With pickleball’s meteoric rise, many tennis players are trading their rackets for paddles, but is switching easy? What exactly is the difference between pickleball and tennis?
This in-depth guide contrasts the two sports. You’ll learn insights into the pickleball-tennis crossover and learn each sport’s origins, rules, equipment, strategies, and pros and cons.
Pickleball vs Tennis — An Overview
While both sports share similarities, they have vastly different histories and growth trajectories over the decades.
Origin and Growth of Pickleball
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The origin comes from the term “pickle boat”, a term used for oarsmen left out of main rowing teams. This referenced the more casual aspect of pickleball vs. tennis, putting it more on par with badminton or table tennis (aka ping-pong).
Pickleball’s popularity has soared in the U.S., with the USA Pickleball Association reporting 8.9 million players as of early 2023, up from 4.8 million in 2021. Particularly favored by those aged 50 and above, its social aspect and moderate activity level continue to draw a wide demographic. The growth rate of 85.7% in 2022 exemplifies the upward trend.
Origin and Historical Significance of Tennis
Tennis has a long, prestigious history, with recognizable roots dating back to 12th-century French monks playing a racket sport inside monastery walls. By the 16th century, “royal tennis” included fancy indoor courts. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield patented modern lawn tennis rules in 1873, which popularized casual outdoor play.
Tennis took the world by storm in the 1920s and has gained global fame as a professional sport, especially in Grand Slam tournaments like Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. While participation has declined in America recently, tennis still provides treasured social connections and exercise for devotees.
Popularity and Current Trends
Pickleball’s participation has skyrocketed over the past decade, especially among ages 55 and up. Tennis participation has declined in America over the past twenty years but retains a passionate enthusiast base. Both sports have fervent proponents who extol their virtues. In retirement communities, pickleball is often a popular social activity, while tennis retains prestige. Overall, the two sports have crossover appeal, though pickleball’s momentum with seniors looks unstoppable.
Fun fact: As of 2023, there were 10,724 locations to play pickleball, with an average of 130 new locations being added every month.
Pickleball vs Tennis — Core Similarities and Differences
While pickleball and tennis share some commonalities, pickleball is different than tennis in some key ways:
Basic Premise of Both Sports
Pickleball and tennis are racket-style sports played by hitting a ball back and forth over a net to the opponent’s side of the court. The ball must land inside designated lines within the court. Points are scored when one side fails to return the ball or commits an error. Doubles matches with partners on each side are also common.
Court Size and Net Height
One main difference is the size of the court. A tennis court for singles matches is 78 feet long by 27 feet wide. Doubles courts range from 36-42 feet wide. Pickleball courts are much smaller at 20 feet wide by 44 feet long – about 1/4 the total area of a tennis court. Pickleball nets on pickleball courts are lower, too. A pickleball net sits at 34 inches high compared to a tennis net at 36-inch high. The lower net makes it easier to hit the ball over the net. The compact pickleball court also facilitates quicker action.
Equipment: Paddle vs. Racket
Each tennis player uses a long-handled strung tennis racket (or “tennis racquet” if you’re English), while each pickleball player uses a solid, shorter-handled paddle. A pickleball paddles often have rough textured surfaces that allow more spin. Tennis rackets have larger oval heads with tighter-strung patterns. The pickleball paddle shape lends itself to quick reflex returns.
Types of Balls
The balls used differ significantly. Tennis uses a fuzzy yellow ball up to 2.7 inches in diameter. Pickleball uses a smooth plastic ball with holes, a bit like a wiffle ball. It is slightly smaller at 2.9 inches in diameter. The lighter plastic ball allows for longer volleys and differences in serving.
Pickleball scoring is simpler, with games played to 11 points using a regular point system. Tennis scoring is based on “15, 30, 40” terminology with complex deuce and advantage scoring for six total games to win a set. Pickleball’s uncomplicated scoring makes it easier to follow.
Both sports utilize a diagonal serve zone, but pickleball has a much tighter non-volley zone near the net, affecting serving strategy and court positioning. Tennis serves can have high velocity and spin, often targeted wide to pull opponents outside their optimal returning location. Pickleball restricts paddle contact with the ball below waist level within the non-volley zone, forcing underhanded shots. Serves have lower speed but strategic placement.
Physical and Social Benefits
Both pickleball and tennis provide excellent physical exercise and social engagement, with some variation in intensity and demographic appeal.
According to the CDC, tennis delivers extensive health benefits, including improved cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and reactions. The Cooper Institute found similar benefits from pickleball related to aerobic fitness, muscle endurance, and flexibility. Tennis offers a more vigorous workout, with pickleball providing a moderately intense activity level suitable for all ages.
The social camaraderie of both sports is unanimously praised. Tennis can have a reputation for exclusivity, while pickleball explicitly fosters a welcoming community vibe. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association notes tennis participation declines with age while pickleball popularity soars among ages 55+. Both sports allow competition from casual play up to elite tournament levels.
Equipment expenses for pickleball tend to be lower, contributing to its appeal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods lists quality pickleball paddles from $20-$150, with balls costing $2-$5 each. Tennis rackets range from $100 up to $300+ for pro versions. Top tennis balls cost similarly at $4-$5 per can of 3.
The Physical Activity Council estimates typical tennis court fees from $5-$40 per hour versus $2-$10 per hour for pickleball courts. Less equipment costs and court time expenses make pickleball more accessible.
Transitioning From Tennis to Pickleball
For tennis players interested in trying pickleball, the sports have similarities that make crossover appealing but also key differences to adapt to.
Ease of Transition for Players
Adopting New Rules and Techniques
Transitioning From Pickleball to Tennis
For pickleball players looking to take up tennis, there are some key adjustments to make when switching between the sports.
Managing the Larger Court and Faster Pace
Learning New Strategies and Techniques
Local and Senior Leagues
Pickleball and tennis both offer wonderful communities for active seniors at recreational and competitive levels.
Growing Pickleball Opportunities for Seniors
Pickleball’s accessibility for seniors has fueled its growth. Local clubs cater to retirees with beginner lessons, social play times, and teams by skill level. Tournaments for players 50+ and 60+ are increasing.
The National Senior Games and Huntsman World Senior Games host pickleball events. Seniors compete in 5-year age brackets, keeping things fair and fun. As players improve, they can advance from local club play to regional and national senior tournaments.
Resources like the USA Pickleball Association’s Places to Play help seniors find facilities and clubs in their area. Most communities now have regular local pickleball meetups, ideal for active retirees seeking exercise, camaraderie, and friendly competition.
USTA Tennis Options for Seniors
The United States Tennis Association supports senior leagues and clubs across the country. Weekly team matches provide motivating play and structure. Local tennis centers offer beginner lessons tailored to seniors.
For the competition, USTA rankings and tournaments include 55+ age divisions. Standout events on the national senior circuit include the USTA National Championships and category II/III tournaments throughout the year.
Tennis provides physical and social benefits well into retirement. Players like 80-year-old Dick Gould of Stanford exemplify staying active and achieving goals at any age. Seek local senior programs through USTA resources and community tennis centers.
Pickleball and Tennis: Two Fun Sports With Equally Fun Differences
Now that you have a better understanding of each sport, you can dive into each and play them to their fullest. The differences between the two often make shifting back and forth entertaining. Of the two, the transition from tennis to pickleball is easier, but both are fun outdoor sports that keep you moving and enjoying time with friends. Whether you ask, “Tennis, anyone?” or “Pickleball, anyone?” is up to you. Both are guaranteed to serve up some fun.