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Pickleball vs Tennis Compared: Similarities and Differences

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

Without a doubt, pickleball deserves the title of America's fastest-growing sport. But still, many people wonder what the sport is. How is pickleball different from tennis? Can you play pickleball on a tennis court? More importantly, is there really a pickleball vs tennis battle going on? To answer these questions, let's explore the similarities and differences between these two popular sports. 

How is Pickleball Similar to Tennis?

First, pickleball and tennis involve hitting a ball over a net to score points by making the ball land within the opponent's court. Both sports can also be played in singles (one player on each side) and doubles (two players on each side), allowing players to choose their preferred team size and strategy.

In both sports, serving is a critical aspect of the game. Players take turns serving, and there are specific rules regarding where and how the serve must be delivered. Additionally, both sports allow volleying (hitting the ball before it bounces) at the net. Both pickleball and tennis courts feature a similar layout with a net in the middle and designated service areas on either side.

Both pickleball and tennis players need good footwork, agility, and court coverage to retrieve shots and maintain control of the game effectively. They should develop skills in many areas like ball control, accuracy, power, and strategy to excel and progress. And lastly, both sports have professional tournaments and international associations.

What's the Difference Between Pickleball and Tennis?

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three American dads - Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. On the other hand, the so-called real tennis can be traced back to the Middle Ages, particularly in ancient Europe. However, the invention and development of lawn tennis started in the 19th century and is credited to several personalities. Obviously, tennis is much older than pickleball.

Aside from centuries of age gap, pickleball and tennis have five significant differences - courts, equipment, rules, playing techniques, and scoring system. Although both sports look the same at first glance, many specific details make them different. So, if you're ready, let's discuss them one by one.

Pickleball Court vs Tennis Court

The main difference between pickleball and tennis courts is their size. Pickleball courts have 20 x 44 feet dimensions, while tennis courts measure 27 x 78 feet for singles and 36 x 78 feet for doubles. Therefore, tennis courts are much bigger than pickleball courts. In fact, you can fit four pickleball courts on a tennis court, provided that the latter is in regulation size (60 x 120 feet) and all corners are square.

Pickleball courts have a Non-Volley Zone (NVZ), while tennis courts don't. Also known as the kitchen, this unique NVZ has a line seven feet away from the net on both sides. Both courts have two service areas and can be played in singles and doubles. Tennis courts for doubles are 36 feet wide, while courts for singles are only 27 feet wide. In pickleball, the courts for singles and doubles have the exact dimensions.

Pickleball Net vs Tennis Net

The pickleball net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches at the middle. On the other hand, a tennis net measures 3.5 ft (42 inches) high at the posts and 3 ft (36 inches) in the middle. Therefore, pickleball nets are 2 inches lower in the center, and tennis nets are 6 inches lower in the middle. Simply put, pickleball nets are shorter than tennis nets and have a smaller dip in the middle. This is because pickleball balls bounce lower than tennis balls.

Both nets have supporting posts on each end and are strapped down in the middle to maintain their required heights. But in tennis, nets should be sturdier since tennis balls are heavier than pickleball balls. It also follows that tennis net posts are larger than pickleball net posts. Therefore, you can use a tennis net for pickleball, provided you make some adjustments, especially in height.

Pickleball Paddles vs Tennis Rackets

This is the most obvious difference between pickleball and tennis. Pickleball paddles have no crisscrossed strings and are much smaller than tennis rackets. The pickleball paddle length should not exceed 17 inches (43.18 cm), while the combined length and width should not be more than 24 inches (60.96 cm), including the edge guard and butt cap. For more details, read our Pickleball Paddles Guide.

On the other hand, tennis rackets should not have a total length of more than 29 inches (73.66cm), including the handle. The width should not exceed 12.5 inches (31.75cm), and the hitting surface should be 15.5 x 11.5 inches (39.37 x 29.21 cm). Therefore, the face of a pickleball paddle is smaller than that of a tennis racket. The size difference between the two is correlated with the ball used.

Pickleball Balls vs Tennis Balls

This is another obvious difference between pickleball and tennis, but you must get closer to notice it. Pickleball balls should have a diameter of 2.87-2.97 inches (7.29-7.54 cm) and 26-40 circular holes in their surface. Indoor pickleball balls have fewer but larger holes with larger diameters than outdoor ones. For complete details, check out our Indoor vs. Outdoor Pickleball Ball Comparison post.

Meanwhile, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), tennis balls should have a diameter of 2.57–2.70 inches (6.54–6.86 cm). Although smaller than pickleball balls, they are much heavier at 56.0-59.4 grams (1.975-2.095 ounces). Pickleball balls shall weigh 22.1-26.5 grams (0.78-0.935 ounces). Hence, this explains why tennis rockets are bigger than pickleball paddles.

Pickleball vs Tennis: Serves, Playing Styles, and Rules

Both pickleball and tennis players must serve diagonally crosscourt, but the serving rules differ. Pickleball serves are underhand and below the waist, while tennis serves are power overhand and fast. In pickleball, there's a two-bounce rule, meaning the ball must hit the ground twice before the serving and receiving sides can volley. But in tennis, there's only a one-bounce rule.

Pickleball also has a drop serve that's a bit like tennis but still unique. It can be underhand or overhand, but the ball has to drop naturally and bounce once, usually underhand. The playing style also varies. Tennis is about power and speed, while pickleball focuses on control. Unlike tennis players, pickleball players, who cover the entire court, often stay near the net.

When it comes to the scoring system, pickleball is more like ping-pong than tennis. Pickleball uses a rally scoring system where every point is scored only by the serving team. This means that the receiving side cannot score a point. Pickleball games go up to 11 points, while tennis uses a 15, 30, or 40 scoring system. In tennis, the first player to win four points wins a game.

Pickleball Shoes vs Tennis Shoes

Pickleball shoes and tennis shoes may look the same but have different designs. Given that these two sports have different court sizes and playing styles, players of each sport should also wear different shoes. The kitchen makes Pickleball slower than tennis but requires more forward movements. Although there are some instances where you can wear tennis shoes for pickleball, it is not recommended. 

The main differences between pickleball and tennis shoes are the outsole, tread, toe box, cushion, and weight. The former is lighter than the latter for mobility and speed. Although no official rule states the required weight of the two sports shoes, you can feel the difference once you wear them. Wearing the wrong shoes can lead to a foot injury. If you want to know more, read our post - Pickleball Shoes vs Tennis Shoes.

Pickleball vs Tennis: Pros and Cons

Pickleball Pros

  • Easier to learn than tennis for beginners
  • Requires less intensity and strength
  • Requires less running than tennis
  • It is more applicable to growing kids and elderly people

Pickleball Cons

  • Some pickleball rules are more complex than tennis rules
  • Kitchen rules can sometimes be annoying
  • Still lacks dedicated courts
  • Converted tennis courts may look confusing
  • Noise in courts can annoy the neighborhood. Read our post about Pickleball Noise.

Tennis Pros

  • Can be more thrilling to watch
  • Much quieter than pickleball
  • Better for cardio exercises

Tennis Cons

  • It may require more talent
  • Has more potential for injuries
  • More physically exhausting
  • Games are longer

Final Thoughts

Pickleball seems easier to learn than tennis, but it does not necessarily mean that the former is not a challenging sport. Like tennis, it also requires focus and regular practice to master the game. Having less potential for injuries doesn't mean you'll not get injured while playing pickleball. After all, any sport that requires fast physical movements is prone to injury.

But while many people suggest that pickleball is a better sport than tennis, we beg to disagree. Although some tennis players are now switching to pickleball, it does not follow that pickleball will eventually replace tennis. Pickleball and tennis are great sports and fun to watch, and we should not look at them as competing against each other. But still, we must know how they differ from each other.

Have you played pickleball and tennis or even watched their games? Which one do you prefer? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Correction: The article was updated on January 9, 2024, to correct the tennis net middle height and unit of measurement for the height difference. The earlier version mentioned 26 inches instead of 36 inches, while the height difference was expressed in feet instead of inches. We apologize for the confusion.

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Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago

Check the net measurements - believe the tennis net middle height is wrong and difference between tennis and PB is stated in feet rather than inches - proofread might be worthwhile.

Dennis Hardin
Dennis Hardin
3 months ago

after playing both for years, I. Can tell you pickleball is much more FUN

Kev B
Kev B
3 months ago

There is NO comparison!! Pickleball is Pickleball and Tennis is Tennis..!!
Pickleball is ACTUALLY closer to Badminton. Same court dimensions and lowered the net.
Small solid paddle and a ball w/holes in it..
Where's the similarity!!??
Everyone needs to stop the comparisons and just play.
BOTH, are great sports and comparisons only fuel the "this is better or that is better" madness and bickering..

David Arpin
David Arpin
3 months ago

Tennis much fastest more athletic to play and watch.

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