Pickleball vs tennis

How similar are Tennis vs Pickleball?

While it is said that pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong, I don’t agree. Having played all three sports, I can say with certainty that tennis is by far the greatest influence.

As a pickleball and tennis player, here is my take on some of the similarities and differences.

Let’s break it down step by step:

The main differences:

The serve
Return of serve

The main similarities:

Court sense
Ground strokes
Top spin lob

The pickleball serve vs the tennis serve.

Serving in tennis is more complex, and far more difficult then serving in Pickleball. If you’ve played both sports, or watched them in person, on TV, or via a Youtube video, you would certainly have to agree.

For starters, tennis players, and I am certainly included, take years to become accomplished servers. In Pickleball, a decent, or even a good serve, can be developed in an hour.

Essentially, decent eye and hand coordination, and an understanding of the velocity required to get the ball over the net, are all this required.

Pickleball serving has become even easier with a recent rule change that allows the pickleball player to bounce the ball and strike the serve as if it were a ground stroke.

Serving in tennis is a horse of another color. Consider the distance a tennis ball needs to cover on the serve, compared with pickleball. It’s a lot more.  Gauging the necessary trajectory, and speed, required to compensate for that additional space in significant.

Consider also the mechanics of serving with a racquet that imparts speed and spin in order to achieve its goal. it an inherently complex proposition that requires a proper toss, transfer of power from the legs though the torso, proper follow through, and so much more.

The mechanical and physical differences between pickleball and tennis are endless, but there are psychological differences as well.

Strategy also plays a bit role. In tennis, there are two serves. In pickleball there is only one.

The first serve in tennis is a weapon. A potential knock-out punch that players spend endless hours practicing and perfecting. The second serve is more defensive, but no less important, Obviously, if the second sever does not go in, the point is lost.

At the intermediate level and above, the tennis serve has endless combinations of spin, power, and control. Tennis racquets and stringing patterns are selected to facilitate more effective approaches.

The pickleball server only gets once chance. Even at the very highest levels, the reality behind having only one serve requires an accommodative approach: get the ball in power, but make darn sure it gets in.

A tennis player thinks about ending the point with the serve. The pickleball server hopes for this outcome but recognizes that is seldom happens.

The return of serve.

Once again, for reasons of physics and strategy, it is much harder to return a tennis serve than a pickleball serve. The tennis court is much larger than the pickleball court, and at the intermediate level and above, the ball has unpredictable spin and pace.

I’m not suggesting that it’s always easy to return a pickleball serve. A  good serve is low, fast, and has spin. But the act of simply ‘blocking it’ and keeping it in play is much easier.

There is another key difference. In pickleball: there is no server and volley.

If you are unfamiliar with this strategy, a tennis player serves and then comes quickly to the net and attempts to make a volley winner. A strategy that is intimidating and highly effective.

In pickleball, there is no serve and volley, due to the two-bounce rule, which means that the ball must bounce once in the receiver’s square before the ball is returned back over the net, and a second time back on the server’s side before the server returns the ball back over the net.

Without the sever and volley, the intimidation factor is lessened, and the act of returning the serve is much, much easier.


I’ve talked a bit about what I consider the main differences, but there are many similarities as well. Skill sets that definitely transfer from one game to the next.

Court sense

The court sizes are very different. A pickleball court measures 44 feet long (inclusive of lines) and 20 feet wide (inclusive of lines), where a tennis court measures 78ft (23.77m) in length. Yet, if one is used to playing tennis, I believe a certain court sense is developed that transfers to pickleball.

A good example of court sense is going backwards to return a ball over your head. In tennis, this is somewhat common, and while never easy, over time, it is a learned skill. If one can accomplish it in tennis, one can accomplish it in pickleball.

I have no proof of this, and I have not seen studies that suggest that is so.  but based upon my observation of tennis players learning to play pickleball, and non-tennis players learning to play pickleball, I am convinced that tennis players have an enhanced sense of when and where to position themselves.

It makes sense if you think about it. In both cases players are dealing with finite spaces, a ball traveling through the air at great speed., and in the case of doubles, another player on the same side.

In the big picture, it may seem that court sense is less important than some of the other differences or similarities in the two games, but I’m not sure that’s true. Court sense is not something that can be taught. It must be developed or learned over the course of many years.

Ground strokes

Ground strokes are where the two games begin to resemble each other. Technically, as I will briefly discuss below, the similarities are great, but also the mentality. Both games are ‘forward moving’, although arguably, more in pickleball in tennis.


A Successful pickleball backhand and a successful tennis backhand are firmly rooted in the basics: one must be squared to the ball (know as a closed stance), a proper grip (continental), with legs at least partially bent.

The racquet, or paddle, moves in a low to high manner, with the follow through ending above the shoulder for top spin affect.

If the motion is more horizontal, less top spin is imparted, and the shot becomes a ‘flat backhand’.

A slice backhand also requires the same stroke fundamentals in both sports. Essentially, the back is struck on its underside, imparting what is called backspin.

This is an extremely effective shot in both sports, as the ball ‘dies’ and is very hard to return. The spin is also unpredictable.

Both backhands are used in tennis as in Pickleball.


The most used stroke, the fundamentals of the forehand are very similar in pickleball and tennis.


Delivering an effective forehand begins with proper positioning and preparation. Most players in both sports employ a closed stance forehand, meaning the player is sideways to the ball, with the left of right leg extended. The closed stance allows for a transfer of weight when the ball is struck, and therefore greater power.

An open stance is also used in both sports (the body faces the ball), but with pickleball, it tends to be strictly defensive.

The Grip

In tennis, many grips are used, depending upon the type of spin – or lack of it that the player wants to impart. In pickleball, because there is less reaction time, most players settle on one grip – the continental grip,

The unit turn

As mentioned, an open stance forehand works for pickleball and tennis, but for most players, a close stance delivers more power and accuracy. The trick to getting sideways to the ball is the unit turn, which begins as the ball approaches, and ends with the hips squared to the incoming ball.

The follow through

Less important in pickleball than tennis, a strong follow through over the opposite shoulder is critical for delivering a powerful forehand.

For both sports. get a good grip on the racquet, but not too tight. Prepare as early as possible, and generate racquet head, or paddle speed, with a strong follow thought.



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