Pickleball vs. Tennis: Understanding the Key Differences

Pickleball and tennis are popular racquet sports that have gained immense popularity recently. Both games share some similarities, but they are also different in many ways. 

Pickleball is a relatively new sport that has gained a lot of traction in the United States, while tennis has been around for centuries and is played all over the world.


One of the most significant differences between pickleball and tennis is the court size. Tennis courts are longer and wider, typically measuring 78 feet in length and 36 feet in width. 

Pickleball courts are 44 feet by 20 feet. Due to its smaller court size, pickleball is a more intense and fast-paced game. The net height in pickleball is lower than in tennis, making hitting the ball over the net easier.

Another significant difference between the two sports is the equipment used. Tennis players use racquets, which are much larger and heavier than pickleball paddles. Pickleball paddles are smaller and lighter, and the ball used in pickleball also differs from the one used in tennis. 

The pickleball ball is made of plastic and has holes, while the tennis ball is made of felt and is solid. These differences in equipment affect how the game is played and require different skills from the players.

Origins and History of Pickleball and Tennis

Pickleball and tennis are two popular racket sports that have evolved from different branches on the racket sports family tree. 

While tennis has a much longer history, pickleball evolved recently from badminton and table tennis.


Pickleball is a relatively new sport invented in 1965 by three dads in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum wanted to create a game that their families could play together.

The game quickly gained popularity and spread across the United States. In 1976, the first known pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington, and many of the participants were college tennis players who knew very little about pickleball.

Pickleball is one of the sports that is growing the fastest in the United States today, with millions of people playing it worldwide.


Tennis has been around for centuries and has its roots in medieval Europe. The game was known as “jeu de paume” or “game of the palm” and was played with the hand. 

The first tennis balls were made of leather and filled with hair or wool. The game evolved over time, and in the 16th century, rackets were introduced, and the game was played on indoor courts.

In the 19th century, lawn tennis was created in England, and the first Wimbledon tournament was held in 1877. The game quickly spread to other countries and became an Olympic sport in 1896.

Equipment Differences

When it comes to equipment, pickleball, and tennis have some notable differences. Here are some of the key differences between the two sports:

Paddles vs. Racquets

In tennis, players use a racquet, which is a long, narrow frame with strings stretched across it. On the other hand, pickleball uses a paddle, a shorter, wider instrument with no strings. Pickleball paddles are typically made of lightweight materials such as graphite, aluminum, or composite materials.


Another significant difference between the two sports is the type of ball used. Tennis balls are larger, heavier, and have a felt covering, while pickleballs are smaller, lighter, and have holes in them. The holes in the pickleball allow it to travel at slower speeds, making it easier to control and return.

Court Size

The size of the court is also different between the two sports. A tennis court is much larger than a pickleball court, measuring 78 feet long and 36 feet wide.

On the other hand, a pickleball court is only 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. The smaller court size in pickleball means that players have less ground to cover, making it easier to move around and get to the ball.

Net Height

The net at the center of a tennis court is 3 feet high, while the net at the center of a pickleball court is only 36 inches high. Because of the lower net height, the ball can be hit with a flatter trajectory in pickleball, making it easier to keep it in play.


The grip on the paddle used in pickleball also differs from that of a tennis racquet. Pickleball paddles typically have a cushioned grip made of synthetic materials, while tennis racquets have a grip made of leather or synthetic materials.

Court Layout Differences

The court layout is one of the most noticeable differences between pickleball and tennis. While both games are played on a court, the court’s dimensions are significantly different.

A standard tennis court measures 78 feet in length and 36 feet in width. The net in tennis is 3 feet high at the center and 3.5 feet high at the posts. 

On the other hand, a pickleball court measures 44 feet in length and 20 feet in width. The net in pickleball is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high at the center.

Another significant difference is the number of courts that can be accommodated on a single court. Four pickleball courts can fit on a single tennis court, making it an efficient use of space. 

This feature allows more people to play simultaneously, making it a popular choice for recreational centers and community parks.

Regarding court surfaces, both games can be played on various surfaces, including grass, clay, and hard court.

However, tennis is more commonly played on hard courts, while pickleball is usually played on a hard surface with a textured coating to provide better traction.

Scoring System Differences

Pickleball and tennis have different scoring systems. One of the main differences between the two sports is how points can be scored.

Pickleball Scoring System

The only way to win a point in pickleball is if the serving team wins the rally. If the receiving team wins the rally, they do not score a point but instead become the serving team. The first team to reach 11 points and win by 2 points wins the game.

Pickleball uses the “side out” rule for scoring. If the serving team hits the net or serves out of bounds, the receiving team gets a point and becomes the serving team. This means that the serving team must maintain high accuracy to continue scoring points.

Tennis Scoring System

Tennis, on the other hand, has a more complex scoring system. Each game is divided into points, games, and sets. 

A player must win by four points to win a game, but they must also win by a margin of two points. If the game is tied at 40-40, it is called a “deuce.” The first player to win two consecutive points after a deuce wins the game.

To win a set, a player must win six games by a margin of two. A tiebreaker is played if the set is tied at 6-6. The first player to win seven points in the tiebreaker with a margin of two points wins the set.

In professional tennis, matches are typically best-of-five sets. However, in amateur play, matches are often best-of-three sets.

Overall, pickleball and tennis scoring systems differ in complexity and rules. While pickleball has a simpler scoring system, tennis has a more intricate system that requires players to win by a margin of two points.

Rules and Gameplay Differences

Pickleball and tennis have some significant differences in their rules and gameplay. Here are the key differences:

Court Size and Net Height

In pickleball, the court is smaller than a tennis court. A pickleball court is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, while a tennis court is 27 feet wide and 78 feet long. 

The net height is also different. In tennis, the net is 3 feet high at the center, while in pickleball, the net is only 36 inches high at the center.

Scoring System

The scoring system is another significant difference between pickleball and tennis. In tennis, the scoring system is more complex and can be confusing for beginners. In pickleball, the scoring system is much simpler. The first team to reach 11 points with a two-point lead wins the game.


In tennis, the serve is an essential part of the game. The serve is also critical in pickleball, but the rules are different. In pickleball, the serve must be made underhand, and the server must keep one foot behind the back line until the ball is struck.

Double Bounce Rule

Another significant difference between pickleball and tennis is the double bounce rule. In pickleball, the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before players can start volleying. In tennis, players can begin volleying as soon as the ball is hit over the net.


The equipment used in pickleball and tennis is also different. In pickleball, players use paddles made of wood or composite materials, while in tennis, players use rackets made of graphite or other materials. The ball used in pickleball is similar to a wiffle ball, while the tennis ball is larger and heavier.

Physical Demand and Skill Differences

Pickleball and tennis differ in their physical demands and required skill sets. Pickleball is generally considered less physically demanding than tennis, but it requires high hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes.

Physical Demands

When compared to pickleball, tennis requires significantly more running and stamina. Tennis players need quickness in all directions, as they often have to cover more ground than their opponents. 

With its larger courts and faster balls, tennis demands greater speed, agility, and explosiveness from its players.

On the other hand, pickleball is played on a smaller court, and the ball travels at a slower speed, making it less physically demanding. 

While players still need to be able to move quickly, the shorter court and slower ball speed mean that players do not need to cover as much ground or move as explosively as tennis players.

Skill Differences

While both sports require good hand-eye coordination, pickleball emphasizes quick reflexes and reaction time. 

The smaller court size and slower ball speed mean that players have less time to react and must be able to make split-second decisions.

However, tennis shot selection and execution require more technical skill. Players must hit powerful serves and groundstrokes, precise volleys, and delicate drop shots due to the faster ball speed and larger court size.

Popularity and Accessibility

Pickleball and tennis are popular racket sports, but they differ in accessibility and popularity. 

Tennis has been around for centuries and has a massive following, with around 87 million players worldwide. In contrast, pickleball is a relatively new sport recently gaining popularity.

Pickleball’s popularity is due to its accessibility. It is a sport for all ages and abilities. Beginners can learn quickly due to the smaller court, slower ball speed, and lighter paddles. Pickleball is also a good choice for people with mobility issues or injuries because it is less physically demanding than tennis.

On the other hand, tennis can be more challenging for beginners due to its larger court size, faster ball speed, and heavier racquets.

It requires more physical endurance and skill to play at a competitive level. However, for those who are up for the challenge, tennis offers a thrilling and rewarding experience.

Pickleball’s affordability is another factor in its accessibility. Equipment and court rental are much cheaper than tennis.

A good tennis racquet costs over $100, but a good pickleball paddle costs under $50. Pickleball courts can be set up in smaller spaces, making it easier to find a place to play.


While pickleball and tennis share some similarities, they are two distinct sports with unique characteristics. 

One area where pickleball has an advantage over tennis is its accessibility. Pickleball is a great alternative to tennis for people of all ages and skill levels because of how simple it is to pick up and play. 

Due to the slower pace and smaller court size, pickleball is a great alternative to tennis for people with injuries or age restrictions.

Both tennis and pickleball present unique challenges and opportunities for fun and fitness, but their tempos and environments could not be more different.


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