Padel and pickleball have exploded onto the racket sports scene, attracting millions of recreational and competitive players. Both deliver fun, social ways to stay active. But beyond the surface similarities of paddles and nets, padel and pickleball have many differences when it comes to history, court set-up, equipment, rules, gameplay, and growth

Padel Origin and History

Padel traces its origins to Mexico in the 1960s. Mexican billionaire Enrique Corcuera adapted the concept of platform tennis played on an enclosed court to create a new racket sport he called “padel.” The first padel court opened in Marbella, Spain in 1974, sparking immediate growth in the country. Over the next decades, padel quickly spread throughout Argentina, other European nations, and parts of North and South America.

Pickleball Origin and History 

Pickleball’s journey started in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Three local fathers – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – invented the game while looking for new activities to keep their bored families entertained during the summer. Accounts differ on how the sport got its quirky name – one story links it to Pritchard’s cocker spaniel Pickles who kept chasing stray balls. However, another account suggests the name was derived from the term ‘pickle boat,’ the slowest boat in a rowing race, due to the hodgepodge nature of the sport. 

Pickleball and Padel Growth

While invented within a few years of each other, pickleball and padel took different trajectories. Padel immediately caught on in Spanish-speaking countries, especially Spain. Pickleball had slow initial growth, mostly featured as a recreational hobby in retirement communities in Florida and Arizona. In the 2010s, pickleball’s popularity exploded, cementing its status as one of the fastest growing sports in America.  

Equipment

One major difference between the two sports is the equipment used. 

Padel uses a solid, short-handled racket resembling a tennis racket but about 25% smaller with a larger face area. The head of a padel racket is typically perforated with small holes. 

Pickleball paddles have elongated, thicker handles like table tennis paddles, with a smaller and lighter blade surface.

The balls also differ. 

Padel Racket with Cover Bag and 3 Balls Beginner Full Set Pop Tennis Paddle Paddleball Racquets (2Pcs Black 3balls)
Padel racket and balls
(Click to check reviews & price)
niupipo Pickleball Paddle, USAPA Approved Pro Graphite Pickleball Paddle/Paddles Set, Polypropylene Honeycomb Core, Cushion 4.25In Grip, Portable Bag/Paddle Cover, Lightweight Pickleball Racket
Pickleball paddle and balls
(Click to check reviews & price)

Padel uses a standardized, pressurized rubber or synthetic leather ball that is slightly larger than a tennis ball and pressurized to a lower level of 0.4-0.5 bar (4-5 psi). This is about 10 times less pressure than the internal pressure of a tennis ball. The lower pressurization gives the padel ball a controlled bounce that is lower and slower than a tennis ball, allowing players more time to react. 

Pickleballs have holes like wiffle balls, creating an uneven bounce pattern. They are made of durable plastic polymer for indoor or outdoor play.

Courts

Padel is played on an enclosed court about half the size of a tennis court and surrounded by walls. The walls are an integral part of gameplay, allowing players to use angles and bounces off the walls as part of strategy. Courts are divided into left and right halves for each team. Most facilities have multiple courts side by side. 

Pickleball uses a flat, open court system similar to doubles badminton with the same dimensions. Courts are striped like tennis courts with a lower net in the middle dividing sides. As a smaller court sport, four pickleball courts can be laid out in the space of one tennis court.

Top view of Padel Court
Top view of Pickleball Court

Rules and Scoring 

Padel games always involve two teams of two players on opposite sides of the net. The first serve is chosen randomly, and serving must alternate between teams thereafter. In padel, both the serving team and receiving team can score points once the ball is in play.

Padel utilizes an underarm serve where players strike the ball below shoulder level. Serves must bounce once before being returned. Rallies continue until one team fails to return the ball before the second bounce. Scoring is identical to tennis – starting at love (zero), then 15, 30, 40, game/set/match. Matches often consist of best 2 out of 3 sets.

In pickleball, only the serving team can score points on their service turn. Pickleball also uses an underarm serve where players strike the ball below shoulder level. The receiving team can only return the underarm serve diagonally but cannot score on the serve. Once the service changes, then the former receiving team can score when they are serving. Only 2 underarm serves are permitted before faulting out.

Scoring uses ping pong’s 1, 2, 3 point progression up to 11 while still requiring a 2-point margin of victory. Matches go to the best 2 out of 3 games to 11.

One of the distinctive features of Pickleball is the ‘no-volley zone’ or ‘kitchen’, a seven-foot area on either side of the net where players cannot volley the ball. This rule prevents players from dominating the net, thereby ensuring longer, more strategic rallies.

Gameplay and Strategy

Padel strategy involves using the walls and angles to outmaneuver opponents. Well-placed shots make the ball difficult to return. Keeping opponents deep near the back walls gives you control. Touch shots and power are important. Games feature lengthy rallies until someone misses the return.

Pickleball rewards good reflexes for quick volleys near the non-volley zone and a steady baseline game. Lowering the trajectory so balls just clear the net is a common tactic, as are paddle fakes and drop shots. Speed and mobility allow you to cover the court. Points can be lightning fast or more drawn out.

Both sports require good stamina, lateral movement, and coordination. Padel tends to involve more power hitting while pickleball features touch shots and finesse play. Strategy also differs given padel’s use of walls versus pickleball’s open court. 

Padel vs. Pickleball: Key Differences

While both sports involve paddles and can be played recreationally or competitively, there are some notable differences between padel and pickleball.

  • Playing area: Padel uses a walled court while pickleball uses an open court. The walls in padel impact play.
  • Ball: The ball in padel is slightly larger and bounces lower than a pickleball.
  • Number of players: Padel is almost always doubles while pickleball can be singles or doubles.
  • Paddle/racket: Pickleball paddles have a longer handle while padel rackets have a short handle like a tennis racket.
  • Scoring: Padel uses tennis scoring (15, 30, 40) while pickleball uses ping pong scoring (1, 2, etc).

Growth and Popularity

After 50 years, padel and pickleball have skyrocketed from humble beginnings into global phenomena today. In 2018, Spain had an estimated 5 million padel players out of its population of 47 million and hosted 9,000+ padel courts. 2.5 million Argentinians played padel in 2017. Padel participation and facilities have boomed across Europe and Latin America. 

Pickleball’s epic rise is evidenced by its 4.8 million U.S. players as of 2021 and growth rate of 39% per year. Courts are appearing everywhere from local rec centers to schools as communities rush to meet demand. While not yet a big international sport, pickleball has expansion efforts underway.

Padel has long been associated with recreational play in Spain, where 1 in 5 people play padel at some point. In the Americas, both sports first took hold as casual hobbies, often among retirees. But competitive circuits for prize money are growing – especially on the pro pickleball tour as more aspiring athletes turn pro.

Conclusion

While padel and pickleball offer alternatives to tennis using paddles and smaller courts, the gameplay experiences differ quite a bit. 

Padel provides a combination of tennis and squash, emphasizing strategy and skillful shots using the court’s walls. Pickleball, on the other hand, combines elements from tennis, badminton, and ping pong, focusing on quick exchanges at the net and fast-paced rallies.

In the end, choosing padel or pickleball comes down to access and personal factors. Padel may appeal more to passionate tennis fans seeking new challenges while pickleball’s ease of learning makes it more accessible for beginners. As their popularity rises, both deliver healthy, engaging fun and fierce but friendly competition no matter your age or skill level.

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