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If you've ever wondered about the difference between padel vs pickleball, you're in luck. We've created this comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know about these two sports.
But first, a short history lesson:
Racket sports have a long and murky past, so no one can say definitively where they came from. However, historians do agree that by the year 1300, a game known as Jeu de Paume (or the palm game) was being played in France.
This game slowly evolved from being played solely with the palm of the hand and a ball, to players wearing gloves. By the late 17th century, players were using very rudimentary ‘battoirs’, or strung rackets.
The English, having heard the servers’ calls of ‘Tenez!’ (loosely translated as ‘take this!’) called the game ‘tennis’ and promptly fell in love with it.
King Henry VIII was a huge fan in his spare time—when he wasn’t busy getting married six times! This version of the game is still played, under the name ‘Real Tennis’.
All modern racket and paddle sports evolved from this early version, including the grandparents of pickleball: ping-pong and badminton.
These days, dozens of paddle and racket sports are played worldwide. Tennis has traditionally dominated as the most popular, but modern paddle sports are now gaining massive popularity.
Pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in the US, with 36.5 million Americans picking up a paddle in 2022. But worldwide, other paddle sports are seeing similar booms in popularity.
One of the most popular is ‘padel’, which is massively popular—especially in Spanish-speaking countries. We’re regularly asked what the differences and similarities are between padel and our beloved pickleball.
We’re also often asked about other games like tennis—from paddleball and padel tennis to racquetball and platform tennis. But despite their similar names, these are all different sports with very different rules.
So, as your trusted pickleball authority, we’ve put together a definitive guide on padel vs pickleball. So, next time you’re asked, you’ll be armed with all the facts!
What is pickleball?
The sport of pickleball was invented in Bainbridge Island, Seattle in 1965 by two friends, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, hoping to keep their kids entertained.
With nothing but random sporting parts, the two set about improvizing a game. In the end, they settled on using ping-pong paddles to hit a wiffle ball across a badminton court.
As the families started to play, they quickly realized they were onto a winner. After a few adjustments and some fine-tuning of the rules, pickleball, as we know it, was born.
It wasn’t long before the surrounding community got in on the action, and within a year, everyone was hooked. After only a couple of years, some neighbors had even started building their own dedicated pickleball courts.
And as they said, the rest is pickleball history.
From then, pickleball started its slow spread across the US, gaining popularity in California and Florida. In the early years, the main demographic was seniors who recognized the sport’s potential long before the kids caught on.
By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. But it wasn’t until 2009 that the first national pickleball tournament was held in Buckeye, Arizona.
Since then, the sport has seen exponential growth. The latest massive surge in popularity came during the 2020 pandemic when people had plenty of spare time to enjoy outdoor pastimes.
Now, Major League Pickleball is coming to our TV screens and almost every city in America has pickleball facilities.
What is padel?
Padel has a surprisingly similar origin story. It too was invented in the late 1960s by a father looking to entertain his bored child.
Enrique Corcuera was a businessman trying to enjoy his siesta during a hot summer in Mexico, in 1969. But his daughter had other ideas and kept whacking tennis balls off the wall of the house.
Eventually, Enrique decided to build her a wall specifically for playing this game. With a few other additions, the game of padel was created. By a stroke of luck, Corcuera’s high-society friend, Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenb, paid him a visit and tried out the newly invented sport. He was instantly hooked.
After returning to his native Spain, the prince introduced the game to his rich and influential social circle. Within a few years, the King of Spain himself was playing. Fast forward to today and over 25 million people play the game of padel across 90 countries.
How to play padel vs pickleball
Now that we’ve looked at the histories of padel vs pickleball, let’s take a look at how the games are played:
Pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts, 22’ by 40’. Padel is played on a court only 32' 10" by 65' 7" (10m by 20m).
While both courts have a net in the middle to play over, padel courts are enclosed by walls and mesh.
Pickleball paddles have a flat face with a maximum permitted size of 24in when adding length and width. This means that most pickleball paddles are 7–8" wide and 15–16" long. They are unperforated, and have no maximum thickness, according to the USA Pickleball regulations.
Pickleball paddles are made from a variety of materials, including graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and even wood.
Meanwhile, padel rackets must be 18.9" long, 10.2" wide, and roughly 1.5" thick in profile. Unlike in pickleball, the padel racket’s surface is perforated.
The perforated area of the racket is the playing surface, i.e. where the ball can hit. This surface cannot exceed 10.2" wide and 11.8" long and can be rough, flat, or smooth. Like pickleball paddles, they’re commonly made from either carbon fiber or fiberglass.
Pickleball is played with a lightweight, perforated plastic ball, whereas a padel ball is a tennis ball with slightly less pressure for a lower bounce.
The rules of pickleball are a mixture of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong rules, with various differences and additions. In pickleball, you serve underhand, diagonally across the court.
Check out this diagram to see how court positions work in pickleball:
Pickleball is unique when it comes to scoring in that only the serving team can score points in a round. Instead, the returning team’s goal is to force their opponents to make mistakes.
Learn more about scoring in pickleball:
In pickleball, games are played to 11 points and must be won by a margin of two points. Scores are announced at the start of every serve. In the more common doubles format, the score consists of three numbers:
- The serving team’s score (always goes first)
- The receiving team’s score
- Either 1 or 2 to indicate which player on the team is serving
An important and unique piece of pickleball gameplay is the non-volley zone or ‘kitchen’—the 7-foot area on either side of the court. You can never hit a volley (which is a shot hit out of the air) while any part of your body is in the kitchen.
Padel has very different gameplay and rules. While underhand serves are the same, with the ball not struck above waist height, the similarities end there.
Players in both games hit the ball back and forth across a net, but in a padel game, players also bounce the ball off the back and side walls and fences.
Scoring in padel is the same as in tennis: 15, 30, 40, Game, Deuce. It is played in three sets of 6 games, just as in tennis.
How is padel different from pickleball?
The first key difference between padel and pickleball is the court layout. Pickleball is played on a badminton court with a lower net, whereas the padel court is totally different.
Check out this diagram to see the pickleball court layout:
Padel is closely related to squash. It has an enclosed court surrounded on four sides by a ‘superstructure’. This is made up of 10' high glass panels along the back walls, which continue around the service corners.
Along the side of the court beside the service corners, the surrounding walls are made of fencing. The glass back walls also have an extra meter of fencing added on top to bring their height to 13' in total.
Tennis courts and existing sports facilities can easily be tweaked to accommodate pickleball, but building a padel court is more complicated. This is a common challenge to the general adoption of padel.
The scoring system and gameplay in padel are very different from pickleball as well. Another big difference is that padel is designed to be played as a doubles game only, whereas pickleball can be played as singles or doubles.
Similarities between padel and pickleball
Pickleball and padel don’t have much in common, despite the pickleball paddle and padel racket looking quite similar.
The two sports have very different genetic makeups. While pickleball evolved predominantly from badminton and ping-pong, padel evolved from a combination of tennis and squash.
With that said, there are more similarities. The courts in both sports are divided by a low net, and both are famous for their long and exciting rallies.
Does athleticism matter in padel vs pickleball?
One of pickleball’s biggest draws is the fact its accessibility. You don’t have to be super athletic to pick up a paddle and have a blast on a pickleball court.
The smaller court and slower gameplay combine to make pickleball easier on the legs and hips. Grandparents can easily play pickleball with their grandkids and be evenly matched.
Meanwhile, padel is a much more athletic sport. The ball moves more quickly and the court is considerably larger. You’ll sooner build up a sweat playing padel than pickleball.
How is padel different from paddle tennis?
The game of paddle tennis, rebranded as 'Pop Tennis' in 2015, was invented in New York about a hundred years ago. It’s a scaled-down version of tennis that uses shorter, solid paddles instead of tennis rackets.
Paddle tennis courts are smaller than in normal tennis and the balls are also 25% less pressurized than tennis balls, which reduces their speed and bounce.
Paddle tennis uses the same rules as tennis (similar to padel). However, the gameplay of padel is vastly different from tennis or paddle tennis.
Padel vs pickleball: what the statistics say
Let’s take a look at what the official stats have to say about padel and pickleball:
According to the latest pickleball statistics, the average age of a pickleball player is now 38.1 years. This has decreased quickly from 51 years old in 2016, as pickleball has broken into the mainstream.
Padel is enjoyed by a slightly younger demographic as well. The average age of a padel player is dropping, and is currently estimated at about 35 years old.
Padel is played by around 25 million people globally, with around 20% of those in Spain. The sport is seeing massive growth in popularity elsewhere, particularly in the UK and across Europe.
Pickleball has a huge participation rate in the US, with over 36 million people having tried it at least once in 2022. Global numbers are hard to come by, but the US is definitely the number one in the world for pickleball popularity.
Within the US, California has the most places to play, with Florida coming in a very close second, followed by Texas in third place.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the differences and similarities between pickleball and padel. Both sports are exploding in popularity, and while they seem quite similar at first glance, there’s a lot that sets them apart.
If we’ve left you with any doubts, don’t hesitate to contact us on social media with any questions or comments you might have. We hope to see you there!