Skip to Content

Pickleball vs Tennis – Similarities? Differences?

A collage of two players for tennis and pickleball.

The newest sport attracting tons of attention is Pickleball – a game that was invented for kids in the mid-1960s on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Despite its somewhat unusual name, Pickleball is a great game that combines essential elements from three net games – tennis, badminton as well as ping pong.

Pickleball is a game that is easily enjoyed by anyone, any age and at any skill level – which is likely one of the reasons for its recent meteoric rise in popularity. In fact, in 2022, the governor of Washington declared Pickleball the official sport of the state.

Related To: Pickleball Rules Explained | What Is Pickleball a Combination Of? | How are Pickleball Paddles Made? | What Equipment Do You Need To Play Pickleball? | Pickleball vs Ping Pong | Pickleball vs Badminton

What is Pickleball?

Four people enjoy playing pickleball together.

Pickleball is a type of paddle sport with simple rules that more closely resemble ping pong or badminton. The court size – 20 feet by 44 feet is used for both singles and doubles pickleball games and is appropriate even for kids to pick up a paddle and hit a few dinks for a winner. The game of pickleball starts with a serve and continues with each side hitting the pickleball back and forth until someone misses or hits the ball out or into the net.

Like tennis, pickleball can be played as an outdoor or indoor game with more than one surface.

What is Tennis?

A couple enjoy playing tennis together.

Tennis, unlike pickleball, has been played for centuries, some believing its origin goes back to Louis X of France (around the 12th century)– who built the first indoor tennis court. Tennis has become a global phenomenon, with champions coming from countries around the world and millions who follow the sport across four major tournaments – The Australian, French, and US Open, plus historic Wimbledon offering varying surface challenges.

Like pickleball, tennis starts with a serve and continues with back-and-forth hitting, only it is done on a court that is much larger. According to the ITF (the International Tennis Federation) – the governing body for worldwide tennis play, a tennis court is rectangular and 78 feet long. Its width depends on whether there is a doubles or a singles game

How are Pickleball and Tennis Different?

The Court

The Pickleball Court

An outdoor court for pickleball game.

As noted above, the pickleball court is significantly smaller than a tennis court – measuring 22 feet by 44 feet – which is the same court size as a badminton doubles court.

Pickleball Master Course by Steve Dawson ($199)

The Tennis Court

A layout of tennis court with net.

A Tennis court is about 2 – 3 times as large as a pickleball court. A standard court for tennis will have these dimensions – 78 feet in length and 27 (singles) or 36 (doubles) feet in width.

The Markings & Layout of the Court

The markings for each court are similar, with a few notable differences.

Pickleball Markings & Layout

A vector of Pickleball Markings & Layout.

Pickleball courts do not include “doubles alleys.” As such, doubles and singles play on the same size court.

In addition, pickleball courts have ‘no-volley’ zones – one on each side of the net. These no-volley zones are measured 3.5 feet from the net on each side. Pickleball lingo refers to the seven-foot zone as “the kitchen.”

Note, however, that pickleball’s unique “no-volley” zone tends to extend the length of rallies and offers remarkable strategic options.

Tennis Court Markings & Layout

Illustration of Tennis Court Markings & Layout.

Tennis courts, other than their size differential, also have more markings than a pickleball court – mainly to accommodate doubles play.

And in tennis, a player can stand an inch from the net to volley – at any time during any rally – even on a serve.

The Net

Tennis and Pickleball are played both played with a net separating the players. While the tennis net is longer (because the court is larger), then the two nets are similar.

The Pickleball Net

The Pickleball Net with a flying pickleball.

In Pickleball, the net used in the game is a bit lower than a tennis net. It is measured at 34” from the ground at the net’s dead center. However, the net’s endpoints are 36” above the ground.

The Tennis Net

A tennis net with a ball in play.

The tennis net is 36 inches across the entire tennis court.

The Serve

The serve in pickleball is quite different from the power-oriented tennis serve.

The Pickleball Serve

An senior citizen serving on a pickleball match.

The game of pickleball begins with the server serving from the right-hand court. The server must keep one of their feet behind the backline (aka the baseline in tennis) and serve to the diagonal court (over the net) using ONLY an underhand Serve. The serve must begin below the navel and move in an upward direction – and clear the opponent’s “no-volley” zone.

Only one fault (missed serve) is allowed. In doubles, both players get one serve before the other side serves. Players can only score points when they serve – which is quite different than tennis.

The Tennis Serve

A tennis player serving on a match.

Tennis players primarily serve overhand, using a variety of types of overhead hits to outfox their opponent. There are essentially three types of serves in traditional tennis.

  • The Flat Serve – a power weapon
  • The Slice Serve – the serve that spins and hops sideways
  • The Top Spin – a serve with an unusually high kick

Pro-Tip – While both games allow for the use of top, back, and side spin, the strings on a tennis racket create a more intense spin than the pickleball paddle.

The Ball

The ball used in each game represents one of the biggest differences between these two sports.

The Pickleball

A plastic pickleball ball left on the court.

The ball used in pickleball resembles a whiffle ball – plastic, lightweight, and made from perforated plastic. According to the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association), the official governing body of the sport, a pickleball must weigh between .08 to 1.02 ounces. Note, however, that the ball can be any color but must only be one solid color.

The Tennis Ball

A tennis ball left on the court marking line.

The ITF regulates the size of tennis balls. A regulation tennis ball must weigh between 1.98 to 2.10 ounces and measure somewhere between 2.57 and 2.70 inches in its diameter. Note that the tennis ball is smaller than the pickleball but heavier.

The Racket/Paddle

Both Pickleball and Tennis are court sports, but there are differences in the rackets used.

The Pickleball Paddle

A pickleball paddle and a pickleball on the court.

Pickleball paddles are smaller than tennis rackets but larger than ping-pong paddles. The paddle is a solid surface, which may include wood or high-tech composite materials.

The Tennis Racket

Two tennis racket and tennis balls on the lawn.

Tennis rackets not only have a larger face (surface area for hitting), but the handle is also much longer than a pickleball paddle. And tennis rackets have woven synthetic (or natural gut) strings on which the ball is struck. Tennis rackets, once made from wood, are now constructed of graphite and fiberglass – built for power and control.

Gameplay and Scoring

While the gameplay for pickleball is similar to tennis, the scoring methods for tennis and pickleball are completely different.

Pickleball vs. Tennis Scoring

Pickleball scoring system on an outdoor court.

A pickleball player can only score if they are serving. In other words, the server receives a point if the receiving opponent commits an error or fault. If it is the server committing the fault (by not getting the ball into the diagonally-opposed server’s box), the server loses their turn, and their opponent begins to serve until they commit a fault or error.

An error or fault in pickleball is similar to tennis, with a few exceptions. Faults for both games include –

  • Hitting the ball into the net, rather than over the net.
  • Hitting the ball outside the court boundaries
  • Allowing the pickleball to bounce twice before hitting it.

In a pickleball game, a player

  • Cannot return a serve on a volley.
  • Is not allowed to volley Volleying the ball while standing inside the kitchen or the “no volley” zone.
  • Is not allowed to volley the ball on the first return after the serve. In other words, the ball must touch the ground on each side before the volley action begins.

In tennis, anyone can score – despite who served the ball during the particular point.

Pickleball vs. Tennis Winning

Illustration of pickleball scoring system on a tournament.

Each sport has different requirements for winning. Pickleball players, like badminton and table tennis, win a game when someone reaches 11 points – with the winner having a two-point advantage over their opponent.

In tennis, each player starts at zero, or as it is called, “love.” The points in tennis progress as follows – 15, 30, 40, and then game point – which wins the game. So, if you are serving in tennis and your opponent does not score on your serve, you would only need four points to win a game. However, games go much longer when both players are both winning points during a service game.

The primary objective in tennis is to win two out of three sets (unless you are playing in a major men’s tournament where it is the best of five sets). Each set requires a player to win six games. If the set ends at a 6-6 tie, the players engage in a tie-breaker which very much resembles the scoring in pickleball. Tie-breakers, for the most part, are won by getting to seven points first – but the winner must beat their opponent by two points.

Match Length

The length of matches when comparing pickleball to tennis also differs. A pickleball match can last from 20 minutes to more than an hour. Conversely, tennis matches can run from 45 minutes to more than 2 hours.

Note that pickleball tournaments are typically played in one day, whereas a tennis tournament may last a few days – with major tournaments that take two weeks to conclude.

Game Accessibility

Most cities and towns have public tennis courts for their residents and students. This cannot be said for pickleball – at least yet.

And note, with its current popularity, it is likely that more pickleball courts will become available at reduced or no cost to play.

Pickleball or Tennis? – The Take-Away

Two players having a good time playing tennis.

Pickleball and tennis are court sports that offer anyone a chance to become more active and reach for a higher fitness level while having fun.

Each game brings different benefits to be enjoyed. If you are looking to learn a new game with the easiest learning curve, pickleball is the game because the dimensions of the court are smaller (and easier to negotiate), and the paddle has a shorter handle. Combined, these make learning the game within reach for most.

With pickleball, you can bring the whole family, and all get a workout.  In no time flat, you will be playing the game with enough skill to participate in long rallies. And pickleball tends to be more of a social game than tennis, which offers opportunities to make new friends while getting some exercise.

But, for those who wish to engage in a sport with great history and a chance to challenge themselves – tennis is a great choice. Tennis takes time to learn and perfect, but worth the effort for any tennis lover.