Have you ever wondered: is pickleball the same as paddle tennis? Is paddle tennis the same as regular tennis, but played with paddles instead? Or maybe this is the first you're hearing about it and you want to know more!
At first glance, this can all get confusing, especially because pickleball, paddle tennis, platform tennis, padel (or "padel tennis"), and paddleball are all sports that share similarities—including similar names. But despite this, there's a lot that sets them apart.
In this guide, we’ll walk through what pickleball and paddle tennis are, the historic background of each sport, and the key similarities and differences between the two.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a fast-paced, strategic sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It uses the same sized court as in doubles badminton, and players use pickleball paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball—similar to a Wiffle ball—over a net.
A brief history of pickleball
Pickleball was created by a group of friends on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965. The initial spark of inspiration came when friends, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, tried to set up a game of badminton for their families, only to find they lacked a complete set of equipment.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the fathers initially used ping pong paddles and a soft plastic ball, and they set the net height at 60 inches—nearly double what it is now in modern pickleball.
Soon, they lowered the net, added ball bouncing to the mix, and brought in a third friend, Barney McCallum. Together, the three men sketched out the basic rules of pickleball.
From there, the game spread outward by word of mouth across the Bainbridge Island community and eventually beyond. The first permanent pickleball court was built in 1967 at the home of Bob O’Brian, another Bainbridge resident. The first known pickleball tournament was held several years later in 1976, in Tukwila, Washington.
For more on the origins of pickleball, check out this video from the Pickleball Channel:
How pickleball became popular
Pickleball has grown steadily since the 70s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that its popularity skyrocketed. The first major milestone in the sport’s development came in 2005 when the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed.
USAPA serves as pickleball’s governing body in the United States. It’s responsible for publishing yearly rulebooks, refining the ruleset, and promoting the sport in general.
In 2019, a Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) brief reported that pickleball was the fastest-growing sport in America, with over 3.3 million players at the time. That revelation created an enormous amount of buzz around the game, and it has grown exponentially ever since.
According to a recent CNBC article, there are now a staggering 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States alone.
What is paddle tennis?
Though similar in ways to traditional tennis, paddle tennis is played with a softer ball, a smaller court, and paddles instead of rackets. It’s also called Pop tennis, deck tennis, or just paddle—though it should not be confused with padel, a similar game most popular in Spain. Paddle tennis net heights are set to 31 inches, making them shorter than the standard 36-inch nets in pickleball.
Paddle tennis is played with a soft, depressurized rubber ball similar to a tennis ball. But being softer, it’s often easier to control, and it moves more slowly in the air.
On a full-size paddle tennis court, you can play both doubles and singles, with doubles being the more popular form of the game.
A brief history of paddle tennis
It’s generally accepted that paddle tennis began in 1915 and was invented by Frank Peer Beal (or "Frank Peter Beal"—sources differ), an Episcopal minister in New York City. Beal spread awareness of the sport by persuading New York’s parks and recreation department to install courts in Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village in that very first year.
The first paddle tennis tournament was played in 1922, and by 1923, the United States Paddle Tennis Association (USPA) was formed. From there, word of the game spread to hundreds of American cities.
Another player, Murray Geller, helped further advance the game in the 1940s and 50s. As chairman of the USPA, he tweaked features of the game that have stuck ever since, including the requirement of an underhand serve.
How paddle tennis became popular
According to one source, paddle tennis was an instant hit in urban recreation facilities, YMCAs, and similar environments because it didn’t require much space, and needed minimal (and inexpensive) equipment.
Paddle tennis is appropriate for any age and level of physical fitness, and it’s easy for beginners to learn. For these same reasons, paddle tennis is also popular in school physical education courses.
Bobby Riggs, a former US national champion tennis player, was also a paddle tennis champion, and he did wonders for promoting the sport.
Similarities between paddle tennis and pickleball
When discussing paddle tennis vs pickleball, we need to start with the similarities between the two sports. Though they’re certainly distinct from each other with a unique feel, paddle tennis and pickleball share many characteristics.
In terms of the paddle tennis vs pickleball court size, both are played on a relatively small court that’s much smaller than in tennis. These shorter courts create an atmosphere of intense net play. Both games use soft balls that allow for a high level of control and lend themselves to precise, strategic shots over raw force.
The paddles used in both paddle tennis and pickleball can be made from similar materials, though paddle tennis paddles are sometimes perforated. Neither sport uses rackets, which instead use strings to create tension.
Perhaps most critically, both games are easily accessible to a broad range of players, and the player culture of both games embraces that inclusivity and fun-loving atmosphere.
Paddle tennis vs pickleball: what’s the difference?
Check out the table below for some of the major differences between these two sports:
|Court size||44 feet long x 20 feet wide||Traditionally 50 feet long x 20 feet wide, but now either 60x20 or 60x27|
|Court enclosure||Usually a fence||Usually a screen with finer mesh|
|Court layout||Has a "kitchen" area but no doubles lanes||No doubles lanes or "kitchen" area, and also may have a "restraint line" 12 feet from the net|
|Type of paddle||Solid graphite, polymer, or wooden paddles||Perforated graphite, polymer, or wooden paddles|
|Ball||Perforated soft plastic ball||Depressurized tennis ball|
|Starting difficulty level||Easier than squash, racquetball, tennis||Similar to tennis|
Differences in paddle tennis vs pickleball rules
Court and equipment differences aside, when discussing pickleball vs paddle tennis, what are the main differences in how these two are played?
Paddle tennis is played very similarly to tennis, with the general speed and intensity being about the same. However, pickleball players have less ground to cover, meaning their speed and strength are less critical. Instead, there’s more emphasis placed on shot choices, accuracy, and strategy.
Here’s where things get technical. The starting positions on the court depend on who's serving, but they matter less once the game is underway.
Let's explain. In pickleball, both players on the serving team stand at the baseline. Meanwhile, on the returning side, the player returning the shot stands at the baseline, but their partner stands closer to the net. Then, once the game is in play, all players typically head closer to the net (called the "kitchen" line) as this offers the greatest advantage in pickleball.
Check out this diagram to see how court positions work in pickleball:
Paddle tennis is a little different. The starting positions are mostly identical to those in pickleball, except the serving player's partner stands closer to the net. This means both sides are staggered: two forward, two back.
In both singles and doubles pickleball, the ball must bounce once on each side before volleys are allowed. And while paddle tennis shares this rule for singles, the rule changes in a doubles game, where the ball can be volleyed immediately after a serve.
Both games use service zones and service lines, and require the person serving to serve diagonally across the court.
Perhaps the biggest rule difference between pickleball and paddle tennis is that pickleball features its famous "kitchen", a non-volley zone that extends 7 feet from the net. This zone prevents players from repeatedly smashing down aggressive volleys on each other, instead facilitating more strategic, precision-oriented gameplay.
Check out this diagram to see the pickleball court layout:
Paddle tennis doesn't have any type of no-volley zone, but some players use a "restraint line", which is 12 feet back from the net. When a player serves, all players must stay behind the restraint line until the ball has bounced at least once, and then they may cross freely.
One important point in the paddle tennis vs pickleball discussion is how serving is handled. Though the rules are mostly identical for both games, there's an important difference.
While second serves are not allowed in either game, paddle tennis players can replay a serve after a "let". This is when a served ball hits the net but still lands on the opponent's side, giving the player another attempt at the serve—just like in tennis.
Meanwhile, there is no such thing as a "let" in pickleball. The game carries on after a serve, regardless of whether the ball hits the net or not, so long as it goes over. Pickleball players can serve by either tossing the ball in the air and hitting it below the height of the net, or they can bounce it behind the baseline and serve.
In pickleball, only the serving team can earn points. Games are typically played to 11, and teams must win by 2 points.
By comparison, paddle tennis uses the same scoring system as traditional tennis, allowing for either side to score a point during a round.
Does physical fitness matter in both paddle tennis and pickleball?
In both paddle tennis and pickleball, athleticism counts. Being able to move quickly, keep up your endurance, and hit the ball hard are definite advantages. But when comparing pickleball vs paddle tennis, physical fitness isn't as much of an advantage for pickleball players.
Paddle tennis is more comparable to other racket sports in terms of how much players benefit from a high level of physical fitness. The court dimensions are longer, so players need to move further, and shots are harder and deeper.
Which sport burns more calories?
The popular app "MyFitnessPal" claims that paddle tennis burns about 10% more calories than pickleball, which is probably a good ballpark estimate.
The number of calories you burn while playing pickleball, paddle tennis, or any other sport comes down to a variety of factors. Your sex, age, weight, and how intensely you play are chief among them. So everyone’s caloric burn will be different.
However, given that paddle tennis places more emphasis on physicality, it’s safe to assume a game of paddle tennis burns slightly more calories than pickleball.
Popularity of paddle tennis vs pickleball
In discussing the popularity of pickleball vs paddle tennis, pickleball is the clear winner. Though not an obscure game by any means, paddle tennis remains niche and is played primarily on the coasts.
Meanwhile, pickleball has soared in popularity in the last ten years, becoming America’s fastest-growing sport. As mentioned before, according to CNBC, a recent report from the Association of Pickleball Professionals places the number of American pickleball players at a jaw-dropping 36.5 million as of 2023.
Why is paddle tennis played in winter?
Paddle tennis is played all year round. Historically, paddle tennis has often been played in heated and enclosed courts, making it an ideal cold-weather sport.
But the association between paddle tennis and winter is also due to a case of mistaken identity! There’s another game called "platform tennis" that is much more commonly considered a true winter sport.
But why is platform tennis played in winter? For one, platform tennis balls play differently in warm weather, and most players prefer the way they behave in the cold. Most platform tennis courts in the Northern United States have sub-floor heating systems that heat the playing area to melt ice and snow.
Bottom line on paddle tennis vs pickleball
At the end of the day, both paddle tennis and pickleball are fantastic ways to get moving, make friends, and have a great time. And while both games share many similarities, they're still very different, and each one offers a distinct experience.
Do you play both paddle tennis and pickleball? Which do you find more enjoyable? Do you think paddle tennis could become as popular as pickleball in the future?