Here's How Pickleball Is Different From Tennis

It all comes down to preference.

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How to play pickleball: rules, scoring, and equipment.
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Tennis or pickleball? Pickleball or tennis? Both involve shuffling around a court while hitting a ball over a net, and they can seem pretty similar as a result. Yet there are rules, playing styles, and even a few health benefits that set the two games apart from one another.

While tennis has been around for ages — since the late 1800s, to be exact — pickleball is a newer sport that’s rapidly growing in popularity. “Currently there are over 5 million pickleball players,” says Christian Keenum, a certified professional coach and pro pickleball player, adding that it really took off among casual players in 2020 when folks were looking for ways to stay active.

Pickleball is primarily played on a dedicated pickleball court, which is smaller than a tennis court at 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, compared to a tennis court’s 78 feet by 27 feet dimensions. But a tennis court can work in a pinch. “Some local tennis courts have painted pickleball lines while some require players to line their own courts with chalk or tape and bring their own nets, [which are lower],” he tells Bustle. If that isn’t an option, it’s often possible to find pickleball courts indoors at a gym.

All you need beyond that is a plastic paddle, a pickleball, and a partner. “The paddle is a mix between a tennis racket and table tennis paddle and the ball is similar to a wiffle ball, typically plastic with round holes throughout,” says Keenum. Here’s how to play pickeball, including all of the ways it’s different than tennis.

What Are The Rules Of Pickleball?

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Pickleball can be played as a singles or doubles game. To put it simply, games are typically played to 11 points, and you have to win by two. “Teams can only score on their serves — you and your partner’s — and the server is required to serve diagonally, just like tennis,” says Keenum. Both singles and doubles matches serve from the right side of the court.

During the game, you have to steer clear of the seven-foot wide non-volley zone on either side of the net, an area affectionally known as the “kitchen,” Keenum says. You can’t enter this area and hit the ball that’s in the air, but you can enter the area if the ball bounces first. This is to prevent players from spiking the ball.

Each team gets two serves to try to win points and teams keep serving until the receiving team wins two rallies, he adds. “Rally” refers to the uninterrupted play that occurs after the serve. After that, the receiving team becomes the serving team, and vice versa. It sounds tricky, but once you get the hang of it, the rhythm of pickleball feels rather intuitive.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Pickeball?

Pickleball is not only a good physical workout, but a mental one as well, says Eric Ho, a certified pickleball instructor. While the court is small, a singles game will send you running around, which is great cardio. And it works quite a few muscle groups, too. “You are spending a lot of time in a squatted position in order to reach balls, as well as doing a lot of side shuffling and lateral lunges, which work the hamstrings, quads, and glutes,” Ho tells Bustle. “Because you are so close to your opponent — sometimes 14 feet away — the ball can be hit back and forth very quickly, which requires fast reflexes.

What Are The Rules Of Tennis?


Tennis can also be played in singles or doubles. It takes place on a larger court than a pickleball court and uses different equipment. To play, you’ll need a couple of bouncy, bright yellow felt balls and a larger racquet that has strings, which help the ball travel further when hit. According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the aim of tennis is to win enough points to win a game, enough games to win a set, and enough sets to win a match.

Tennis has a complicated scoring system. Zero points is referred to as “love,” one point equals 15, two equals 30, and three equals 40. If you’re tied, it’s called “all” and if the score is 40-40 and you’re playing for the win, it’s called “deuce.” If the server wins the deuce point, it’s an “ad-in” and if the receiver wins it’s an “ad-out.”

According to USTA, players or teams switch ends of the court on odd games. This means that after the first game is complete, the server switch sides, as well as every two games after that. In order to win the game, a player must win at least four points. If you end up with a score of 40-30, 40-15 or 40-love, and win one more point, you win the game, so you may want to have someone check your work if you’re new to the sport.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Tennis?

Like pickleball, tennis works a variety of muscles, from your shoulders and arms, down to your core, glutes, and quads. These muscles are needed to propel you after a ball, as you swing forehand and backhand, serve, and spike. Nelo Phiri, a tennis coach at Life Time Westchester, previously told Bustle that swinging a tennis racquet engages your ab muscles, and that squatting as you wait in a ready stance for the ball works the quads and glutes.

Then there’s the cardio. Since a tennis court is so much bigger than a pickleball court, you really do have to run to get the ball. Serves are also bigger, which require more power. And if you sprint up to the net to spike a ball, the explosive movement will work your fast-twitch muscle fibers, said ACE-certified personal trainer TJ Mentus.

The Differences Between Tennis Vs. Pickleball

One thing that sets pickleball apart is how easy it is to play. Thanks to the smaller court, there’s really no need to scramble around, which adds to the casual, welcoming atmosphere of the game. “There’s no age barrier or athleticism requirements,” Keenum says. “Since a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court and the ball moves at a slower pace, it’s also easier on the joints.” He argues that pickleball isn’t just a sport, but “a way of life.” “The community is what makes this sport special,” he says. “The social element of the game has helped so many people find joy again and meet new friends.”

All of that can be said for tennis as well, but some may find that the larger court requires a bit more agility and stamina than pickleball. You can make tennis feel more laidback by volleying back and forth with a partner or hitting a ball against a practice wall by yourself. But typically there’s a lot of powerful swings and even overhead spikes that up the intensity level.

For many, though, that’s part of the appeal. If you want to get serious, practicing the rules of tennis can be a fun challenge, as can training the muscles needed to put more power behind your serve, and to chase after a ball your opponent thought got past you. Which game you choose to play really comes down to what you’re in the mood for.


Christian Keenum, certified professional coach, pro pickleball player

Eric Ho, certified pickleball instructor

Nelo Phiri, tennis coach at Life Time Westchester

TJ Mentus, ACE-certified personal trainer

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