Pickleball vs Tennis – Popularity, Equipment & Differences

Tennis v Pickleball comparison

If you are looking to understand the comparison between pickleball and tennis, along with its differences, similarities and the multiple other things which sets them on the kind of pedestal we put them as the sports we love, then here’s our exhaustive guide to look into.

So, let’s dig right into this…

Tennis has been around for decades now, while pickleball has gained popularity in more recent times with the sport having sprung into the public eyes during the pandemic of 2020.

Which is even why we are talking more and more about pickleball.

Truth be told, had this blog been started five years before it actually did (RSW kick-started in early late 2019!), we might not have paid a lot of attention to pickleball.

Truth be told, we thought long and hard before starting this website off if we wanted to focus on all racket sports or just on pickleball.

In more recent times there have been talks about tennis feeling the heat from the growing popularity of pickleball, which is also why it probably is necessary to lay down the bare facts about the two sports in questions – tennis and pickleball.

What are the similarities, differences and the way things have manifested for them in more recent times.

Tennis v Pickleball Courts

A pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court by some way, which is also why it’s easier to play pickleball from a physical standpoint.


Pickleball courts are 44 feet x 20 feet in dimension. Tennis courts, on the other hand, are way bigger at 78 feet x 36 feet.

Given that a pickleball court is much smaller, it makes sense to assume that pickleball isn’t as physical a game as tennis. It’s also a game where the serve is underhand, which immediately lets you know that the game is easier than tennis.

There is an obvious difference between the heights of the two nets.

In tennis, the net is set at about 3.5 feet (42 inches) at its center while in pickleball, the net is shorter, set at 3 feet (or 36 inches 0.914 meters) at the sidelines and 34 inches (1.07 meters) at the center.

If you are a tennis player, you can play pickleball. That does not mean you have to be able to play tennis to play pickleball, but it does help you.

Court Surface

Tennis is typically played on hardcourts, clay and grass (having also been played on carpet at one point but no longer). Pickleball is primarily played on hardcourts too but like we have discussed here, it can be played on clay too.

And if you are looking for some recreational play, you can play pickleball on grass too but that’s bit of a stretch.

Let’s compare the two sports in a few other different ways.

Tennis v Pickleball Rules, Scoring & Gameplay

There are key differences in the rules, scoring and gameplay & strategies of the two sports.

In tennis, the scoring system is a bit more complex than that of pickleball, at least for a first-timer.

A tennis match is typically played as the best of three or best of five sets, with each set consisting of six games. To win a game, a player must win four points and be ahead by at least two points. The points are scored as follows:

  • 0 points = Love
  • 1 point = 15
  • 2 points = 30
  • 3 points = 40
  • 4 points = Game

If both players are tied at 40 points, it’s called deuce, and the next player to win a point gets the advantage. If they win the next point, they win the game. If they lose the next point, it goes back to deuce. This can continue until one player wins by two points.

Please Note: The above scoring system is used in mainstream tennis but there are other formats of this sport like Fast4, which use a different and quicker format.

On the other hand, pickleball has a much simpler scoring system and borrows a part of it from the Side Out Scoring in volleyball.

A pickleball game is played to 11 points, and a player must win by two points. Points can only be scored by the serving team, and the serving team changes every time a point is scored.

If the serving team wins the point, they get to serve again. If the receiving team wins the point, they become the serving team.

Serving & Serving Techniques

While the technicalities associated with serving in tennis are beyond the purview of this article, the biggest difference between pickleball and tennis when it comes to serving is it’s mandated to be an underhand serve in case of pickleball while it’s typically overhand (although tennis players are allowed to serve underarm too).

The grip and stance associated with serving in tennis and pickleball are different too.

In tennis, you have a continental grip with a stance that has your feet your shoulder width apart from each other. The entire motion of a tennis serve is as scientific as it is artistic, almost like the pulling of a trigger with maximum force.

It’s way simpler in pickleball. An underhand serve is used with the racket starting below the waist and the contact also made below the waist. Typically players rush to the kitchen line after having made the serve.

The Uniqueness of a Pickleball Kitchen

Unlike tennis, where you can rush to the net and volley from as close as possible to the net, pickleball doesn’t allow that.

There is a rectangular zone on both sides of the net in which a pickleball player needs to allow the ball to bounce before hitting it in case the player is inside it. It’s called the non-volley zone or kitchen.

Are Tennis Players Good at Pickleball?

Yes, they are. Like any sport, if you have played something similar then it is going to be easy for you to pick up.

Many tennis players choose pickleball because they want to play a similar game to tennis where they can have fun and not worry as much about the competition.

Many choose pickleball because mostly doubles is played, the game is really quick and because of the fun factor.

When people say is pickleball like tennis, pickleball is similar to tennis in that the same forehand, backhand, volley and lob shots are used, with a bit more wrist action, but the court is different, the rule are different and the serve is different.

One of the examples of an ex-tennis player doing well in pickleball is Kaitlyn Christian, who makes our list of the best 10 pickleball players ever here.

What is More Popular, Tennis or Pickleball?

The obvious answer to this is tennis.

Tennis is one of the most popular individual sports of all times, all around the world. It’s played by over 60 million people, children, men and women, and if you think of football, baseball and cricket, tennis is right up there with these world popular sports.

It’s an Olympic sport, having first become so in 1988 and has maintained its standing as that since then.

So where does pickleball fit in when it comes to popularity?

Well, it’s not yet in the top ten of sports, but it is a very popular sport for people who want something similar to tennis but don’t have access to a tennis court, don’t have a lot of time on their hands, and prefer something not so hard on the body.

It’s also fantastic for people who want to play a game that is similar to tennis but also just have fun! Like the many celebrities around the world seem to be having playing pickleball.

Pickleball is quite loud, quite competitive, and quite funky. Which is also why pickleball has been associated with noise issues for those staying close to pickleball courts, making it a difficult balancing act for the sport.

Can Pickleball Hurt Your Tennis Game?

The jury is out on this one.

If you are a serious tennis player, as in going for major national or world tournaments, then you should only concentrate on tennis.

If you are playing for exercise and fun, then we don’t think you have to worry too much. Pickleball does have a lot more wrist action and a paddle is used as well as plastic ball with a very different bounce.

It does mean you return balls differently, you may well do more ‘scooping’ in pickleball than in tennis, but most human bodies are pretty incredible. As long as you are not playing competitively, you can swap between tennis and pickleball.

It may take a game or so to get back into the (literal) swing of things, but you will get back to it! Think of all the tennis players who also play squash or racquetball and tennis. There are a lot which means even if you are worried and thinking will pickleball hurt my tennis game, it’s unlikely if you practice both.

And of course, you can always choose to favor one.

A pickleball paddle and ball is very different from a tennis racket and ball.
Photo Credit: Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Is Pickleball Tougher than Tennis?

Once you have learned how to play either game (find our pickleball rules guide here), they are both fairly seamless.

You need to follow the rules, you need to learn the basic shots and then you need to practice. It’s a good idea to bear in mind that while pickleball is similar to tennis, the rules, speed and court are pretty different.

So while pickleball is similar to tennis and tennis is probably the harder to play, strategically and competitively, it is pretty hard to compare the two sports.

The one thing that does make pickleball easier is the underhand serve. Tennis players must use an overhand serve to be competitive (of course there are a few like Nick Kyrgios who might surprise their opponents with an underarm one) and many tennis players struggle with the service more than anything. Also, pickleball is on a smaller court and mostly doubles is played.

Is the Same Equipment Used for Pickleball and Tennis?

Apart from the sports attire, totally different equipment is used.

Pickleball and tennis shoes are the same which means that pickleball and tennis clothing is the same. But the rackets are completely different – pickleball uses a paddle – and the balls are completely different.

A pickleball ball is smaller and lighter and does not have the same bounce as a tennis ball. When you play pickleball at a sports club, and many have pickleball courts as well as tennis courts, you can sometimes hire the pickleball paddles.

We suggest that if you are going to be playing regularly, buy your own pickleball paddle. In the same way tennis players have their favourite rackets, pickleballers have their favorite paddles.

And if you want to understand where and how to buy your pickleball equipment, get our ultimate guide to all possible options here.

Who Can Play Pickleball and Tennis?

The game can be played by anyone young enough to hold a paddle and old enough to run around a court.

It’s a game that is great fun for all ages and while many older players choose Pickleball because tennis has been a bit hard on their bodies over time, it is not only older players that play the sport.

Many younger players are choosing pickleball because it is an accessible sport. Tennis is also played by people of all ages but it caters more to the younger players given its physical nature.

Length of a Pickleball Match as Opposed to a Tennis Match

One of the more understated reasons why pickleball is gaining popularity in comparison with tennis is the time it takes to finish off a match.

While a tennis match could take an hour and a half on an average to complete a best-of-three sets encounter at the highest level, a pickleball match could be over in a matter of 45 minutes.

Can We Play Pickleball on a Tennis Court?

Many people ask is pickleball similar to tennis and can we play on a tennis court? The answer to this is no and yes.

The courts are different so unless a club has a shared tennis / pickleball court (using different colors for the lines) you do need to play on a pickleball court. There are many pickleball courts all over America, at sports clubs, at schools and colleges, sometimes near a holiday center or the beach.

Many clubs, however, have converted tennis courts to pickleball ones and there at times a tennis court can be used to play four different pickleball matches.

So, to Summarize the Rules of Tennis v Pickleball?



The serve must be an underhand motion

The serve can be an overhand action

Contact with the ball can only be made below the hips

Contact with the ball can only be made from anywhere

Server must stand behind the baseline; no foot faults are acceptable

Server must stand behind the baseline; no foot faults are acceptable

If the ball touches the net and goes in, it is a let and point to
be replayed

If the ball touches the net and goes in, it is a let and point to
be replayed

There is only one serve per point

If the first serve goes out it’s a fault but the server has another serve

The receiver must play the first shot off-the-bounce

The receiver can return the serve without a bounce

There is a no-volley zone (called kitchen)

Players can volley from anywhere on their side of the court

Points are scored only on serve

Points can be scored on serve and return

You can also look to play pickleball on clay courts these days, much like tennis.

Stan Boone

I am the editor of Racket Sports World. I love my tennis, pickleball and most of the other racket sports played around the world and started this blog as my way to help other racquet sports fans even as I learn, explore and improve by connecting with them. Tweet at https://twitter.com/StanBooneTennis.

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