Tennis vs Pickleball vs Padel: What’s the Difference?
Racket sports are growing in popularity these days, with alternatives to tennis like pickleball and padel bursting onto the scene. As an avid Tennis Bros reader, we are sure you understand the ins and outs of tennis itself, but you may be less familiar with these two niche variations.
So, if you have heard of pickleball and padel but aren’t quite sure how they compare to tennis, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll take you through the history of these two popular racket sports, explain how the rules work and give you an idea of which is best.
The Histories of Tennis, Pickleball, and Padel
Here is a brief history of tennis, pickleball, and padel so you have a good idea of each game’s standing in the global racket sports landscape.
The History of Tennis
Tennis, as we know it today, was first played back in the early 16th century. It was popularised at the time by Henry VIII but traced its roots back to as early as the 12th century, at which time it was played with the hand rather than with rackets.
Tennis has evolved a long way since those times, and now is one of the most popular sports in the world. Technology has also crept into the game over the years, with tennis rackets now being made from carbon fiber, as opposed to wood, aluminum, and graphite in years gone by.
An estimated 87 million people worldwide play tennis today, making it an incredibly popular sport.
However, some argue that the expensive nature of tennis equipment, maintaining courts, and the high-class history of the sport make it a little more unattainable than the likes of soccer or basketball.
That’s where newer variations of tennis like padel and pickleball come into play.
Where tennis has a long and rich history dating back hundreds of years, both pickleball and padel have only really become popular since the mid-1900s.
The History of Pickleball
Let’s take pickleball first.
Despite the arguably strange name, pickleball has grown massively in popularity in recent years. It was invented as a backyard game back in 1965 and is more similar to table tennis or badminton than tennis.
One of the key features of pickleball is the much smaller court size and hollow, hard ball that is used with a small, solid paddle-shaped bat.
Pickleball started off as a casual game played by families in their backyard, using a lowered badminton net in place of a traditional tennis net. This, along with the lightweight, low-bouncing ball and smaller court dimensions made it much easier to pick up for players with no racket sport experience. It is not particularly difficult to learn how to play pickleball, despite there being a few unique rules.
Since the mid-1960s, pickleball has grown in popularity, with the first official tournaments being played in the mid-1970s. However, it is in the past couple of decades that pickleball has exploded in the US and even become the official sport of Washington.
Today, it is streamed on ESPN and currently has an estimated 40 million people playing the sport worldwide.
The History of Padel
Now let’s turn to Padel.
This sport has grown massively in Europe over the past couple of decades due to the popularity of the professional game, the accessibility of the sport, and more investment in padel facilities.
Padel tennis was first invented in 1969 in Mexico and effectively combines squash and tennis. One of the key differences is that in padel, you can play off the back wall, and the rackets are much smaller and more solid than tennis rackets.
Despite being invented in Mexico, it was not until padel courts were introduced to Spain that the sport really started to take off.
Holidaymakers in Marbella enjoyed the accessibility of the sport compared with tennis, due to the smaller playing area and lower technical barriers to entry.
However, it was not until the early 2000s that padel tennis started to explode in Europe, expanding out of Spain into other countries like France, Portugal, and the UK.
The World Padel Series was founded in 2013, giving rise to a new level of professionalism in the sport. This gave padel players the platform to compete in professional tournaments and brought new sponsorship levels and viewership to the sport.
As a result, there are currently around 25 million padel tennis players globally.
How Tennis, Pickleball, and Padel Compare
Now you have an understanding of how tennis, pickleball, and padel came to be, let’s take a closer look at how the sports are played, and the key differences between them.
Tennis is the most popular racket sport out there, with nearly 90 million global participants. Tennis is played on a court measuring 78’ x 36’ (23.77m x 10.97m), including the doubles tramlines.
This is the largest space to cover out of the three sports listed in this article, which makes tennis the most physically demanding and difficult sport to master.
The scoring system in tennis is pretty unique, with matches being either best of 5 sets or best of 3 sets. Generally, 6 games must be won to win a set, but sets can also be won 7-5 or on a tiebreak. This gives tennis an element of unpredictability, as you never quite know when a match will finish.
There are 4 major tournaments in the professional tennis world, which are known as the Grand Slams. These are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
Pickleball is a rapidly growing sport due to its accessibility and the smaller court size, making it easy for local parks and inner city areas to invest in. Pickleball is played on a small 44’ x 20’ court, so is around half the size of a tennis court.
Singles and doubles are played on the same court size in pickleball, so there are no doubles tramlines involved.
The front section of the court closest to the net is called the ‘no volley zone’ (or the kitchen) which avoids unfair advantages and smashing the ball around in close quarters.
A quirky rule in pickleball is that the ball must bounce at least once on each side of the net before anyone can start volleying. This is known as the ‘double bounce rule’.
Due to the low bouncing ball, all pickleball shots are hit underarm and generally below waist height.
Padel tennis combines some elements of squash, tennis, and pickleball and is played in a glass and metal cage. One of the most unique aspects of padel is the fact that you can hit the ball off the sides of the cage, which is not something that is allowed in either tennis or pickleball.
Padel tennis courts are typically 65’ x 32.5’, so are approximately halfway between a tennis court and a pickleball court in size.
This makes it a little more accessible than tennis, as does the fact that the ball can go past you and the point is still live.
One of the main rules in padel tennis is that the ball must bounce before it hits the back of the court, and a serve can hit the side of the court after bouncing, but it is only in play if it hits the glass rather than the metal cage.
Lobbing is a great tactic in padel, as you can really slow down the play and force your opponents back into the corners of the court, something that is less true of pickleball or traditional tennis.
Tennis vs Pickleball vs Padel: Which Sport is Best?
Choosing between tennis, pickleball, and padel is not an easy task.
Tennis of course has the history and global appeal of being a widely recognised sport, with a massive fan base and long-standing playing facilities all over the world.
However, tennis is notoriously difficult to master and it can be a very steep learning curve for someone new to the sport.
This is where pickleball and padel tennis come into their own. Both of these sports are played on smaller courts, with rackets and balls that do not bounce as high or travel as far. This makes both padel and pickleball less physically demanding and there is much less technical proficiency required to play the sport at a high level.
Therefore, if you are new to racket sports and are looking to play a social game that can be enjoyed and picked up relatively quickly, both padel and pickleball trump tennis.
But, which of these two variations of the traditional game is best?
Well, this of course comes down to personal preference.
Pickleball is arguably easier to pick up from complete scratch, as the ball travels less quickly and there is less technique involved compared to padel.
However, if you play a racket sport like tennis, squash, or badminton, you may find it easier and more enjoyable to transition into padel due to its more dynamic rules and playing style.
Overall, all three of these sports are great ways to keep fit and enjoy time with friends. If you are an avid tennis player and are looking for a change, or simply want to pick up a more user-friendly sport, it is definitely worth giving padel tennis and pickleball a try.
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