What is the Difference Between Paddle Tennis and Pickleball? A Closer Look

If you’ve been a paddle tennis player, you may be wondering what the difference is between paddle ball and pickleball.

Some casual racket sport players may use pickleball and paddle tennis rackets interchangeably. Other casual players of pickleball may simply lower a badminton net to get their game going. Lastly, some paddle tennis players may use a squash ball or a table tennis ball to get their game on when nothing else is available.

Increasing Popularity

All of this is happening because both these racket sports are having a major moment. Their combined popularity has folks scrambling to find what they need to play and places to play. All this improvisation means one thing, though: the lines of how to play correctly are getting blurred.

However, despite the rule-bending done by some spontaneous or desperate athletes, there are quite a few major differences in these two games. From the size of the courts to the styles of the paddles and balls, pickleball and paddle tennis vary substantially.

There’s no doubt that pickleball is the most popular racket sport in the US right now. As it sweeps the nation and the world, it has sparked interest in other racket and paddle sports.

Of course, with all these handheld paddle and racket sports now in the spotlight, it can be hard for the novice to understand the difference. However, while pickleball and paddle tennis may seem incredibly similar, there are many nuances and differences in how they are played.

For those interested in learning all about the differences, we’re going to break it down for you here. But be warned, if either or both of these sound interesting and fun, we can assure you, they are. The best way to find out which one you like the best is to play them both yourself.

The good news is, getting started with any or all of these as a hobby won’t cost you much. The equipment you need for any one of these racket or paddle sports can easily be found online for next to nothing.

So, let’s get started with learning the variations between two different paddle and racket sports. Understanding the distinctions can be the difference between loving and hating a sport based on any number of things. The rules, paddle or racket style, court size, and other variables may make one more attractive to you than the other.

Now you’ll be able to decide which one you want to try first or learn to play even better than you already do!

Starting With Today’s King of Racket Sports: Pickleball

Pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s by three fathers on the hunt for something fun to do with the kids over the summer. It wasn’t long before the game became a sensation, but in very recent years it has positively swept the planet.

Perhaps the reason so many people love pickleball is that it is not difficult to learn. Nor is it hard to play once you understand the (very simple) rules. Families of all sizes with children of all ages can enjoy pickleball. Likewise, pickleball is intensely competitive in some circles. It even boasts popular tournaments at every level that can be quite cutthroat.

Many parents actually use pickleball as a way to introduce their children to other racket sports. That’s because it is easier to learn than others that can be more difficult to learn at a younger age, including tennis and squash. Pickleball can be played on a regulation court at your local YMCA or other recreation facilities. Today, there are even full-blown pickleball court establishments, both indoor and out.

Depending on your area and the time of year, you can opt for indoor or outdoor pickleball. Finding a court is usually not difficult. With this said, however, pickleball courts can be booked out pretty far in advance. Be sure to check with the facility you plan to attend before heading out.

A Little More About the Game Itself

Pickleball is a pretty simple game to set up. You can use your own backyard, the beach, or a nearby park. Any grassy or sandy area can be set up as a pickleball court. Which one you prefer to play on could be a source of disagreement among friends! Keep in mind, for competitive play, you can establish membership at a pickleball club. In this way, you’re assured to play on a hard court. These are preferred over other surfaces by almost all players.

Pickleball is played with smooth paddles. These are typically made of wood. Some players and professionals may have paddles fabricated from more resilient materials like graphite.

The ball used for play somewhat resembles a Wiffle ball. It is perforated with about 40 small holes. The net used for playing pickleball is 36 inches tall on either end of the net. When hung correctly, it should be about 34 inches tall at the center.

The basic premise of the game is to serve the ball and clear the net. You must also clear the seven-foot area known as the “non-volley zone.” The ball must be served so that it lands diagonally on the opposing side of the court within the service court. This is the action that awards a player a point.

In pickleball, unlike some other paddle and racket sports, all serves must be done in an underhanded fashion. In addition, all serves must be served from below the navel (or waist). The person serving the ball must also ensure s/he has kept both of her/his feet behind the backline.

One final rule of pickleball serving is that the ball cannot bounce before going over the net. If the ball hits the net, some players will allow a mulligan. Others will not. Establish this rule before play begins to ensure a fair game. This way, everyone wins!

Paddle Tennis, Paddleball, Pop Tennis: How It’s Similar and Where It Differs From Pickleball

Like pickleball, paddle tennis can be played both indoors and out-of-doors. Paddle tennis is also sometimes called paddleball or pop tennis. Regardless of what it is called in your neck of the woods, these are all the same game.

Just as with pickleball and even tennis, paddle tennis can be played in matches of one on one or two against two. This means the court is large enough to accommodate up to four players, but no more.

Paddle tennis was more or less invented in the 1920s. The rules for scoring the game are similar to those of tennis. This means both players begin at “love,” which means zero. From there, the points move up from love to 15 to 30 to 40, and the next point after 40 is the winning point of the match.

The Difference In the Paddles, Rackets, or Racquets

At first glance, pickleball and paddle tennis look virtually the same to beginners. Upon closer inspection, you can see the paddles differ from those used in pickleball.

One main difference between the two paddles is their texture. When you hold a paddle tennis paddle in your hand, you can see and feel that they are textured. In some instances, paddle tennis rackets may also have holes in them. It is a matter of player preference.

When it comes to tournament play, however, league inspectors will get very up close and personal when scrutinizing paddles. They even use a racket measuring tool to ensure that paddles meet all regulation standards, measurements, and texture. This is to assure both players that the game is a fair one and that no one player has an illegal advantage over the other.

Pickleball paddles are entirely different. No matter the player’s preference for things like grip tape or other added amenities, the racket must always be smooth. Just as with paddle tennis tournament play, pickleball paddles will be inspected. This is to ensure that each player’s paddle is not rough.

Any level of roughness on the surface of the paddle can give the player using it an unfair advantage, so it’s important that everyone is on a level playing field! A rougher texture on a pickleball paddle allows for more friction when it comes in contact with the ball. This gives the pickleball more spin when served and is illegal.

How Pickleball and Paddle Tennis Balls Differ

The ball used to play paddle tennis is also different.

Unlike the Wiffle-like ball used in pickleball, the ball used in paddle tennis is made of rubber. A paddle tennis ball is also smaller. It is slightly larger than a table tennis ball, but heavier and spongier.

Differences In Pickleball and Paddle Tennis Scoring

While paddle tennis scoring is done using what is essentially the tennis system, pickleball scoring is somewhat simpler. In pickleball, players score points up to 11, with the eleventh point being the winning point.

However, it can only be considered the winning point if the other player has two fewer points than the person who scores the eleventh point. In another interesting twist of pickleball rules, the only person who can earn a point is the one who served the ball.

So, if you did not serve the ball but still landed a would-be point-earning ball on the other side of the court, it will not count. With paddle tennis, you are able to score points whether or not you were the server.

Now that you know about many of the differences in the rules and play of pickleball and paddle tennis, it’s time to have your own fun. Based on what you have read here, pick one to start with, and play by the rules!


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