Pickleball vs. tennis: Mistakes tennis players make when playing pickleball

Are you a former tennis player looking to improve your pickleball game?

Danea Bass & Barrett Bass



February 26, 2024



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Are you a former tennis player looking to improve your pickleball game? There are some important differences and similarities between tennis and pickleball, some common mistakes that tennis players often make when transitioning into the sport, and the most important shots to practice transitioning from tennis to pickleball.

4 differences between pickleball and tennis

Difference #1: The serve

The serve in pickleball is similar to tennis. In both tennis and pickleball, you serve cross-court into the diagonal box. The differences in your serves are:

  • In tennis, you serve the ball high to low.

  • In pickleball, you will serve low to high.

Difference #2: The return

Many times when tennis players come into pickleball, they hit their return and then stay back — because they're comfortable on the baseline. But pickleball players should be working their way forward toward the kitchen — as they hit that return, their momentum is bringing them forward to the net, as opposed to staying back. After your return, you should be looking to get up to the kitchen line as soon as you can.

Difference #3: The drive

The drive in pickleball will be very different than in tennis, mainly because of your racquet/paddle. Your contact point in tennis is your racquet, so you have a lot longer of a handle. Pickleball paddles aren't very long, so you want to make sure that your contact point is closer to your body. While you don't want to jam yourself, you will want to make it a short and compact swing.

Difference #4: The groundstroke

Another thing to keep in mind when transitioning from tennis to pickleball is your groundstroke.

In tennis, you're likely approaching the ball with a slightly more open stance. A lot of times (in tennis) people will turn their entire body because they have time — the distance between them and their opponent is a lot further so they have time to turn their body. In pickleball, the distance between you and your opponent is shorter, so hitting your drive with a slightly open stance is more advantageous to ensure you're ready for the next ball.

4 common mistakes tennis players make when transitioning to pickleball

Here are some of the most common mistakes that tennis players make when they transition into pickleball:

Mistake #1: The serve

One mistake many tennis players make when transitioning to pickleball is that, when they serve the ball, they sprint to the net. In pickleball the return has to bounce, so you should stay back, hit your third shot, and then approach the net.

In tennis, you will often serve the ball, run up, and attempt to volley that next ball — but that would be a fault in pickleball. Instead, after you serve that ball, make sure that you stay behind the line to hit the third shot because the ball must bounce first.

Mistake #2: Backswing

Another mistake that tennis players make when they first start playing pickleball is that they have a big backswing. The pickleball court is a lot smaller than the tennis court, so it's more advantageous in pickleball to have a short and compact swing — because your opponents can't tell what you're doing. If you use a big backswing, then you may hit the ball too far and/or out of bounds any time you return the ball.

Mistakes #3: Paddle grips

Another common mistake that tennis players make when they come into pickleball is holding their paddle with more of a Western Grip and attempting to create topspin. But because there are no strings on a pickleball paddle, that will likely cause the ball to roll into the net. When you're transitioning into pickleball, you will want to start with more of a Continental Grip. This will allow you to keep that ball over the net and in the court.

Mistake #4: Hitting the ball too hard

Another mistake that tennis players make when they transition to pickleball is hitting the ball way too hard. Because the dimensions of a pickleball court are a lot smaller than a tennis court, if you hit the ball hard there is a good chance it will go out of bounds. If you want to keep more balls in bounds and have more strategic play, don't hit every ball hard but incorporate some softer and finesse shots into your game.

Important shots to practice when transitioning to pickleball

Here are some of the most important shots for you to practice when you're making that transition from tennis to pickleball.

Shot #1: Third shot drop

When making the transition from tennis to pickleball, you will want to become an expert in the third shot drop. One of the major differences between tennis and pickleball is that, in pickleball, the serve return must bounce. So after you serve the ball you should stay back near the baseline and try to drop the ball into the opposing team's kitchen in an unattackable spot. This will allow you to move forward.

Shot #2: The reset

The next shot that's important for you to learn is called the reset: a shot that happens after your third shot. When a lot of tennis players get into the transition zone, they’ll try to hit the ball as fast as they can. Two things typically happen when you hit a ball like this in this area: the ball either goes out or the ball's going so fast it goes to your opponents, but then that ball is coming just as fast or faster back at you.

A reset is a ball that's hit in the transition zone that will help you gain more real estate so that you can get up to the kitchen. To reset yourself, hit your third shot and get into the transition zone, and as soon as you have the opportunity, you will want to make your way up to the kitchen. This will help you and your partner be in the best position to have the most real estate on the pickleball court.

Shot #3: The dink

Another shot that is important to learn is called the dink, which is done primarily when you and your partner are both up at the kitchen line. The dink is a very soft and finesse shot. 

When you are transitioning from tennis, the dink may not look like a super cool but it is absolutely vital to set up points.

To master the dink, you will hit a softer controlled shot to send an unattackable ball to your opponents that they won't be able to speed up, as well as forcing them to make a mistake so you can ultimately win the point.

Shot #4: The speed-up

The last shot that's important for you to practice when you're transitioning from tennis to pickleball is the 60 percent speed-up. It's very common for tennis players to come into the sport and hit the ball as hard as they can and power the ball through their opponents.  The problem with that is that the ball will often sail long and you have no shot to win the point.

Instead, when you're dinking at the kitchen line and you're waiting for a ball, sometimes there will be a ball that bounces a little bit higher and you'll want to speed the ball up. But if you notice that there it was nice short and compact I didn't swing 100 percent — I just swing 60 percent. I'm waiting for the next ball often times a 60 percent speed-up will create a pop-up for me to put away, or the opponent will reset the ball and we'll be right back in that dinking rally. This will help attack your opponent and apply pressure without being out of control.

Pickleball vs. tennis

If you’re looking to make the transition from tennis to pickleball, there are a lot of habits you will want to get rid of and a lot of new shots you will want to learn. Your tennis skills will give you an advantage over other brand-new pickleball players, but you will want to adjust those skills so they make sense to the game of pickleball.