OK, So What's The Difference Between Pickleball & Padel?
The paddle sports seem practically identical, but there are some key factors that set them apart.
Pickleball has gotten a lot of hype since 2020 when the world collectively realized that it’s fun and easy to play. Leagues popped up across the land so everyone could get in on the action. And yet, now that we’ve nailed down the rules, joined teams — and maybe picked up a cute pickleball outfit or two — it seems like a new paddle sport has joined the fray. Enter: padel.
At first glance, pickleball and padel look really similar. They’re both paddle sports that involve hitting a ball over a net while scrambling around a tennis-like court. Both can be played two versus two. And both have a cult-like following. But even though the games seem practically identical, there are quite a few factors that set pickleball and padel apart.
For a quick hint, one big difference is the speed of the game. “Padel is a fantastic sport that combines skill, strategy, and quick reflexes,” says Adam Billy, a pickleball pro who runs TodayPickleball. The fast-paced nature of the game, along with the fact you can bounce the ball off the court walls, really turns things up a notch.
While a pickleball game can also heat up, it’s more beloved for its chill vibe and accessibility. Below, a full breakdown of pickleball and padel, including what sets the two games apart.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball — aka everyone’s fave Saturday afternoon activity — is a paddle sport that’s described as a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, says Billy. It’s accessible to all skill levels and age groups, and has truly taken off as a result.
“Similar to tennis, pickleball is played on a court divided into two sides by a net,” he explains. “However, the court size is smaller, resembling that of a badminton court.” Because the court is compact, it’s easy to maneuver around — or get a speedy rally going, if you like.
Pickleball games can be played one-on-one or two versus two. Each player has a solid paddle usually made of a lightweight material like wood, composite, or graphite, Billy says. The ball is perforated, sort of like a wiffle ball, so that players have more control over its speed and bounce.
According to ACE-certified trainer Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, pickleball totally counts as exercise, which is a major draw. You get a cardio workout and strengthen your muscles as you serve, swing, and shuffle around the court. That said, there is a focus on the laidback, social vibe. “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America,” Sabat tells Bustle, so it’s a great way to make friends.
“One of the distinguishing features of pickleball is the concept of the non-volley zone, also known as the ‘kitchen’,” Billy says. “This area, located on both sides of the net, extends seven feet from the net. Players are prohibited from stepping into this zone to hit a volley — a shot hit in the air before the ball bounces.”
As Billy explains, having a non-volley zone adds a tactical element to the game so that players have to get strategic when it comes to positioning and shot placement. Other rules include an underhand, diagonal serve that has to clear the non-volley zone.
After the serve, both teams let the ball bounce once on each side before hitting it in the air. This is called the double bounce rule. “The ball can only be hit once it has bounced on each side during the double bounce, after which volleys are allowed,” Sabat says. “Players must let the ball bounce before entering this zone.” Games are typically played to 11 or 15 points, and the winning team has to win by at least two points.
What Is Padel?
Padel isn’t quite as popular as pickleball in America just yet, but it’s huge in Latin America and Europe, says Billy. While it looks a lot like pickleball, it’s actually a combination of tennis and squash — so it tends to be more fast-paced. The setup is also unique.
“Padel is played on a court that is smaller than a traditional tennis court but larger than a squash court,” he says. “The court is enclosed by glass walls and metal mesh, allowing players to use the walls as an active part of the game.” This adds an unpredictable element since the ball is flying and bouncing at all angles.
The paddle, or padel, is a mostly-solid racquet with small holes instead of strings. The ball is pressurized, so it has less bounce than a tennis ball. “The low-bounce ball ensures that rallies can be longer and more dynamic, requiring players to rely on their skills in shot placement and tactics,” Billy explains.
According to Sabat, padel is a big hit because it’s so fast and fun. It’s played in doubles, so there’s also a social aspect to it, just like pickleball. Padel tournaments are major events and require a lot of athleticism. But even if you play casually, “padel provides a good cardiovascular workout, requiring players to move around the court, use different strokes, and engage in quick reflexes,” she says.
To start a game of padel, the server stands behind the baseline and hits underhand diagonally to the opposite box — just like in tennis. The ball has to bounce once in the box before it can be returned, Billy says.
Also like tennis, padel uses a 12, 30, and 40 game scoring system. “If both teams reach 40 — known as 40-all or deuce — a team must win two consecutive points to win the game,” he says. “However, instead of advantage and game point, padel uses ventaja or advantage and punto or point.”
The walls surrounding the court are also important. “A ball can be hit off the walls, allowing for creative shots and strategic angles,” he says. “The ball must still bounce within the court boundaries before being returned by the opposing team.”
Like pickleball, there’s a double bounce rule. “Both teams must let the ball bounce once on each side before volleys are allowed,” Billy says. “After the serve, the receiving team must let the ball bounce, and thereafter, both teams can choose to volley or let the ball bounce before striking it.”
There’s also a non-volley zone to keep in mind. Games are usually played to six or nine points, and the winning team has to win by at least two points.
Padel Vs. Pickleball
TL;DR: “Both sports are played with solid paddles and involve hitting a ball over a net,” Sabat says. “They have smaller court sizes than their respective parent sports — tennis and squash. And they are both often played as doubles, although singles can be played as well.”
The main factors that set them apart are the rules, the ball, and the court. Sabat explains that pickleball is played on a hard court while padel is played on a cement foundation with synthetic turf. Pickleball uses a perforated plastic ball while padel uses a pressurized ball, similar to a tennis ball. Padel also incorporates bounces off the walls so that players can create tricky shots, and it tends to be more fast-paced than pickleball.
The main similarity? They’re both a lot of fun.
Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, ACE-certified trainer