understand.

Pickleball Tips and Strategies for Tennis Players

The most significant differences between pickleball and tennis are: 

  • Pickleball uses a court that is almost half the size of a tennis court
  • Pickleball has a non-volley zone, tennis doesn’t
  • A pickleball paddle has a solid surface and does not use strings like a tennis racquet
  • A pickleball ball is a large, plastic hollow ball with 26 – 40 holes unlike a tennis ball which doesn’t have any holes
  • The pickleball net is lower than a tennis net
  • Scoring is done differently

When switching from tennis to pickleball, keep in mind that learning any new sport takes time to adjust and the skill level you have in tennis won’t immediately equate to the skill level you have in pickleball.

But your tennis skills will help you easily switch from tennis to pickleball and start winning pickleball games.

Play at the non-volley zone line, not the baseline

The best strategy that any experienced pickleball player will give is to move to the non-volley zone as soon as possible after the third shot so you’re in a good position to respond to the ball. 

Honing your soft game at the non-volley zone is how to win lots of points.

Staying at the back of the court keeps you in a defensive position and you’ll find you and your partner running the court with very little time to strategically hit the ball. 

Learn the soft game

Intermediate and advanced players understand that the power game in pickleball is not likely going to win.

It’s tougher for a tennis player who is new to pickleball to understand.

Winning in pickleball is more about the soft game and playing at the non-volley zone line (no volley zone or kitchen but the correct term is non-volley zone).

Dink shots and practice at the non-volley zone will help to develop the muscle memory needed to get the non-volley zone line and make dink shots that win lots of points.

Learn the dink shot (dinking game)

Learn about the dink shot. Learning how to play a dinking game is going to determine how often you win. Lobbing the pickleball ball over the net into the non-volley zone is key. Perfecting this shot will benefit you way more than playing a power game.

Unforced Errors

When playing pickleball, the important thing is to play strategically and cautiously because what you don’t what is to make an unforced error.

That’s right. In pickleball, only the serving team can earn points.

But, as the serving team, you don’t want to make an unforced error because after both players have had the opportunity to serve, you lose the serving position and your opponent is now in the stronger, serving position.

For beginner pickleball players this is tricky. There’s a lot to learn and stay focused on…the score, the different rules etc… so easy to just make an unforced error.  

Learn to serve underhand

Practice serving underhand and keep your pickleball paddle below your waist. Overhead serves are not allowed in pickleball.

This is important, hard fast rule and one that takes some adjustment.

The overhead serve is key in tennis but will result in a loss of serve in pickleball.

Keep a light grip pressure

Keep a light grip pressure when holding your paddle.

Enough pressure that you won’t easily drop your paddle but not so tight that you’re really squeezing it – no death grip. 

You want to rest the paddle handle in your hand, and then wrap your hand around it. Holding the paddle really tight will cause

Learn how to serve strategically

Learning how to hit a winning serve is the best offensive and the easiest way to earn lots of points.

Practice serving, over and over to develop muscle memory. Most advanced players have developed a serve that helps them to win points and games, a large percentage of the time. 

Practice serving the ball to the back of the court, just inside the baseline, at your opponent’s feet.

Once you’ve mastered this, practice putting spin on the ball but that’s not important for beginners. 

Learn how to place the third shot

The 3rd shot drop is the third shot after a serve. 

Learning how to best place this ball will put you in an offensive position.

If not, you’ll find yourself constantly in a defensive position.

Keep your paddle in the ready position

In pickleball, the ready position is front of you below the shoulder and somewhere around 9 or 10 o’clock, depending on your preference.

This allows you to be able to respond quickly and hit either a forehand or a backhand shot.

Strokes in pickleball are also a lot shorter than what you play in tennis.

Major Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis Courts & Equipment

Pickleball Court VS Tennis Court

pickleball court vs tennis court

Pickleball Court Size VS Tennis Court Size

One of the biggest differences between pickleball and tennis is that the pickleball court is a much smaller court.

A pickleball court is almost half the size of a tennis court and that makes a significant difference when you’re making the switch between playing tennis and pickleball.

A regulation-size pickleball court is 44 ft long and 20 ft wide. 

But a regulation-size tennis court is 78 ft long and 36 ft wide.

Pickleball Court Lines vs Tennis Court Lines

The court line markings are different. Both pickleball and tennis have two side-lines and a baseline but pickleball also has a non-volley zone line that runs on each side of the net. 

The non-volley zone line runs parallel to the pickleball net, 7 ft. from the net and from one side-line to the other side-line.

Pickleball Net Size vs Tennis Net Size

Tennis Net Pickleball Net
Height at poles – 42″Height at poles – 36″
Height in center – 36″Height at center – 34″

A pickleball net is shorter than a tennis net. According to the USA Pickleball Association, a pickleball net is 34” in the center and 36” at the posts. 

According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), a tennis net is 36” in the center and 42” at the posts.

Pickleball Ball vs Tennis Ball

indoor pickleball outdoor pickleball tennis ball

Well, a pickleball ball is entirely different. It’s much larger. In fact, according to the USA Pickleball Association, a pickleball ball is between 2.874” – 2.9972” in diameter and weighs between 0.78 – 0.935 oz.

Another big difference between playing tennis and pickleball is how different the balls are which means playing with them is very different.

I know that for me, getting accustomed to playing with a pickleball ball was an adjustment. 

I’ve played tennis, squash and racquetball and although the balls are different, there’s some similarity in size and bounce (although a squash ball doesn’t move nearly as much as a tennis ball or a racquetball ball).

A tennis ball is between 2.57”- 2.70” in diameter and weighs between 1.975 – 2.095 oz.

So, you can imagine that they will be very different to play with. Not only that, a pickleball ball has holes in it. Ya, strange thing. 

indoor pickleball ball outdoor pickleball tennis ball

A pickleball ball is often referred to as a whiffle ball and the holes are there to help with flight. An indoor ball typically has 26 holes that are larger than the holes in an outdoor ball and lighter than an outdoor ball. 

An outdoor pickleball ball is on the heavier side and has 40 holes. 

Both are designed for their specific use so using an outdoor ball (wiffle ball) on an indoor gymnasium turned pickleball court, will not work well. It will bounce but it won’t bounce cleanly.

Pickleball Paddle vs Tennis Racquet

There is very little similarity between a pickleball paddle and a tennis racquet, except that they’re both used to hit a ball and they both have a handle.

pickleball paddle vs tennis racquet

A pickleball paddle is much smaller than a tennis racquet and can have a maximum length of 17″. The maximum length of a tennis racquet is 29″ and the most common length is 27 inches.

Pickleball Paddle vs Tennis Racquet Hitting Surface

A pickleball paddle has a solid hitting surface with a core that is made of wood, aluminum or composite material. A tennis racquet doesn’t have a solid face and instead, has strings for the hitting surface.

<insert an image of a pickleball paddle showing the core>

Pickleball Paddle vs Tennis Racquet Size

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the combined length and width of a pickleball paddle, including the edge guard and butt cap should not exceed 24”. The paddle length can’t exceed 17”. 

There is no restriction on paddle thickness and weight.

Pickleball Paddle VS Tennis Racquet Weight

Pickleball
Paddle
Tennis
Racquet
Light – 7.3-7.8ozLight – >10oz
Mid – 7.8 – 8.3ozMid – 10.6oz
Heavy – 8.4ozHeavy – 11oz+

A mid-weight pickleball paddle weighs between 7.8 – 8.3 oz.  A mid-weight tennis racquet weighs 10.6 oz.

One of my pet peeves is when people refer to a pickleball paddle as a pickleball racquet…drives me crazy.

I think I’ve played every racquet sport out there and a pickleball paddle is nothing like a racquet. Anyhow, new pickleball players or those who aren’t familiar with the sport just use the name incorrectly because the term racquet is what’s known and what’s common.

Enough of that rant. Just be aware that if you call a paddle a racquet, you might get a side-ways look from a die-hard pickleball player (who might even correct you).

Me, I wouldn’t do that. Defeats the purpose of having a fun game.

Key Pickleball Shots

Non-Volley Zone

pickleball court dimensions

The original intent was to have a game that all skill levels and ages could play with prolonged rallies/playtime, instead of continuous smashing that would inevitably end games quickly.

A pickleball player can’t stand in the non-volley zone and hit a ball unless it has bounced. Hence, the name non-volley zone. No volleying in the non-volley zone unless the ball has bounced.

The non-volley zone, also known informally as the kitchen or the no-volley zone, is a 7 ft deep section running parallel with the net on both sides of the net. The non-volley zone line runs on both sides from one side-line to the other side-line.

The non-volley zone is one characteristic of playing pickleball that makes it unique to racquet sports like tennis, squash and racquetball. 

It was created when the game was originally invented as a way to reduce aggressive hitting techniques. 

A player can stand in the non-volley zone at other times, but not when hitting a ball that has not bounced. 

It’s standard practice to stay out of the non-volley zone so you’re not inadvertently standing it in when you hit the ball. But it’s also good to know that if you need to step into it, to return a shot, you can do that as long as the ball has bounced.

Dink Shot

A dink shot is when a player hits the ball from their non-volley line (kitchen line), over the net, into the non-volley zone of their opponent.

When new players start playing pickleball, they’re often stuck at the back of the court hitting hard, long shots that often go out of bounds. Not only that, their opponents, if better players, will have them running around the court – outplaying them and tiring them out. 

But when a tennis player starts playing pickleball, they might be more efficient with their hard shots and as their opponent, you’ll find yourself missing balls because of these hard shots.

When a tennis player or any new player starts playing pickleball, it’s key to learn how to effectively hit a dink shot and play a dinking game (as it’s often referred to).

When making a dink shot, good players will hit the ball so it arcs just over the net, downwards, making it difficult for their opponent to return the ball due to the steep angle. It’s the opposite of a smash hit. 

Think of it as a short drop shot. It’s a good strategy for trying to control a pickleball game and force smashers from the back of the court upwards into a position where both sides are forced to play a soft shot instead of hitting a hard shot.

The better players practice their dink shot regularly but they also know that to become one of the best players, they need to perfect their dinking game – AKA, their soft game. 

Third Shot

The 3rd shot drop is the third shot after a serve. 

Serving team serves. The receiving team does a return of the serve and then the serving team returns the next shot – called the third shot.

It’s a critical shot because if strategically placed, it allows the serving team to have time to move up to the net before your opponent has returned the ball. 

The basic concept of winning in pickleball is whoever controls the net controls the game and experienced players know that perfecting the third shot is key shot for advanced players to learn.

Double Bounce Rule

The double bounce rule is another important rule that is unique to the game of pickleball

The double bounce rule doesn’t mean that a player can’t let the pickleball ball bounce twice and still hit it. In fact, the ball can only bounce once before being hit.

In pickleball the double bounce rule means that the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before the return of serve. And the serving team must let the ball bounce once before they hit the ball. 

Serving team serves the ball, and the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before they return the serve.

On the next shot, the third shot (serving team to receiving team), the receiving team can hit the ball with or without it bouncing.

FAQs – Pickleball Tips for Tennis Players

Is pickleball easy for tennis players?

Pickleball is reasonably easy for most tennis players. They understand how to hit a ball but learning how to play on a smaller court, along with learning the more unique rules of the game, will be the biggest challenge. 

Is it easy for badminton players to learn pickleball?

It tends to be easier for badminton players to learn pickleball. Someone who plays badminton regularly has likely developed impressive hand-eye coordination and will likely have quick responses when positioning themselves and their paddle to hit the ball.

These are important skills to have when playing pickleball and already having them puts a player in a great position. After that, it’s a matter of learning the rules, developing muscle memory for staying out of the kitchen and the dink shot.

Will pickleball take over tennis?

It’s quite possible that pickleball will take over tennis. In fact, the popularity of pickleball has increased significantly with 4.8 million players in the US according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

Pickleball is physically easier to play than tennis and is drawing a lot of people to the sport, including tennis players, for this very reason.

Why is pickleball more fun than tennis?

Pickleball is more fun than tennis. In fact, the game was originally invented to be fun, for socializing, and mixing age groups. The unique rules also make it more fun and challenging.

Pickleball was invented by Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell in 1965. They were tired of hearing their kids complain about being bored. 

They wanted a game that they could play with their kids, along with other family members. They grabbed some table tennis paddles, a whiffle ball and a badminton net and started playing in the backyard on the grass.

What is the average age of a pickleball player?

According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report on Pickleball, the average age of core players are 55 or older while casual players are 54 or younger. Here’s a breakdown of age groups and participants:

Is pickleball hard on your joints?

Pickleball can be hard on your joints just like any other activity that has you moving quickly and pivoting directions.

Playing pickleball can be particularly hard on your knees and ankles and it’s not uncommon for people to sprain an ankle.

Wear court shoes to avoid an ankle injury.

Tips for Tennis Players Switching from Tennis to Pickleball

I hope that you’ve found this article handy and just to recap, the most significant differences between pickleball and tennis are: 

  • Pickleball uses a court that is almost half the size of a tennis court
  • Pickleball has a non-volley zone, tennis doesn’t
  • A pickleball paddle has a solid surface and does not use strings like a tennis racquet
  • A pickleball ball is a large, plastic hollow ball with 26 – 40 holes unlike a tennis ball which doesn’t have any holes
  • The pickleball net is lower than a tennis net
  • Scoring is done differently

When switching from tennis to pickleball, keep in mind that learning any new sport takes time to adjust.