Land of the Sky Tournament information can be found by clicking on the button above.

Newcomers to the site should note the pickleball book "chapters" in the left column and the repository of expert articles and videos in the right column.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Transitioning from Tennis to Pickleball

As discussed in Pickleball vs Tennis - And the Winner is..., more and more tennis players are also playing pickleball.  Some do it just to see what pickleball is all about. Others make it a permanent transition as their aging bodies are better suited to the smaller court.  These players have an edge over non-tennis novices due to their court experience, but there are 5 big differences to which they must adjust.

1. The stroke

A tennis stroke is much longer than a pickleball stroke.  The pickleball court, at 1/3 the size of a tennis court, is a much quicker game that does not demand the power needed to hit a ball the longer distance.  The tennis stroke starts with a long backstroke and a long follow-through as shown below.

By comparison, both the backstroke and the follow-through are shorter in pickleball.

The forehand is pictured but the backhand stroke requires the same adjustment. Tennis players using a two-handed backhand will require an even bigger adjustment. A two-handed backhand can be used in pickleball but the significantly shorter racquet/paddle restricts the ability to reach balls even a short distance from the body.

2. Footwork

Much footwork is common between tennis and pickleball. Movement from the back to front using the Split Step, as well as movement toward the back (such as chasing a lob) is identical. The difference in footwork is in the side to side movement. This is again due to the size of the court requiring a quick return to the Ready Position. The foundation of side-to-side tennis movement is a crossover step where one foot crosses in front of the other to move either right or left. The foundation of side-to-side pickleball movement is to slide without one foot crossing the other. The comparison is shown below where the player is moving to his right.

There will be shots where a crossover step is necessary to reach a very wide ball. But a crossover step should not be the primary movement in pickleball.

3. The serve

The tennis serve is a weapon used to win points outright or to gain advantage in the ensuing play. The overhead motion allows for power and a downward path over the net. The server can immediately charge to the net before the returner in order to control the rally. None of these are true in pickleball. A pickleball serve must be hit from low to high so a power serve risks hitting either the net or outside the court. The server must allow the return to bounce before it can be hit. Therefore, he cannot charge the net. Control of the pickleball rally lies with the returning team, which is the opposite of tennis.

4. Patience

Tennis rallies are generally over quickly after only a few shots. Pickleball rallies can last dozens of shots. In pickleball, the slower speed and lower bounce of the ball allows shots of all kinds, including overhead smashes, to be returned with regularity. Tennis players must adjust to the continuous play and to not make the assumption that a well-placed and hard shot will be a winner.

5. The soft game

Modern tennis is a power game, with players blasting powerful shot after powerful shot at or past opponents. The same kind of power cannot be generated with the short paddle and a wiffleball used in pickleball. As a result, winning strategies must adjust from power to finesse that allows a single powerful stroke to win the rally. A soft shot - the third shot drop - is needed to overcome the returners position advantage and allow the server to get to the kitchen. Then, the Dink becomes the key play. While tennis has a drop shot, it has nothing like the continuous dinking game that dominates a rally. 

Pickleball is growing fast and we welcome all tennis players to the game of their future. Just be ready for the differences.


  1. Well, we understand the difference in between tennis ball and a pickleball. But the techniques of tennis serve will be same in both of the cases. Serve techniques should be perfect and unique from other tennis serve and from here, we learn some basic tips regarding serving techniques. Thanks for such a wonderful article.
    Tennis Server

  2. I grew up playing tennis in college and then state. Got to be a top tier player and one day I tripped over Badminton played indoors at the Sterling officers club. It's hard to describe my feelings. It was so intriguing to watch all the subtle soft shots mixed in with power smashes and amazing defense. I just could not tear myself away and soon became pretty proficient at competitive level play. Got selected to represent the state in the Nationals. Amazing experience that I'll never ever forget and it was such a fun, great time.
    Now decades later I've embraced Pickleball. I can tell you it has a special place for me recapitulating my younger days and able to mix up the shots as in badminton and tennis. It's so much fun and exercise that tons of people are addicted to playing it regularly. Really good stuff that's going to be very rewarding as we all look forward to Pickleballs explosive growth. I like to say, it's still evolving in many ways, in equipment, play and mentality. Interesting, very interesting!

  3. I disagree with the comparisons made about the serve: "The tennis serve is a weapon used to win points outright or to gain advantage in the ensuing play...control of the pickleball rally lies with the returning team, which is the opposite of tennis." I teach my students that the serve is an offensive tool (a.k.a. a "weapon"), whereby you can really affect the type of return (if any) that your opponent sends back. This is especially important in singles play. In fact, as the server, it's the ONLY time you have complete control of the game, so why not capitalize on that? (I think the serve is SO IMPORTANT that I spend 25% - one whole class in my month-long sessions - on the serve alone.)