What Is the Difference Between Pickleball and Tennis?

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the nation, yet it resembles tennis in many ways. In fact, many tennis players are switching over to pickleball because of the similarities and differences between it and tennis. So then, how is pickleball actually different from tennis?

Pickleball and tennis are different in terms of court size, rules of the game, and equipment. Tennis courts are longer and wider than pickleball courts. Tennis players use heavy racquets and rubber-covered tennis balls, while pickleball players use light paddles and low-bouncing plastic balls.

As you can imagine, there are far more differences between the two sports, which is why this guide will lay out the key differences, shedding light on why pickleball has become so popular, especially among tennis players.

How Are Pickleball and Tennis Different?

Let's get the big question out of the way - how are pickleball and tennis different from each other? They look similar in many ways, and to the beginner's eye, they seem identical.

However, these sports have some distinct differences.

There are four major differences between tennis and pickleball, including:

  1. Weight of Equipment
  2. Rules of Play
  3. Court Dimensions
  4. Player Accessibility

Once you see the comparisons, you'll understand why pickleball is taking the spotlight in the world of racquet and paddle sports.

1. Pickleball Equipment Is Lightweight Compared to Tennis

Pickleball can be easily transported, while tennis requires more storage space due to the sheer size and weight of the equipment. Pickleball equipment, be it pickleballs or paddles, is easier to stow, generally more lightweight, and smaller than tennis equipment.

Pickleball Paddle Weight vs. Tennis Racquet

For instance, the majority of pickleball paddles will weigh somewhere between 7 and 9 ounces, and the string weight of tennis racquets will average around 11-11.5 ounces, certainly with variance to that figure.

While the high end of weight for pickleball paddles is only a 2.5-ounce difference on paper, a racquet with a string weight of 11.5 ounces is 24% heavier than a 9-ounce pickleball paddle. And on the far end of the spectrum, a 7-ounce paddle would be 42% lighter than a tennis racquet with a string weight of 11.5-ounces

Both pickleball paddle weights are significantly lighter than tennis racquets.

Pickleballs vs. Tennis Balls

Pickleballs, the plastic ball used in pickleball, are also lightweight compared to tennis balls. Sanctioned pickleballs must weigh between 0.78 and 0.935 ounces, and the ball itself must bounce 0 to 34 inches when dropped from a height of 78 inches.

Tennis balls, on the other hand, are nearly an ounce heavier and must weigh between 1.975 and 2.095 ounces - they're designed to bounce much higher than pickleballs. In fact, the International Tennis Federation requires tennis balls to reach a height of 53 to 60 inches. That's nearly double the bounce of pickleballs!

Because of this, a pickleball is served underhand in the volley serve, and the drop serve requires a bounce before contact with the paddle - otherwise, the sport would completely change with serves.

Pickleballs Are More Than Wiffle Balls

One last thing to cover: pickleballs are not the same as Wiffle balls. This is a common mix-up for people who haven't played yet or are new to the sport.

A pickleball is designed to make contact with a paddle. It has fewer holes than the traditional Wiffle ball and is slightly heavier. Pickleballs generally have 26 or 40 holes - 26 for indoor and 40 for outdoor balls.

The number and size of holes impact a ball’s trajectory and how it interacts with a court's surface. This is far more than a Wiffle ball would be able to accommodate.

The equipment is not the only difference separating tennis and pickleball. In fact, the game itself is quite different.

2. The Rules of Pickleball and Tennis Are Different

There are many differences between how pickleball and tennis are played, yet there are striking resemblances between the two. Let's look at components that appear similar but are distinctly different.

Pickleball Volley Serves Are Underhand

Similar to tennis, a pickleball serve is sent to the diagonal opponent, but in pickleball, it must be served underhand as a volley serve (rule 4.A.5.) For beginners, a pickleball serve is considered much easier than a tennis serve. But as players advance in serving, they’ll be able to place their serves deeper and vary style and speed.

Tennis serves are often considered more difficult, since the tennis racquet and ball are slightly heavier and require a more technical serve, especially as an overhand serve.

It’s certainly worth noting that the drop serve plays by different rules than a volley serve, and it looks closer to a tennis serve in some aspects. 

In a drop serve, the ball must fall by gravity alone from the server’s natural reach, and bounce before serving it, but there are no restrictions on hitting it underhand or overhand after it bounces.

Because of the rules on how the ball can fall and the requirement to bounce, the highest point you can hit the ball will always be the highest point it can naturally bounce to, and that will rarely be above the waist. 

By default, a drop serve will make contact with the ball more like an underhand serve (although technically it isn’t required to), but the form of dropping the ball from your reach (even though it must bounce) looks far closer to tennis than a volley serve does.

Another thing that makes pickleball unique is that the game has a two-bounce rule.

Pickleball’s Two-Bounce Rule (AKA Double Bounce)

The two-bounce rule means that the returning team's ball must hit the ground once before they send it back over the net, and the serving team must allow the ball to hit the ground once before returning it once more.

Pickleball's Kitchen Is a Non-Volley Zone

The non-volley zone (AKA kitchen, or NVZ) in pickleball is located on each side of the net where players cannot stand while volleying. This prevents players from crowding the net and smashing. This section is 7 feet deep and spans the entire width of the pickleball court.

Furthermore, the ball must not land in this area during a serve.

Scoring in Pickleball Is Unique

Keep in mind that when scoring in pickleball, only the player/team that serves can win a point (Rule 4.G.), and games are most often played to 11 and require a two-point margin of victory to win.

However, to win, you must be ahead by 2 points. So, if one team is at 11 points and the other is at 10, they must continue to play until there's a 2-point margin.

By contrast, tennis points are counted with 0, 15, 30, and 40, and face off in a deuce. The first player to win 4 points wins a game, while the first player to win 6 games wins a set. To win the match, a player must win 2 sets.

As you can see, the rules, scoring, and gameplay of pickleball and tennis are quite different even though the equipment and court design might look similar. Pickleball's scoring feels closer to table tennis than to tennis.

3. Pickleball Courts Are Smaller Than Tennis Courts

Pickleball courts are considerably smaller than tennis courts and are actually the same dimensions as badminton doubles courts. A standard pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, and the net height is 34 inches in the center (36 inches at the posts).

A tennis net has a height of 42 inches at the posts and 36 inches in the center.

In other words, the shortest part of a tennis net is the tallest part of a pickleball net.

Conversely, tennis courts are quite large and nearly twice as long as standard pickleball courts, measuring 78 feet long and 36 feet wide for doubles matches, or 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles matches. The smaller court size makes pickleball the easier sport to pick up for those who are just starting.

4. Pickleball Is More Accessible Than Tennis

Rules and equipment aside, pickleball games tend to be much shorter than tennis matches, and children, adults, and senior adults can all play. It can have a variable speed of play where the game could be as slow-paced, relaxed, and light-hearted as a player wants. Or it can be intense, like professionals play.

Because of the smaller court, the paddle construction, and the bounce of the ball, pickleball is more about quick reactions than it is about overall fitness. The key to being a great pickleball player, otherwise known as a "pickler", is to focus on shot placement rather than power-hitting.

Pickleball requires less movement and strength to get the ball over the net than tennis does.

However, if you want a quick, competitive, and professional game, pickleball also serves this purpose. In terms of agility, you need to perform at the same level as tennis players to become a professional pickleball player.   

Tennis is more routine and generally played as a fast-paced sport, requiring a high competency of endurance and agility.

Why Are Tennis Players Switching to Pickleball?

Pickleball is taking the sporting world by storm. Although it has been recognized by major news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Washington Post, many people are still confused about how such a little paddle and plastic ball could change the sports world.

Pickleball is beloved because it is such a versatile and accessible game. This is a sport that those who want to give it a try can easily pick up. Even someone without athletic strengths can play and have fun, and a skilled player can build a lucrative professional career.

Many tennis players are switching to pickleball because it's a lower-impact sport, is more social, and can be played for a longer period of a person's life.

Pickleball is easy to play regardless of athletic ability. A smaller court and shorter net create a more sociable, leisurely, and affordable game.