When I was a kid, a pickleball hit me in the back of the head and I had memory problems - C.C.H. Pounder
The first thing that C.C.HPounder should have learned to do when she was at school, especially around the pickleball court, was duck.
It might sound a little cruel and unduly harsh, but when the ball is in play on the pickleball court, anything can, and often does happen.
And the same is true of paddle tennis. When the game starts, anything goes, so if you don’t want to be hit by a ball, don’t get in the way.
Or learn how to duck.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself what pickleball and paddle tennis are, and we don’t blame you.
We’d probably be asking ourselves the same question if we didn’t play both games.
In fact, most people who don’t play either often end up confusing the two, as on the surface they can appear to be almost identical. And adding to the confusion is the fact that pickleball is a combination of three different sports.
But like most things in life, the differences between pickleball and paddle tennis are all in the detail.
And, having smashed more than a few balls around in our time, we’re going to give you a crash course in both and what separates and differentiates them.
At least it does as far as the size of the courts on which both games are plated.
Pickleball has often been called the hybrid offspring of table tennis and badminton, and to a certain degree, that’s true.
And it would also explain why pickleball is played on a regulation size badminton court, which is twenty feet wide by forty-four-feet long.
And the net, while still the same length as a regular badminton one, is set lower for pickleball.
It’s lowered to just under three feet, which brings it closer to the legal height for tennis. Meaning that pickleball is played on a badminton court with a tennis net.
Paddle tennis, however, is played on a smaller version of a tennis court, which is, at fifty feet in length and twenty feet wide, roughly three-fifths of the size of a normal tennis court.
We say roughly, as we were never gifted at math and numbers always look like Swiss cheese to us, full of holes and a little strange.
It’s All About The Balls
While we’re talking about Swiss cheese, it’s probably prudent to mention that the balls that both games are also vastly different.
The ball used in pickleball is more akin to a whiffle ball than a tennis ball, and is full of holes, making it lighter and faster and again, more like badminton than tennis. I covered the difference between indoor and outdoor pickleballs in detail here as well as covering the best indoor and outdoor pickleballs.
Paddle tennis though? That uses a grown-up larger version of a table tennis ball.
Okay, so the ball is actually made from depressurized rubber rather than plastic, and it looks like a cross between tennis and a ping pong ball, but weight-wise it rests somewhere in the middle of the two and in the hands of a great player, can be smashed around the court at incredible speeds.
They’re Not Racquets, They’re Paddles
Then there’s the other thing that separates both pickleball and paddle tennis from badminton and tennis and reinforces their table tennis connection.
Both pickleball and paddle tennis are played using paddles. You don't need much more equipment to play pickleball. Different types of paddles admittedly, but the weapon of choice for the players of both games, are paddles nonetheless.
Paddle tennis’ paddles resemble larger versions of table tennis paddles and have dimpled, group laden surfaces that make it easier to connect with and direct the ball in the game.
Pickleball paddles however are completely smooth. They’re smoother than Humphrey Boggart in ‘Casablanca’ and that unmarked surface is so important to the game, that during more serious encounters, some incredibly serious players insist on measuring the surface of their opponent’s paddles before beginning the game.
Find some great pickleball paddles for beginners here.
It’s supposedly all done in the spirit of fairness, but it's always seemed a little bit like overkill to us. But then, we didn’t reach the big leagues, so maybe that’s just the way they do things when points really matter.
Scoring The Game(s)
It seems fitting that having just mentioned points, that we jump straight into the way that both games are scored. Which is vastly different.
Paddle Tennis is scored almost exactly the same method that tennis is. Sets, advantages, and six sets to a game.
If you know how tennis scores work, you’ll be able to follow a paddle tennis game and know which player is winning and which player is losing.
Pickleball on the other hand is a completely different ball of wax. It uses a scoring system that’s far more complicated and combines the points systems that badminton and table tennis use. I took a deep dive into how to keep score in pickleball in my ultimate guide.
Victory goes to the first player (or side, if you’re playing doubles) to score eleven points with a two-point lead over their opponent.
As the two-point advantage is the deciding factor in a game of pickleball, theoretically a game of pickleball, if both players kept drawing level, could last indefinitely. We told you it was complicated, didn’t we?
The other major difference is in the way the service is played, and the way that the players are allowed to serve during the game.
Pickleball is incredibly strict as far as the rules of service are concerned.
According to the rules, you’re only allowed to serve once, and if you don’t manage to serve properly, the advantage passes to your opponent.
And, you’re only permitted to serve underhand. Anything else is illegal. It’s underhand or nothing.
Paddle tennis is a lot less formal and subscribes to the theory that anything goes.
Underhand, overhand, or however you want to, and can get the ball to your opponent is permitted and there are no clear rules defining how you should and shouldn’t serve to your opponent.
Terminology and the Players
As with any game, pickleball and paddle tennis have their own lexicons which have developed over time and are vast, comprehensive, and almost intelligible to anyone who doesn’t play either.
And the only way to really learn either is by jumping in at the deep end and playing both games.
As for the number of players? They’re both played exactly the same way that tennis, badminton, and table tennis are. As singles and doubles. That’s just about the only thing that they do have in common.
The Paddle and The Pickle
Having played both games and sent some time mired in their worlds, we can categorically state that pickleball and paddle tennis are fun, fast, and involving games.
Could we choose between them? No, we absolutely couldn’t, nor would we want to.
Whether you’re a badminton player, a table tennis devotee, or a lifelong tennis aficionado, you should be able to thoroughly enjoy and embrace pickleball and paddle tennis.
And, if you’re looking for an enjoyable -- and increasingly popular -- way to get fit that doesn’t involve spending hours in the gym, there are far worse to do than hitting the courts and playing a few games of pickleball and paddle tennis.