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Pickleball vs Tennis: Understanding The Ball Size Difference

Pickleball and tennis are two popular racket sports with devoted followings around the world. Though similar in some ways, a key difference between pickleball and tennis is the size of ball used during gameplay. 

The smaller pickleball allows for a different style of play compared to the larger tennis ball.

An Introduction to Pickleball

For those new to pickleball, a brief background helps highlight how the game and equipment like the ball emerged. Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three dads in Washington state who improvised a game to entertain their bored kids. The game combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong.

The pickleball founders started out using a perforated plastic ball, which evolved into the official size of 2.87 inches in diameter used today. This is smaller than a tennis ball but larger than a whiffle ball, for example. The small holes in a pickleball slow down the speed.

Pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. Matches are usually doubles although singles play is an option too. The pickleball itself weighs approximately 0.9 ounces.

The lightweight plastic ball with holes allows for a slower pace of play compared to fuzzy, solid tennis balls. The smaller ball also leads to some differing gameplay elements, as we’ll explore more.

Tennis Ball Specifications are Different

Tennis has been around since the late 19th century, giving it a multi-decade head start on pickleball in terms of growth. The rules and equipment have evolved over time.

According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), official tennis balls should have a diameter between 2.57 to 2.70 inches, slightly smaller than a standard baseball. This makes tennis balls noticeably larger than pickleballs.


A tennis ball’s construction is also different, with a fuzzy felt coating over a rubber core. This gives the balls more mass and density compared to the lighter plastic of a pickleball. Tennis balls typically weigh between 1.975 to 2.095 ounces fully, more than double the heft of a pickleball.

The fuzzy surface enables tennis balls to move faster through the air and bounce higher off the court. The felt also grabs the tennis racquet strings with more friction, allowing players to impart spin on shots.

The larger and heavier balls combine to create faster pace of play in tennis compared to pickleball. More force is required when hitting shots due to the ball’s mass and speed.

How the Pickleball Size Impacts Gameplay?

Now that we understand the specs of each ball, how does the smaller pickleball’s size affect gameplay compared to tennis? Here are some key differences players notice:

  • More volleying opportunities – The slower ball speed allows players to volley the ball more often versus staying back at the baseline. Volleying mid-court is more common.
  • Slower reaction time needed – Players can take a bit more time to react to shots due to the gently arcing trajectory of the pickleball off the paddle. Easier to track visually.
  • Lower spin impact – Topspin or backspin on the ball has less dramatic effect than in tennis. The pickleball’s plastic surface doesn’t grab the paddle face as much.
  • Easier for beginners – New players can get the hang of pickleball faster thanks to the slower pace and less complex spin factors.

In essence, the small size of the pickleball facilitates a gentler, more accessible game for recreational players of all ages to have fun with. The ball is light enough for kids to play, while the court is small enough for seniors to cover.

How the Tennis Ball Size Changes Things?

In contrast to pickleball, the fuzzier, larger tennis ball creates a faster, higher-intensity game. Here’s how the ball affects tennis play:

  • More baseline tactics – Players stay back more to control the speed of groundstrokes. Volleying is riskier so the ball often stays in backcourt.
  • Harder to volley – The speed, bounce, and spin make volleys challenging. Quick reflexes are required to block fast volleys near the net.
  • Quicker reaction time – Tennis players must react lightning-fast due to the ball’s velocity off the racquet. Anticipation skills are key.
  • Advanced challenge – Tennis has a steeper learning curve. Mastering spin, pace, and footwork is more difficult with the larger balls.

The tennis ball facilitates more speed, power, and athleticism. While satisfying to play for some athletes, it also makes tennis harder to pick up casually, especially as a beginner.

Related Article: How To Dye Tennis Balls?

Key Gameplay Differences Summarized

To recap the gameplay comparison, the smaller pickleball promotes:

  • More volley exchanges – Easier to sustain rallies with volleys due to the ball’s slower speed.
  • Easier learning curve – Pickleball is friendlier for recreational players of all ages due to the ball size.

While the larger tennis ball leads to:

  • More baseline play – Harder to volley consistently, so players stay back more.
  • Faster speed and agility – Players must cover more court to retrieve shots.
  • Advanced challenge – Tennis has a steeper learning curve, making it tougher for beginners.

So pickleball trades the power and athleticism of tennis for a gentler game using the smaller ball. Both sports have their merits and appeal to different types of players.

Pickleball vs Tennis Ball Size – In Summary


To summarize the key differences:

  • Pickleballs are 2.87 inches in diameter and weigh 0.9 ounces
  • Tennis balls are 2.57-2.70 inches and weigh 1.975-2.095 ounces
  • The small plastic pickleball creates slower rallies with more volley opportunities
  • The large fuzzy tennis ball causes faster pace of play with more baseline shots

The table below compares the specs:

Ball SpecsPickleballTennis Ball
Diameter2.87 inches2.57-2.70 inches
Weight0.9 oz1.975-2.095 oz
MaterialPlastic polymerFuzzy felt & rubber

In the end, the choice comes down to personal preference. Pickleball offers accessible fun for all due to its ball size, while tennis provides more athletic challenges. No matter your skill level, give each sport a try to see which ball fits your gameplay style the best!

The Origins of Pickleball and Tennis Ball Sizes

Now you understand the gameplay effects of each ball’s size, but where did these specifications originate from? Let’s take a quick historical look at why pickleballs and tennis balls ended up the size they are today.

The Improvised Pickleball

As mentioned earlier, pickleball was invented on a whim in the 1960s usingavailable household items. The first games used a plastic Wiffle ball, which was lighter than a tennis ball but still rather large.

The creators soon realized a smaller ball would work better for their paved driveway court. They drilled holes in a regular plastic ball to slow down the action, and the perforated pickleball was born!

This began pickleball’s tradition of using a smaller, lighter ball to facilitate recreational play. While professional pickleballs have evolved, the portable fun spirit remains today.

Tennis Balls – From Rubber to Felt

Tennis balls have undergone more transformations since the advent of lawn tennis in the 1870s. The earliest balls had rubber cores wrapped in cloth or string.

But the cloth absorbed moisture and dirt, quickly deteriorating the balls. The 1870s saw experiments using fuzzy felt wool coverings to mitigate this issue. Felt provided durability yet maintained the balls’ bounce.

By 1902, the current felt-covered rubber core tennis ball emerged as the standard. The ITF now regulates size, weight, bounce height, and durability. Tennis balls have stayed relatively consistent since.

How Professional Play Shapes Recreational Balls?

The evolution of pickleball and tennis balls was heavily influenced by professional equipment needs. Though pros make up a small fraction of players, their gear trickles down to recreational courts.

Pickleball Goes Pro

As pickleball’s popularity boomed in the 2010s, professional tournaments needed standardized balls that could withstand high-velocity smashes.

Manufacturers developed indoor vs. outdoor pickleballs with varying durability while maintaining a similar size. Outdoor balls have thicker plastic shells and can take more abuse. Indoor balls play truer and faster on hard courts.

Recreational players can now find better quality balls for both settings while sticking to the familiar 2.87-inch size.

Tennis Tech Goes Mainstream

Advances in tennis ball fabrics, rubber compounds, and manufacturing quality have all emerged from the pro tour’s demands.

Pressureless balls became standard in the 1970s to maintain livelier bounces after multiple impacts. Various brands advertise tour-quality durability, brightness, and consistency for amateur use.

While staying within the ITF’s size constraints, tennis balls continue getting more playable for all thanks to pros testing the limits.

Specialty Ball Variants Worth Trying


Within the standard ball sizes, pickleball and tennis both offer interesting specialty ball variants worth experimenting with:

Pickleballs for Specific Play Styles

  • Indoor balls – Designed for hard, smooth courts to provide better control and shot precision.
  • Outdoor balls – More durable plastic materials withstand outdoor play in wind and on rough surfaces.
  • Low compression balls – For beginners learning proper technique to slow things down.

Tennis Balls for Different Situations

  • Pressureless balls – Maintain bounce consistency even when older for more playing time.
  • Extra duty felt – Lasts significantly longer with higher denier strength felt materia.
  • High visibility balls – Fluorescent colors like orange stand out more for dark courts.

Trying these different balls creates subtle gameplay changes while staying within expected size ranges. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Custom Ball Sizes – Taking Things Up a Notch

For those wanting even more variation, custom ball sizes let players change things up beyond standard pickleballs and tennis balls. Here are some creative options to mix up your next game:

Oversized and Mini Pickleballs

  • Jumbo pickleballs – Almost the size of a tennis ball, these add speed and power.
  • Wiffle-style pickleballs – Tiny perforated plastic balls bounce wildly and are harder to control.

Alternative Tennis Balls

  • Foam balls – Giant, soft foam balls are safe for playing indoors.
  • Low compression balls – Specialty oversized balls bounce lower and are beginner friendly.
  • Beach tennis balls – Lighter and slightly smaller for playing in sand and wind.

Trying custom ball sizes tests your skills in fun new ways! Just make sure to get the right nets, paddles, and court sizes to match.


What Sport Has The Same Size Court As Pickleball?

Pickleball shares the same size court as badminton. Both sports use a 20×44 foot playing area for doubles matches. This allows for similar gameplay pacing.

Why Do People Like Pickleball More Than Tennis?

Many prefer pickleball over tennis because the smaller plastic ball creates a slower pace with longer volleys. This makes pickleball more accessible for recreational players of all ages.

What Is The Difference Between Indoor And Outdoor Pickleballs?

Indoor pickleballs have a smoother surface that allows better control on hard courts. Outdoor balls are more textured to withstand wind and rough playing surfaces outside.

Are There More Injuries In Tennis Or Pickleball?

Tennis sees more injuries overall since it requires more speed and physicality to cover the court. Pickleball’s smaller space and slower pace lead to fewer injuries typically.

Can You Convert A Tennis Court To Pickleball?

You can convert a tennis court to 4 pickleball courts by painting lines and setting up nets to divide the space. Portable nets make pickleball easy to overlay onto existing tennis facilities.

What 3 Sports Is Pickleball Most Similar To?

The 3 sports most similar to pickleball are tennis, badminton, and table tennis. Pickleball combines elements like the net from tennis, court size of badminton, and paddle from ping pong.

Final Thoughts on Ball Sizes and Skill Building

Switching between different ball sizes provides excellent cross-training for improving essential athletic skills. Here are some final pointers as you consider mixing up your pickleball or tennis games:

  • Moving between smaller and larger balls enhances hand-eye coordination.
  • Tracking faster and slower balls builds concentration and reaction time.
  • Adapting swing speed and power to ball size improves technical form.
  • Varying ball bounce unpredictability trains quick adjustments.
  • Using unfamiliar balls builds versatility and ball control.

So don’t be afraid to grab a bucket of custom plastic or foam balls next time you head out to the pickleball or tennis courts! Pushing your abilities with different equipment brings fun challenges.

The difference in ball sizes between pickleball and tennis leads to contrasting styles of play. But both sports have benefits for recreational and competitive players of all ages. By understanding the origins and purpose behind each ball’s design, you can make the most of your time on the court, no matter which you choose!

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