Pickleball, Paddle Tennis, and Platform Tennis: Similarities and Differences to Tennis

Pickleball, paddle tennis, and tennis are all considered racquet sports. But what makes them similar, what makes them different, and will picking up a new racquet sport help you or hinder your tennis game?

Tennis

We won’t dive too deep into the game of tennis since we’re probably the most familiar with the sport. But here are some key points to compare pickleball and paddleball to:

  • Originally called lawn tennis and founded in 1873.
  • Played by two opposing players (singles) or a pair of players (doubles).
  • Equipment used is racket that’s strung to a player-specific tension.
  • Played with a pressurized rubber ball covered with high-quality felt.
  • Played on a rectangular court that measures 78 feet by 36 feet (27 ft for singles).
  • Net is 42 inches high at the posts and 36 inches high at the center.
  • Governed worldwide by the International Tennis Federation (ITF)
  • Two professional tours: Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Due to tennis’ growth and popularity over the last 150 years, it’s almost inevitable that new sports would take inspiration from the game and take root.

Paddle Tennis

Paddle tennis was developed by an Episcopal minister, Frank Peer Beal, in 1915. The sport was born out of Beal’s need to create an activity for children in lower Manhattan. Today, the sport is governed by the American Platform Tennis Association, has an official rulebook, and many tournaments that accommodate beginners, amateurs, and professionals.

How does paddle compare to tennis?

The differences:

  • The court is 44 feet long by 20 feet wide, laid out on a deck that extends the playing area to 60 feet by 30 feet. The entire court and deck are enclosed by a 12-foot-high screen.
  • The screen that surrounded the playing area are held taught and made of plastic-coated wire mesh.
  • The net is 37 inches high at the posts and 34 inches high at the center.
  • The ball is a rubber ball with flocking and comes in a variety of colors: green, yellow, pink, and orange.
  • Played with a perforated, and sometimes texturized, paddle—for less air resistance—measuring 18 inches in length.
  • Typically played outside in the cold weather to ensure the ball and the surface isn’t too bouncy.
  • The screens are allowed to be played off of, but a player cannot purposefully smash a ball into them.

The similarities:

  • The lines of the court match those of a tennis court and include both singles lines and doubles alleys, though doubles is primarily played.
  • The game scoring is the same as tennis, following the love, 15, 30, 40 format; sets are played to 6 games; matches are played best of three sets.

Pickleball

Pickleball came a bit later in 1965, discovered by a couple of dads who had a handful of bored children one summer. They couldn’t find all the equipment for their badminton set, so they used the net, ping pong paddles, and a wiffle ball to create what we now call pickleball.

Today, pickleball continues to be the fastest growing sport in the United States, with the number of players growing 40% from 2019 to 2021. It’s popping up at clubs, public courts, and rec centers all around the country. And with the creation of USA Pickleball (USAPA) in 2005, there’s been a surge of amateur and professional tournaments, along with a professional pickleball tour: the Professional Pickleball Association.

How does pickleball compare to tennis?

The differences:

  • Played with a flat composite paddle that comes in different sizes and thicknesses and a perforated plastic ball reminiscent to the ping pong paddles and wiffle ball that started it all.
  • A pickleball court is only 44 feet long and 20 feet wide – two pickleball courts can fit onto one tennis court.
  • The net is only 34 inches tall at the center.
  • Only underhand serving is allowed.
  • Scoring is much different, there’s no game-set structure. For pickleball, it’s the first team or individual to reach 11 points.
  • Points are only scored when team or individual is serving.
  • There is a no-volley zone designated on a pickleball court that is near the net, that affects gameplay.
  • And the ball must bounce one on each side before volleying can begin.

The similarities:

  • Matches can be played indoors or outdoors.
  • Court lines are similar.
  • Serve must be served diagonally.

Can Paddle Tennis and Pickleball Improve Your Tennis?

I often get asked by tennis players whether taking up another racquet sport will screw up their tennis game and my answer always is: Of course not!

Sure, there might be a bit of an adjustment period, but these paddle tennis and pickleball—despite their differences to tennis—can only help improve your tennis game.

Here are the top 5 lessons you’ll learn if you pick up either paddle tennis or pickleball:

  1. Net play

The point of paddle tennis and pickleball is to control the net, so these two sports force you to get comfortable at net right from the get-go. You’ll see a significant increase in your volley technique, execution, and comfort when you take on one or both of these sports.

  1. Positioning

The courts of paddle tennis and pickleball are smaller than a tennis court which means that fast-paced play is bound to happen. The faster the play, the less time you have to get into good positioning. These two sports force you to get comfortable with quick play and learn the angles of the court.

  1. Movement

These two sports are all about mindful transitions and anticipating the ball…both things we can all stand to improve in our tennis. When we improve our anticipation skills, movement becomes intuitive.

  1. Strategy

There’s not much luck to be had on either a paddle court or a pickleball court, especially against more experienced players. The learning curve for strategy is a bit quicker (and the biggest factor of whether you win or lose) on these courts than a tennis court, where you can get a lucky shot in.

  1. Awareness of the court

When you come back to a tennis court after playing either paddle tennis or pickleball, you’ll find that going for your shots—threading the needle or painting the lines, if you will—is much easier. You’ll feel much more confident playing a bit more aggressively than you’re used to.

Have you ventured off the tennis court and tried either of these two incredible racket sports out? If you have, leave a comment, and tell us which one you favor and what’s transferred over to your tennis game.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Coach Kourt

Coach Kourt

Kourtney Spak is a tennis writer, UPSTA-certified teaching pro, and stringer from northeast Pennsylvania. She's been coaching for over eight years and writing longer than she can remember. When she's not on the court or typing away on her computer, her time is taken up with her four boxer pups.

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