Key Differences Between Pickleball and Tennis

Pickleball and tennis are two popular racquet sports that offer unique playing experiences. While they share some similarities, they are distinct sports with different rules, equipment, and playing styles. Understanding the key differences between pickleball …

Pickleball and tennis are two popular racquet sports that offer unique playing experiences. While they share some similarities, they are distinct sports with different rules, equipment, and playing styles. Understanding the key differences between pickleball and tennis can help you appreciate each game’s unique qualities and might even help you choose which one is best suited for you. This article aims to elucidate the primary differences between these two engaging sports.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis. It was invented in the mid-1960s in the United States and has grown rapidly in popularity since then. The game is played on a smaller court with a net that is slightly lower than a tennis net. The paddles used in pickleball are solid and typically made of wood or composite materials, and the ball is a perforated polymer similar to a wiffle ball. Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles and is known for being accessible to players of all ages and skill levels.

What is Tennis?

Tennis is a well-established racquet sport with a rich history dating back to the 12th century in France. It is commonly played on a rectangular court divided by a net. Tennis can be played on various court surfaces, including grass, clay, and hard courts. The game involves using a racquet to hit a felt-covered rubber ball over the net with the intent of scoring points by making the ball land in the opponent’s court beyond their reach or forcing them to make an error. Tennis is often played as singles or doubles and is characterized by fast-paced rallies and a broad range of strokes and strategies.

Differences Between Tennis and Pickleball

Court Size

One of the most noticeable differences between pickleball and tennis is the court size. A standard pickleball court measures 20 feet wide by 44 feet long, which is significantly smaller than a tennis court, which measures 36 feet wide by 78 feet long. This smaller court size not only makes pickleball easier on the joints but also allows for quicker movement and shorter rallies, making it a particularly appealing option for players looking for a less physically demanding sport.


The equipment used in pickleball and tennis is another key difference between the two sports. In pickleball, players use a solid paddle, often made of wood or composite materials, whereas, in tennis, players use a strung racquet typically made from materials like graphite or aluminum. The balls used in each sport are also different; pickleball uses a lightweight plastic ball with holes, resembling a wiffle ball, while tennis uses a dense, rubber ball covered with felt. These differences in equipment significantly affect the way the games are played and the skills required to excel in each.


Scoring in pickleball and tennis also differs. In pickleball, games are typically played to 11 points, and a team must win by two points. Only the serving team can score points. In tennis, players must win six games to win a set, and most matches are best out of three or five sets. A player needs to win by at least two games to secure a set, and points are scored by winning individual rallies, regardless of who is serving. These scoring systems create different pacing and strategic elements in each sport.

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Rules and Gameplay

The rules and gameplay of pickleball and tennis share some similarities, but they also have important differences. In pickleball, players serve underhand from the baseline and must hit the ball across the net within the diagonally opposite service court. The return of serve must also bounce before it is hit, a rule known as the “double bounce” rule. After that, players can hit the ball out of the air as long as they are not standing in the “kitchen,” a designated non-volley zone near the net.

In tennis, players serve overhand from behind the baseline and can hit the ball on the full volley as soon as the serve is returned. The ball must land within the opponent’s service court on the serve, but players have more freedom in their shot selection afterward. These differences in rules and gameplay contribute to the unique playing styles and strategies in pickleball and tennis.

Tennis vs. Pickleball: Comparison Chart

Aspect Pickleball Tennis
Court Size 20′ x 44′ 36′ x 78′
Net Height 34″ at center 36″ at center
Paddle/Racquet Solid paddle Strung racquet
Ball Perforated plastic Felt-covered rubber
Serving Style Underhand Overhand
Scoring System Play to 11 points Best of 3 or 5 sets
Ideal for All Ages Yes Typically teens/adults


Is Pickleball easier to play than Tennis?

Many people find pickleball easier to learn and play than tennis, especially for beginners and older players. The smaller court size, simplified rules, and slower ball speed make pickleball more accessible and less physically demanding. However, both sports require skill, strategy, and practice to master, and each offers its unique challenges and rewards.

Can you play Tennis on a Pickleball court?

No, you cannot play tennis on a pickleball court due to the significant differences in court size and equipment. Tennis requires a larger playing area and a net that is slightly higher than that used in pickleball. However, some tennis facilities have started to introduce combination courts that can be modified to accommodate both sports as the popularity of pickleball continues to rise.

Are Pickleball rules similar to Tennis?

While there are some similarities between the rules of pickleball and tennis, such as scoring points by winning rallies, the two sports have distinct rules that set them apart. For example, the serving style in pickleball is underhand, while in tennis, it is typically overhand. Additionally, the “double bounce” rule in pickleball and the presence of the non-volley zone (kitchen) are unique features that do not exist in tennis.

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Is Pickleball easier than Tennis for kids?

Pickleball is generally considered easier for kids to pick up than tennis. The smaller court size, lighter paddles, and slower ball speed make pickleball more manageable and enjoyable for younger players. These factors help kids develop their hand-eye coordination and racquet skills without the physical strain often associated with tennis. Additionally, the simplified rules of pickleball make it easier for kids to understand and enjoy the game.

Origins and History of Pickleball and Tennis

Both pickleball and tennis have fascinating origins and histories that have shaped their development into the popular sports they are today. Understanding these backgrounds can provide deeper insight into the unique aspects of each game.


Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965 by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The sport was created as a fun activity for their bored children. Using a lowered badminton net, they improvised with a wiffle ball and wooden paddles. Over time, pickleball’s simplicity and accessibility led to its growing popularity. The sport seamlessly bridges various age groups and skill levels, making it a social and community-friendly game. It wasn’t until 1976 that the first known pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington. Since then, the sport has seen exponential growth, with official associations and standardized rules forming globally.


Tennis, on the other hand, has a much older and more documented history. It originated as a garden party game in France in the 12th century but became more formalized with time, eventually evolving into ‘real tennis’ or ‘royal tennis.’ The game we know today as lawn tennis began in the late 19th century. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is often credited with the standardized game and rules in 1874, making it accessible to the general public. Tennis quickly became popular in Victorian England, and its association with lawn clubs and prestigious tournaments like Wimbledon cemented its status as an elite sport. Over time, tennis grew globally, with major tournaments including the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open becoming revered events in the sports calendar.

Each of these sports’ histories highlights their cultural impacts and the community they have fostered. Pickleball’s rapid rise reflects a desire for inclusive, easy-to-learn recreational activities, while tennis’ establishment as a global sport underscores its enduring appeal and athletic challenge.

Physical Demands and Benefits of Playing Pickleball and Tennis

The physical demands and benefits of playing pickleball and tennis are essential aspects to consider, especially for those comparing the sports for recreational, fitness, or competitive purposes.


Pickleball is often praised for its accessibility, requiring less strenuous physical effort compared to tennis. The smaller court reduces the need for sprinting long distances, making it less taxing on the joints, particularly for older adults or those with physical limitations. This aspect makes pickleball an excellent cardiovascular workout that enhances agility, balance, and coordination without excessive strain. Additionally, pickleball’s quick rallies promote fast-twitch muscle fiber development, hand-eye coordination, and cognitive health due to the strategic components involved in gameplay. Given its less intensive nature, players can engage in longer sessions, maximizing aerobic benefit and overall enjoyment.

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Tennis, conversely, is a highly dynamic sport demanding considerable stamina, strength, and agility. The size of the court requires players to cover significant ground quickly, involving intense lateral movements, sprints, and rapid directional changes. This high level of physical exertion provides extensive cardiovascular benefits, muscle strengthening, and endurance enhancement. Playing tennis regularly promotes leg, core, and upper body strength due to the precise movements, energy bursts, and powerful shots inherent in the game. Furthermore, the sport demands mental acuity and strategic planning, which, like pickleball, contributes to cognitive health.

Despite the differing levels of physical demand, both sports offer substantial mental health benefits. Engaging in either pickleball or tennis can reduce stress, improve mood, and stimulate neuroplasticity, thanks to the strategic thinking and social interaction involved. Both sports also foster disciplined practices, teamwork, and a sense of achievement, fostering overall well-being and life satisfaction.

In summary, while pickleball presents a less physically demanding option better suited for a broader demographic, tennis offers a more intense workout suitable for those seeking higher cardiovascular and muscular engagement. Regardless of the choice, both sports deliver significant physical and mental health benefits, enhancing overall quality of life.


1. What is the main difference in the playing surface for pickleball and tennis?
Pickleball is typically played on a smaller court, often indoors or on a badminton-sized court, whereas tennis is played on a larger, outdoor court.

2. How do the equipment requirements differ between pickleball and tennis?
Pickleball uses a solid paddle and a plastic ball with holes, known as a wiffle ball, while tennis uses a stringed racket and a rubber ball covered with felt.

3. What are the differences in scoring between pickleball and tennis?
In pickleball, games are usually played to 11 points and a team must win by 2 points, whereas in tennis, games are scored in sets and matches, with different systems like 15, 30, 40, and game points.

4. Is the serve technique different in pickleball compared to tennis?
Yes, in pickleball, the serve must be made underhand and below the waist, while in tennis, the serve is typically an overhand motion.

5. How does the net height vary between pickleball and tennis?
The net in pickleball is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high in the middle, whereas in tennis, the net height is 42 inches at the posts and 36 inches at the center.

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