Difference between Pickleball and Tennis and Racquetball

Pickleball is often said to be a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping pong. I don’t know a lot about badminton and ping pong other than playing both as a child. I did, however, play competitive tennis and racquetball so in this post I’ll discuss the similarities and differences between Pickleball and Tennis and Pickleball and Racquetball. I’ll also take you through the best way to transition from these other sports to Pickleball.

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Courts/Net

Equipment

Physical Demands

Scoring Rules

Making the Transition

But first you may be wondering, does Pickleball hurt your tennis or racquetball game?

In all honesty it really depends on the person. I think I would not have as much difficulty switching between pickleball and tennis but would have a challenge going between Pickleball and racquetball. This is because the goal in racquetball is to hit it as low as possible without first bouncing on the floor. When I first started playing Pickleball I hit many balls in the net because I let the ball drop too low due to my racquetball background.

On the other hand, I was playing Pickleball with the tennis pro at a nearby club and he doesn’t have any issue switching between the two sports. I think if I was playing tennis that would also be the case for me.

The one thing I do know is that if you have played a racquet sport, you will pick up Pickeball very quickly. Here’s a great video to prove the point as Andy Roddick, former United States Open tennis champion, plays Pickleball for the first time.

Courts/Net

Many people ask whether you can play Pickleball on a tennis court. The answer is yes but you need to modify the court because Pickleball is played in a much smaller area. In fact, you can fit at least two Pickleball courts on a tennis court with one on each side the net. The net in tennis becomes a back drop separating the two Pickleball courts and you need to put tape on the tennis court to represent the lines in Pickleball since they tennis court is also wider.  Here’s an example of a city tennis court in Pickerington, Ohio having four pickleball courts on it.

The Pickleball court is 20 by 44 feet and is the same lines are used in Pickleball singles and doubles unlike tennis where the court is 78 feet long but 27 feet wide for singles compared to 36 feet wide for doubles. While the singles court in tennis has an alley, the Pickleball court does not. Plus, the Pickleball court has an area called the kitchen where you cannot volley the ball. It is located seven feet from the net on both sides.

The Pickleball court is much more similar to a racquetball court in terms of size. There is just a four foot difference in length as the racquetball court is 20 by 40 feet. If you think you may want to play Pickleball in a racquetball court you would just need to add a net. However, the court is shorter and you have to deal with four walls since racquetball is played in a confined space. Still, it is a decent place to play if practicing or when you need a place to play inside and there are no indoor tennis court or gyms.

The net in Pickleball is close in height to tennis but not exactly the same The Pickleball net is 36 inches at the post and 34 inches in the middle. While the height of the tennis net is close to Pickleball in the middle at 36 inches, the height of the net at the post is 42 inches. This means it is hard to use a tennis net for Pickleball but if you have no other choice use the center strap of the net and lower it a few inches. The net will still be higher on the sides than the Pickleball net, however, so take a look at our guide to Pickleball nets if you are in the market for one.

Equipment

The Pickleball paddle (right) differs significantly from both a tennis (left) and racquetball racquet (center). The Pickleball paddle is much smaller, does not have strings, and has a different material composition. Pickleball paddles vary in size but most are about 8” wide and 15 3/4” long. The maximum size allowed is 17 inches in length with acombined length and width of 24 inches. Even a racquetball racquet dwarfs a Pickleball paddle at 20 inches long and 14 inches wide. Of course the tennis racquet is much larger at a maximum of 29 inches long and 12.5 inches wide.

The good news about the Pickleball paddle is that it is light weight so it makes the sport fun even as you get older. While the Pickleball paddle is about 7.5 ounces, a racqeutball racquet is of a similar weight before it gets strings. Tennis racquets weigh 9-12 ounces before getting strung.

Pickleball paddles can be made of wood but most people use a paddle made of composite or graphite as you have more power and better control. The frame of tennis and racquetball racquets can be made of these materials too.  For more information on the best Pickleball paddles, check out our ultimate guide and post on the best paddles for spin.

The ball in Pickleball is considerably different from both a tennis and racquet ball. The Pickleball is larger at 2.874 inches to 2.972 inches in diameter, made of polymer and has holes like a wiffle ball. The tennis ball is smaller at 2.57–2.70 inches in diameter and has a hollow rubber core with a nylon or wool covering. Racquetballs are the smallest with a circumference of 2.25 inches and made of hollow rubber. As the quality of balls differs in tennis and racquetball so it does in Pickleball.  We have an article on the best Pickleballs which can help when making a purchase.

Having the proper shoes to play in is just as important in Pickleball as tennis and racquetball. For all three sports the best bet is a court shoe although some people play in cross trainers. Running shoes can be dangerous so avoid them. One thing to consider is that court shoes are often hard to find a sporting good stores. You’ll find a better selection at a tennis store or on Amazon so here is our shoe guide to help you make the best choice.

Physical Demands

There is no doubt that playing Pickleball is less physically demanding than tennis or racquetball.  Because the Pickleball court is smaller, players have much less court to cover than in tennis.  This is why Pickleball has such an appeal for the older population.  I know after tearing my ACL and having a host of other knee problems, I just couldn’t cover as much court anymore.  The other big difference between Pickleball and tennis or racquetball is that even a beginner in Pickleball can quickly pick up the game and have decent rallies.  Pickleball doesn’t require as much technique as tennis so you don’t need to spend a lot of time working on strokes to enjoy the game.

It’s also not as important in Pickleball to be able to hit with a lot of power like it is in racquetball and tennis.  Because of the two bounce rally at the start of each point, the server doesn’t maintain the same advantage as in the other two sports.  The Pickleball game is more about strategy and placement rather than hitting with power and the dink or soft game in Pickleball is especially effective.  As your play in Pickleball improves, rallies are usually longer so the physical demand of the sport can increase but at whatever level you play consistency and patience are extremely important in the game.  In my experience, I can win rallies by letting the other team make an unforced error whereas when most people play tennis it’s all about hitting winners.  In racquetball, being able to hit the ball with power and your quickness in the court are critical.  Since I’ve lost a step with my knee issues, I could no longer be competitive in racquetball at the highest levels.  This is why I enjoy Pickleball more now as it isn’t nearly as hard on my body.

Scoring/Rules

Pickleball, tennis, and racquetball all have in common that you can only score one point at a time.  In Pickleball and racquetball, only the serving team can score a point but in tennis the server and returner can score points.  Pickleball and racquetball are similar too in that games are usually played to 11 although racquetball players also play games to 15.  The scoring in tennis goes 15, 30, 40 and then the next point wins unless there is a tie at 40-40.

The rule differences between the three sports are significant so I won’t go over them in depth here.  However, there are two rules in Pickleball that are not part of either tennis or racquetball that I’ll explain here.  1) You cannot volley in the kitchen.  This means if you hit a volley you must be behind the kitchen line and you cannot let your momentum carry you into this area.  You can, however, enter the non-volley zone if the ball bounces first.  2) The two-bounce rule means that after the serve, the ball must bounce once on your opponent’s side and then once on the server’s side before it can be hit in the air.  People coming from a tennis background often make the mistake of hitting the ball in the air on the third shot as they move toward the net but in Pickleball it must bounce first.  This helps to level the field in terms of the server’s advantage.

Making the Transition

The serve in Pickleball, tennis, and racquetball are completely different.  Tennis players use an overhead serve.  Racquetball players can hit a serve with an overhead motion but the drive serve is more common which requires a side arm motion.  The lob serve in racquetball has some similarity to Pickleball but it is critical to hit your serve underhand as this is a rule in the sport.  When I first started playing Pickleball, I used my racquetball drive serve motion which was illegal because it is more out to the side rather than underhand.

If you are coming from tennis, you’ll notice that the strokes in Pickleball are much more compact.   This is because you don’t need to generate the same power as you do in tennis plus the game at the net in Pickleball is very fast so you have to be ready to hit another ball very quickly.  Racquetball players will find the strokes are quite similar to Pickleball so you don’t need to make as much adjustment.

Footwork in Pickleball is also more similar to racquetball as you often need to use an open stance which is common in Pickleball since much of the game is at the net.  Moving sideways in tennis usually involves a cross over step but in Pickleball you don’t have time to make that movement.  Instead the side ways movement in Pickleball requires you to shuffle your feet rather than doing the cross over step.  All three sports still need players to be able to move forward and backward which is done in a similar fashion.

The biggest difference between Pickleball and tennis or racquetball is the slow game which really doesn’t exist in the other two sports.  The slow game in Pickleball means hitting third shot drops and dinks.  The third drop is hit by the serving team on the third shot and is a ball that lands in the kitchen.  The idea is that this shot allows the servers to move to the net and makes it difficult for the returning team to be offensive.  The shot also gives the serving team the time to move to the net.  Once all players are at the net, the game slows down by hitting dinks.  Again, these are soft shots which bounce in the kitchen.  The goal is to hit them low over the net and to place the ball close to the net on the weaker side of their opponent, usually the backhand.  The slow game continues until a higher ball is hit so one of the teams can take an offensive shot to try to end the rally.

 

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