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Pickleball or Tennis?

by TN

Pickleball or tennis is obviously a rhetorical question. Of course, you pick tennis! But pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US.

Should tennis players be worried? Maybe. I’ve heard and seen data suggesting that tennis balls are being replaced by pickleball courts in the US. The sport is growing faster than any other sport in history. But what is pickleball and why is it so popular?

Pickleball is a racquet sport (the racquet is called a paddle) that combines elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis. You can play singles or doubles, similar to tennis but the court is much smaller (like a badminton court). The paddles are made of wood or composite material and the ball is made of polymer (plastic), much like a wiffle ball.

The sport was invented in the 60s as a children’s backyard game but has spread like wildfire recently due to its popularity in community centers and retirement communities. It’s much easier to pick up compared to tennis and you don’t need as much space to build a court. A normal-sized tennis court can hold four pickleball courts.

Pickleball or tennis?

I’m all for exercise for everyone. Playing any sport is better than sitting on a couch or in an office. The US (and many other parts of the world too) has a huge obesity problem, so to see a sport growing like this is a good thing.

The issue is if they are replacing tennis courts with pickleball courts. Tennis has been around in its current form since the 1870s but has been played in some form since the 11th century. The sport has a rich history and heritage and is one of the biggest sports in the world with more than a billion fans worldwide. The pandemic has brought new life into “socially distanced sports” like tennis, so it’s weird that some courts are being replaced by pickleball or (in Europe) padel.

Human beings are keen to follow other human beings and latch onto trends. Squash was a big sport in the 80s, but it never really broke through the mainstream when it comes to televised sports and today it’s more marginalized (an estimate of 20 million users worldwide).

What if pickleball or padel is just a trend? Then we will be left with all these courts that remain unused and would have to be changed into something else.

Why is pickleball growing?

I can see a couple of reasons why pickleball is growing. Partly, all racquet sports seem to have benefited from the pandemic as they’re naturally socially distanced. But the main reason for pickleball popularity is that it’s easy to get into. You don’t need to be in great shape (in doubles you don’t need to move that much) and the pace of the game is slow compared to many other racquet sports. The technique is also easier to learn than tennis, where the road to a decent game takes longer.

But I have to make the case for tennis here. The game is deeper and involves more types of shots and strategies. Hitting a winner from the back of the court in pickleball seems pretty much impossible and you need to get to the net and play a game of cat and mouse. The serve is not something you can use to your advantage like in table tennis or tennis and it just seems overall like a great equalizer. What do I mean by that? In tennis, there are many different levels of players and there are often visibly stark contrasts between them. In pickleball, it seems easier for far weaker players to rally successfully and that’s the strongest reason why it’s so popular.

To be honest, even on the pro level the game looks a bit slow and boring to me compared to tennis. I’m sure it’s fun to play, but the potential for people to enjoy watching other people play, seems far weaker than tennis.

Summary

Okay, I’ll stop whining. I’m sure pickleball is a great sport and my buddy just started playing it (he is NOT a tennis player). I’m happy for any sport to grow as long as it doesn’t mean they take courts away from my beloved tennis.

Have you played pickleball and what do you think of it?

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6 comments

Hans October 21, 2021 - 10:46

What is needed is some clever court design to make it possible to use the surface for whatever sport one prefers at the moment. In my youth, I was an active tennis player and we often trained and had matches in different school indoor gym-halls. The floors were painted with different coloured lines for tennis, badminton, handball, basketball, indoor soccer etc. etc. There were also (covered) holes for the different type of net posts and the courts could be repurposed in two minutes for different activities.
It was a mess but it was normal so we didn’t think much of it.

There is a technical solution to all problems as we nerds like to say…

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Alec Wasa October 21, 2021 - 20:20

I think people today are lazy. Electric scooters etc. Why take one when you can walk? Why play paddle or pickle ball……? Just because it is easy ? Sure, older and other non athletic people will like it for sure. Personally I would become bored after a while as it lacks the more physical and technical skills required for playing tennis. I would never pick a sport that anyone can play right away. Too boring. Tennis will suffer I think as the investment case for tennis is not as good. Tennis will always remain the king of racquet sports for athletes. Whether that is enough long term, remain to be seen…….

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Diane Baumgartner November 8, 2021 - 15:24

Talk about boring….Tennis is so slow and boring. I am former College, USTA player and find Pickleball’s fast based game is more stimulating. You have to hit smarter not harder.

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Diego November 29, 2021 - 17:10

The solution is tennis court with yellow Pickleball lines…

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FlyingBoat March 24, 2022 - 01:08

Pickleball is fun at the lower levels, but it quickly devolves into a simple monotonous push push push at the higher levels and becomes devoid of athleticism.

I play much differently from most and coming off the court have had spectators smiling and saying it was so fun to watch the spin etc.
Same thing against opponents, I am told when I am on a good day, that I played a perfect game and it was fun.
In none of these cases did I get into a dink dink dink game. That is not fun to play and is extremely boring to watch!

But I am told by the experts that my game is too high risk and I must stop swinging and resort to push push push dink dink dink to advance.
What a terribly designed sport. It needs to have wider and deeper space to allow for some passing shots or more top spin lob potential to keep people off of the non volley line and make it a more interesting game.

What is good about it, is that it is so much more social. Games are over quicker. Courts are designed where people can sit, drink, and have a good time while you have the short wait for your next game. It can be picked up so quickly that you can play it with less athletically inclined friends/family. It is so much easier to find a game to play, since so many play it. It is less wear and tear on our body as we get older.

It is just so sad, due to it’s size constraint that the best way to win, is to be absolutely as boring as possible. I wish there was a solution which would make the game fun to watch and play with swinging and athleticism instead of push push push. I wonder if there is a solution with a harder rubber ball that would make it a fun game for more advanced players. Anything to keep us out of the 40 shot dink dink dink competition until someone makes a bit too high dink and then slam. I may as well watch bowling or billiards.

There should be a solution here. Table tennis is not a boring dink dink dink game, TT players display amazing spin and speed and that is played on a much smaller surface.

I think there is an opportunity here for someone to develop a more fun game on these constrained courts.

Like playing checkers might have been fun when you were really young but is extremely boring now, I think many will find watching or playing push push push dink dink dink is not a fun way to spend your time. Sure there can be some interest in watching curling, or paint dry for those intent on improving their painting “skill”. I think this game can appeal more to golfers, but at least golf has you take a full swing at a ball instead of constantly pushing it.

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Mike March 24, 2022 - 14:12

As a former tennis player….I’ve jumped over with both feet and not looking back! I’ve played tennis for 50+ years. After 3 rotator surgeries, pickleball is easier on my shoulders. It’s just my opinion but the long tennis racket and the ‘trampolining’ of the ball strike is better on my shoulders.

Pickleball is a faster sport that everyone can play. The big thing to people it is very social..people hang around and chat after a game and it’s inexpensive. I work up a sweat, get my cardio in and get tons of steps each pickleball session I play.

I WAS the tennis player that sneered at the “new lines” on OUR tennis court! But today I’ve moved just above 4.0 mainly because of my former racquet sports upbringing. Tennis and racquetball players have a distinct learning advantage when playing pickleball.
The demand for tennis is waning and it shows when you drive by the empty tennis courts.
To my fellow tennis players I say “Try It, You’ll Like It”

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