Pickleball is fast. Tennis is fast. We know that. Both sports test every fiber of our eye-brain reaction skills. But how do they compare to one another?
First let’s compare the court length. Baseline to baseline in tennis is 78 feet. Pickleball is 44 feet, almost half the distance. How does this affect reaction time? For purposes of comparison, let’s use a ball speed of 40 miles per hour, which is a ball speed commonly achieved by intermediate pickleball and tennis players.
A 40 MPH average-height groundstroke tennis ball travels baseline to baseline in about 2 seconds. Buckle up your seatbelt pickleball players, because pickleball baseline groundstrokes cut your reaction time in half—just one second. That’s not much time when you consider how you have to react to your opponent’s shot, which includes determining the incoming ball’s direction, speed, arc, and spin!
Let’s analyze this further. On each side of the net, one-half second elapses with a groundstroke hit
at 40 MPH. To simplify what this means, pickleball players must use the half second that the ball is still on their opponent’s side of the net to determine the incoming ball’s direction, speed, arc, and spin.
By the time the incoming ball has crossed the net coming your way, you will need to turn in the direction you have to move and start to prepare your paddle. Then, as you move to the ball (note that the ball has not even bounced yet!), you will need to not only position your feet on balance to hit the shot, but you will also need to decide how and where you will hit that same ball back over the net!
Final thoughts? Don’t let anyone tell you that pickleball is an easy sport to play. But don’t let them tell you it is a difficult sport to play either! Compared to tennis, it may be easier to start playing for the average person, but know this—it is definitely a fast game requiring
Joe Dinoffer is a master professional in the USPTA and PTR, has written nine books, produced 22 DVDs, and has appeared on the Tennis Channel. His company, , manufactures training aids for pickleball and tennis, and he shares that experience and passion in this regular column for Pickleball Magazine. He has also produced dozens of pickleball tips for YouTube.