You love tennis. You always will. But you also feel the enigmatic pull of pickleball. And it's no wonder! Pickleball is becoming increasingly popular thanks to it being fun and accessible regardless of skill level or age. With this guide, you can make a seamless leap from tennis to pickleball.
Tennis and Its Popularity
Tennis dates back to the Middle Ages and has always been popular. It's fun to play and keeps you fit and healthy. But tennis's most significant appeal is that you don't need much to play — you only need a racket, a ball and an opponent.
The Rise of Pickleball
Pickleball doesn't date as far back as tennis, but its popularity is quickly growing. There was a 1,000% increase in USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) memberships between 2013 and 2020. And pickleball is now the official sport of Washington!
Pickleball is like a hybrid of tennis, table tennis and badminton. It's a unique sport with its own set of rules, strategies and pickleball techniques.
Making the Seamless Transition From Tennis to Pickleball
There are some things to adjust to during your journey from tennis player to pickleballer.
For an in-depth look at rules, explore some tips and tricks and the 2023 Official Rulebook. However, you can get started with these basics:
Scoring points: You can only score points when you serve and cannot score points as a receiver.
Returning the ball: Before a receiver can return a ball, it has to bounce once after the initial serve. The server also has to let the returning ball bounce once before hitting it. This is the two-bounce rule.
Volleying: Once you observe the two-bounce rule, you can volley — or hit the ball before it bounces.
Serving the ball: Players on the serving team serve until the opposing team makes a fault.
Understanding faults: A fault occurs if you violate the two-bounce rule or when the ball touches any part of the kitchen, goes out of bounds, hits the net, or is volleyed from the non-volley zone, or the "kitchen."
Switching servers: If you fault as the first server in doubles, the serve automatically goes to your partner. If you fault as the second server or fault during a game of singles, the serve goes to your opponent.
Winning: The first side to 11 points and up by two points wins!
Tennis vs. Pickleball
Tennis and pickleball share standard components, but there are a couple of noticeable differences. Explore differences in gameplay and a tennis and pickleball court comparison below:
- Pickleball serves must be underhand, not overhand like tennis.
- Pickleball has a non-volley zone.
- Scoring works differently between the two games.
- In pickleball, you serve diagonally to the opposite side of the court.
- Pickleball uses a court about half the size of a tennis court.
- Pickleball courts have a lower net than tennis nets.
There's no doubt that tennis is a fun and healthy pastime. Pickleball offers all the same enjoyment plus some added advantages:
Low-impact: Pickleball is an excellent cardiovascular workout that's low-impact and easy on your joints.
Community involvement opportunities: You can join a pickleball club and be part of a fun community.
Accessibility: Pickleball is suitable for any age and skill level. Additionally, you can play pickleball standing or while using a wheelchair.
Easier serves: The underhand serve is easier to learn than an overhand tennis serve.
Weather-proof: You can play pickleball indoors and outdoors.
Strategies for Tennis Players Interested in Pickleball
To really embrace your new status as a pickleball aficionado, check out the following strategies.
Understanding Racket Grips
There are three main grips in pickleball:
Eastern: We recommend beginners start with an Eastern grip — this comfortable and versatile grip makes the transition between your forehand and backhands more seamless.
Western: The Western grip is excellent if you want power and spin when serving. However, you need to be confident switching grips, as this particular grip can weaken your backhand.
Continental: The Continental grip is a good option if you prefer your backhand when serving. It's also effective for dinks.
Mastering the Dink Shot
You'll want to master the dink shot as soon as you can! Dink shots land in your opponent's non-volley zone — potentially causing them to fault. To master this shot, make sure to bend your knees and use the continental grip. You'll also want to hit the ball underhand as you aim for the non-volley zone.
Understanding Non-Volley Zone Rules
A volley is when you hit the ball without letting it bounce first. You can only legally volley within permitted court areas — a volley results in a fault when hit from the non-volley zone. The non-volley zone is a seven-foot zone on each side of the net that exists to stop players from standing too close to the net and smashing every shot.
Perfecting Footwork and Movement
Pickleball and tennis share some footwork movements, but the sidesteps differ. In pickleball, you move side to side without crossing your feet. A crossover step is sometimes necessary — but not often.
However, it can be easy to adapt your tennis footwork to pickleball! Take full advantage of your strong split steps, and focus on adjusting the timing of your lateral movements.
Additionally, you'll want to understand court positioning if you're playing doubles. If you're covering the right side of the court, you'll return the serves from the diagonal, and vice versa.
Recommended Resources for Pickleball Players
Plenty of great pickleball resources are available online from professionals and amateurs:
Tennis Players Who Excel in Pickleball
Ana Ivanović, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moyá, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Michael Chang have all played pickleball! Sloane Stephens is also keen on pickleball but noted some differences in the sports, including the timing and match sets.
Overcoming Common Pickleball Challenges
Pickleball pro Steve Dawson shares tips for tennis players on the Pickleball Channel. Here are his tips:
- Put overspin on the ball when slamming volleys.
- Always keep your feet parallel to the kitchen line.
- Take your time adjusting to the slower pace and smaller court.
- Focus on the advantages you have as a tennis player to hone your technique.
Tennis vs. Pickleball FAQ
Finally, consider the answers to some tennis vs. pickleball questions:
Can I wear tennis shoes to play pickleball? You can definitely purchase pickleball shoes for optimal performance and increased safety, but regular tennis shoes will work for casual players.
Is playing singles and doubles the same in the two sports? They are similar, but one noticeable difference is that a pickleball court does not have a doubles alley — you play singles and doubles on the same court.
Is pickleball an Olympic sport? Pickleball is not an Olympic sport.. yet!
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Though there are similarities between tennis and pickleball, pickleball is a sport in its own right with benefits that are hard to beat. You can enjoy the excitement of a new game, have fun learning new strategies, make friends, and get all the health advantages of a low-impact aerobic sport.
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