Pickleball vs. Tennis -- What’s the Difference?
Contrasts in the histories of each sport, their rules, and their gear.
Main image courtesy of Winona Tennis.
While considered two completely different sports, the nuances of pickleball and tennis are often confused with one another. If you’re not quite sure about what makes each sport its own separate activity, never fear. Here’s our guide to the differences in pickleball and tennis, how their histories contrast, and the varying rules and attire of each sport.
The Differing Histories of Each Sport
The long and the short of each sport’s history
Pickleball and tennis may share some facets of one another when it comes to the game, but their histories could not be more opposite from one another.
The history of tennis goes way far back -- we’re talking thousands of years. Beginning in France around the 12th century, the sport didn’t become popular until the 1500s when royalty like King Henry VIII became so enthralled by the game that they had courts made in their palaces.
Eventually, tennis would be known as “lawn tennis” during the 19th century, which is also when the first tennis game in the U.S. and the first tennis world championship occurred. Before the end of the century, tennis became one of the core sports in the first modern Olympics and the U.S. Open was established.
Pickleball’s history, in contrast, does not go back quite as far as tennis’ does. In 1965, Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state, accidentally created the sport as an alternative to badminton. He lacked a full set of racquets for his family to play with at the time, so they used ping-pong paddles instead. From here, pickleball spread like wildfire across the country.
The first pickleball tournament was held in 1976, and a rulebook for the sport was eventually drafted in 1984. The game has only grown in popularity since then, with every state in the U.S. playing and even some other continents playing the sport as well.
While tennis has seen a spread-out history while having a consistently popular reception, pickleball has had a boom in popularity within the past couple of decades and has yet to stop expanding in its reach.
The Basics: Rules and Scoring
The main difference in the rules and play of each game
At their most basic levels, the rules and play of pickleball and tennis may seem similar, but there are a few subtle differences that set the gameplay of each drastically apart.
Pickleball is played in either doubles or singles and requires a badminton court. Only the side that serves can earn points, and the ball must be served diagonally. The ball has to bounce once in players’ court in order to volley it. The serving side will continue to serve until they fault. Once a team or a player has scored eleven points and are leading by at least two points, they win. To learn more about the intricacies of pickleball’s rules, check out this guide to the game.
Playing tennis requires a tennis court, which is bigger than a badminton court, and the sport can also be played in either doubles or singles. The basic objective of tennis is the same as pickleball--in both games, the players’ goal is to hit the ball in their opponent’s court, resulting in them faulting and losing the point. Tennis’ scoring scheme is unique in that a game consists of four points, and players win a game once they’ve earned four points and a two-point advantage on their opponent. A set consists of six games and is won by players who earn a two game advantage. For a more in-depth look at tennis’ rules and scoring, check out this guide to the sport.
One of the main differences between pickleball and tennis is that you can only serve underhand in pickleball while you can serve either overhand or underhand in tennis. Aside from this, one of the most glaring comparisons between the sports is the type of equipment each requires.
Get Your Gear in the Game
The similarities differences between the gear necessary for each sport
Both pickleball and tennis involve a variety of gear specific to their sport, but they also share a few crucial items that can greatly improve your performance at the game.
Pickleball requires a pickleball paddle, properly known as a bat, for each player. The bat resembles a ping pong paddle, but the key difference between these two paddles is the bat’s sturdy handle and round edges. Pickleball bats can vary drastically in design based on players’ needs, with some using different materials and having different weights and handle shapes. Be sure to research which type of bat might work best for you before buying your first one.
Pickleball also requires a specific ball that resembles a wiffle ball. The pickleball differs from the wiffle ball in its diameter, weight, and hole shape, but wiffle balls can be used as a substitution if necessary.
Tennis’s equipment is quite different from pickleball. Where pickleball utilizes a bat, tennis requires players to have a tennis racket. Tennis balls are used rather than pickleballs, which contain holes and are made of plastic compared to tennis balls’ hole-less and rubber structure.
One important piece of gear that both sports share is game attire. Because the sports are fairly similar in the range of motion they utilize and the environment in which games are played, it follows that the optimal clothing for each sport would be similar.
If you’re looking for inspiration for a fashionable and highly functional outfit to hit either the tennis court or pickleball court in, here are some of our top picks for game wear:
JoJo Skirt 2.0 in Black by Dona Jo
This skirt is a classic option for beginner and experienced players alike. The lightweight and breathable material works reliably to move with you on the court. With deep pockets on both sides of the interior shorts, you can store tennis balls, pickleballs, or any other personal item as you play.
While skirts are a convenient and traditional option for these sports, athletic shorts or leggings are also a great attire for each game.
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Lite Tank in Raio de Luz by Dona Jo
If you’re looking for a versatile top for both pickleball and tennis to pair well with an athletic skirt, try this stylish tank top from Dona Jo. Made with an environmentally-friendly nylon material, this tank glides with your swings while providing support in all the right places.
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Check out more of Dona Jo’s sport attire, including leggings, skirts, joggers, short sleeve tops, long sleeve tops, and jackets on our website.
While pickleball and tennis share similarities in the basic structure of their play, each sport has its own unique characteristics that set it apart from any other game. Now that you’ve gotten the run-down on the differences in gear, rules, and the structure between pickleball and tennis, hit the courts, try out each sport, and have some fun.