Pickleball v Paddle Tennis: Similarities & Differences

Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Differences and Similarities

Looking for the difference in the two similar racket sports, pickleball and paddle tennis? Here’s an article that lists all the differences and some similarities between these two, pickleball v paddle tennis.

There are so many racket or paddle sports going around these days that it is very easy to mix things up between any two or even confuse between the rules of two sports if you, like me, play multiple sports.

Most of these sports borrow a lot of their rules, playing style and equipment from each other and at times requires close inspection in order to differentiate two.

Two such sports are pickleball and paddle tennis which lead to some of those question-marks. In the piece below, we will look at the differences and similarities between pickleball and paddle tennis.

First things first though, the question a lot of people ask. Is pickleball the same as paddle tennis? No, pickleball and paddle tennis are two distinct racket sports which have a few similarities but a lot of differences.

Paddle Tennis v Pickleball History

Paddle tennis was invented by a Reverand of an Episcopal Minister around 1898 who took the game with him to New York where it quickly became very popular. In 1923 it got its own association in the United States Paddle Tennis Association (USPTA).

Pickleball came into existence much later wherein 1965 a family invented a game similar to the modern-day pickleball.

They wanted to play badminton but did not have a shuttlecock with them so they ended up playing with a wiffle-ball and named the sport pickleball because of the inventor’s dog’s name was pickle!

Many changes and modifications later, the current version of the sport came about and it got its own association in the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) in 1984.

What are the Similarities between Pickleball & Paddle Tennis?

The two main similarities between Paddle Tennis & Pickleball are as below,

  • Style of Play
  • Paddle Designs

More information around these similarities can be found below.

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Style of Play

Casual followers of racket/paddle sports can often get confused between paddle tennis and pickleball & that is with a good reason. There are a couple of similarities between the two sports and playing style is the biggest one.

Both the games are based around hitting the ball back and forth across the net and forcing the opponent to make a mistake or scoring a point by hitting a winner.

Even the court, paddle shapes and other aspects surrounding both of them can come across as pretty similar. And unless you happen to play one of these sports, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two.

Paddle Designs

Unlike other racket sports like tennis, badminton and racquetball, both paddle tennis and pickleball are played with paddles and not with rackets. A lot of the times the paddles for both are interchanged with each other.

It’s not the most ideal thing to do but at beginner level, people do end up playing pickleball with the paddle tennis paddle.

And that’s because they look similar in terms of the shape, size and the material used. So a casual follower of these pickleball and paddle tennis can easily mistake one sport for another.

But the real difference is only noticeable once one takes a closer look.

The paddle designing rules for paddle tennis are much more stringent whereas a pickleball paddle has a lot more flexibility in terms of its length and width. We shall learn the difference between the two in a later section.

What are the Differences Between Pickleball & Paddle Tennis?

Despite a few similarities, there are many differences between paddle tennis & pickleball. Some of these differences include:

  • Playing Surface & Net
  • Paddles & Balls Used
  • Paddle Texture
  • Scoring Method
  • Serving Style
  • Other Attributes in the Playing Arena
  • Popularity

We shall take a look at each of the difference in a little more detail below,

Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Playing Surface & Net

Like many other aspects of the game, the courts can also look similar at first glance. But there is a difference in the dimension of the courts and that has a huge impact on how both the sports are played.

Paddle tennis is normally played on a 50 feet long and 20 feet wide court. The sport can be played on any tennis court with different marking lines which can be made using tapes. The court is divided between service zones and service boxes. The service line lies three feet within the baseline.

The net height is much lower than tennis and needs to be exactly 31 inches above the surface. The posts are required to be 18 inches outside the sidelines & no more than one-inch sag is allowed in the center.

In comparison, a standard pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide. There is a non-volley zone (NVZ) known as “kitchen” which is the area of the court on either side of the net.

The net needs to be 36 inches high from the sidelines and a maximum of two-inch sag is allowed at the center.

No such zone exists in paddle tennis.

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Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Paddles & Balls Used

Paddle tennis paddles are made from solid fibre material with holes in it to allow the air to flow through. Each hole must not be greater than 3/8 inches in its diameter. The overall dimensions of the paddle must not exceed 18 1/2 inches by 9 1/2 inches.

The ball used in paddleball is a pressurized tennis ball as approved by the US Tennis Association to use in tournaments.

The internal pressure of this ball is reduced to an extent so that it will bounce between 31-33 inches when dropped from a height of about six feet. A special needle is used to puncture the ball to achieve the required bounce.

The equipment rules for the pickleball are not as stringent comparatively. A paddle can be of any shape or size as long as the total length plus width does not exceed 24 inches and the surface has to be smooth.

Normally the paddles are made from graphite, composite steel, wood and other non-compressed material. A perforated polymer ball is used in the sport which has around 26-40 round holes in it.

Normally indoor balls are made of less durable plastic because the surfaces indoor tend to be less harsh then outdoors. But otherwise, there is not a huge difference between the quality of balls for indoor or outdoor versions of the sport.

Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Paddle Texture

The paddles in both the sport can look very similar in its style and shape. But there is an inherent difference between the two & that is the texture of its surface.

The paddles of paddle tennis have a rough texture and contain holes in them. The holes allow the air to pass through them and allows the ball to compress into the surface to create a spongy ping effect.

On the other hand, a pickleball paddle has a very smooth surface. There are in fact devices by which the officials can check the smoothness of the paddle surface to ensure that the paddle is completely smooth & does not have any traction generating capacity.

The core of a pickleball paddle is typically in a honeycomb shape which creates power without adding weight to the unit.

Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Scoring Method

The scoring method in both the sport is quite different from each other.

Paddle tennis’ scoring method looks very similar to tennis. To win a game, the player needs to score four points which are awarded as 15, 30, 40 and game.

In order to win a set the player needs to have a lead of two games over the opponent and a tie is decided by a tie-breaker. There can be an eight-game pro-set or a best of three sets in a six-game per set format.

For pickleball, on the other hand, the scoring system is very different and follows a different model of scoring.

The winner needs to reach the 11 points mark first and has to be two points clear of the opponent to win. Due to these rules sometimes the final score of a match has much bigger numbers than 11.

Pickleball also allows a player to score only on one’s own serve. This is not the case with paddle tennis.

The duration of a pickleball match normally lasts less than a paddle tennis match because of its scoring method.

Pickleball v Paddle Tennis Serving Style

Serving style is another aspect where both the sport are quite different from each other.

In Paddle tennis, the serving rules are not very strict. The player doesn’t have any restriction on serving underhanded or overhead. They can serve as they like and feel confident in.

Though there is only one opportunity to serve & one fault means that the service is turned over to the opponent.

Pickleball, on the other hand, have very strict rules when it comes to the serving.

In order for a serve to be legal, the serve much be underhanded, made in a low to high motion, the impact of the paddle and the ball must be below the waist. The wrist must also be higher than the paddle face upon contact.

Any of these conditions not meeting and the service becomes illegal. But just like in paddle tennis, every opponent only gets one chance to serve at a time.

Other Attributes in the Playing Arena for Pickleball v Paddle Tennis

Both the sports are quite similar to the likes of tennis and table tennis where two players hit the ball back and forth across the net trying to win a point. But there are a couple of unique features in both the sport that makes them really different.

In pickleball, there is non-volley zone known as the kitchen, where a player is not allowed to venture at any time. This is introduced to ensure that the players don’t stand at the net all the time and make the game quicker.

But in paddle tennis “Screens” are placed surrounding the court and just like in squash the players can return the ball once the ball has come off those screens. These screens add different dimensions, physics, angles and strategies to the game making it even more exciting.

It requires additional pace and game awareness to calculate the bounce and speed at which the ball will ricochet from the screens. This unique element makes paddle tennis very interesting.

Popularity Differences between Pickleball and Paddle Tennis

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sport in the US and has become very popular due to its relaxed but exciting style and its similarity to tennis. Many recreational clubs and parks are now adding dedicated pickleball courts for enthusiasts.

In a way, the sport has some elements from all popular racket sports like tennis, table tennis and badminton. And for players who do not have the fitness and agility to play those games, pickleball is a great alternative.

So much so fans are beginning to ask if pickleball might be included in the Olympics at some stage.

Paddle tennis, on the other hand, has not grown in popularity the same way despite offering so much. The sport can be played in the fall and winter months in the US & some courts even offer insulated heaters that allow the sport to be played even in snowy conditions.

But maybe because of the complexity of its rules and the need to be much more agile and quick compared to other sports, paddle tennis has not caught on in terms of its popularity compared to pickleball.

DifferencePaddle TennisPickleball
Playing Surface & Netit has a longer court size & a lower net height.It has a shorter court length but has a "non-volley zone".
Paddles & Balls UsedRough texture Paddles with holes in it and a pressurised ball.Smooth surface paddles with a ball with holes in it.
Paddle TextureRough paddle surface with holes in it to catch the ball and give a spongy bounce.Flat surface with smooth texture to create a hard ping at impact.
Scoring MethodTennis like Scoring Method with Points & Set system. The match lasts longer as a result.Race to 11 scoring system and requires a lead of two points to win. Shorter matches comparitively.
Serving StyleRules not very strict, can serve underhand or overheaded.Very strict rules, the serve must be underhand with other rules as well.
Other Attributes in the Playing ArenaContains squash like Screens where the ball can hit and still be in play.Contains non volley zones and kitchen area which needs to be avoided
PopularityConsidered a fall & winter sport. Requires more agility and hasn't caught up in popularity.Doesn't require as much pace and agility as other sports. One of the fastest growing sports in the US.

Final Words on the Differences Between Pickleball and Paddle Tennis

Paddle tennis and pickleball may look similar to the casual eye but there are many differences between them. Both of them have their unique rules and playing styles and different skillset and fitness levels are required in order to play them.

The best way to experience how similar or different these sports are like is to pick up a paddle of either of it and try it out for yourself. That will not only help you understand the differences between them but you may end up getting hooked to a sport for life!

Saumil Dave

An accountant by profession, I follow my tennis, table tennis and badminton. I also love writing and chatting about sports and you can reach out to me at https://twitter.com/SaumilDave13

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