We all know that tennis players make phenomenal pickleball players and that there are many differences and similarities between pickleball and tennis. Many of the men and women atop the pickleball rankings have a deep-rooted background in elite-level tennis, and it shows. When it comes to carryover mechanics, movement, and court awareness, tennis is second to none, and we see those skills on display when we watch so many pickleball pros do things we can barely dream of.
But what about another racquet sport that shares many of the same characteristics as pickleball and is significantly contributing to pickleball’s participant growth? This article is by no means an attempt to say which sport makes “the best pickleball player,” but rather to embrace a sport that has brought so much talent to the game of pickleball. Enter racquetball. Racquetball, the sport seen in health clubs across the country, is one of the fastest sports in the world. With speeds whizzing well over 100 mph in amateur play and nearing 175 mph when the professionals step on the court, racquetball is a game of quick-twitch muscles and split-second reactions. Many aspects of racquetball translate well when a player puts down their racquet and picks up a pickleball paddle, but there are challenges they’ll face when embracing this new and unique game. Now, let's dive into the differences and similarities between these two great sports.
Where Racquetball Players Will Find Comfort:
- Wrist Snap: One of the biggest carryover benefits is the amount of wrist snap used in racquetball. Being a power game, the mechanics of a racquetball swing are very similar to swinging a baseball bat - a focus is put on hips, core, and wrist snap to hit the ball as hard as you can. This bodes well in pickleball in several different areas of the game including serve, overheads, and when an opponent floats a dink into the air.
- Ball Speed: Another area of the game where racquetball players can see an easy transition is the speed of the ball. There’s no doubt pickleballs can go zinging by your head, but typically the game is slowed down, and even the overhead smashes only top out around 70 mph. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not slow, but there will be a decrease in the overall speed of the game when an athlete moves from racquetball to pickleball.
- Footwork: Racquetball is loaded with lateral movement, and just as much front to back. The quick feet that a player acquires through years of racquetball will translate perfectly over to pickleball. (Don’t forget! No gum rubber-soled shoes on the pickleball court! Pick up a pair of tennis shoes before you hit your local park.)
Where Racquetball Players May Need Some Time To Sharpen Their Skills:
- The ball is hit directly at them: One ticket for the struggle bus is that racquetball players are used to the ball being hit to the wall, and not directly at them. This will take some getting used to as elite pickleball players will not only hit the ball at the perfect spot making it nearly impossible to get your paddle around in time, they’ll put as much pace as that little plastic ball will allow! This might take some time to get used to!
- Different paddle angles: Racquetball is a game of hitting the ball flat. Power is the name of the game, so there’s no such thing as topspin or slice. Learning the mechanics of hitting the ball from different angles on the paddle is a must, and the quicker a player embraces this, the quicker they will progress.
- Spin: Related to #2, dealing with your opponent’s spin will take some getting used to as well. Topspin, slice, and side spin from all angles of the court are not easy things to deal with when you’re used to no spin at all. Understanding and reading how topspin and different types of side spins will react will be a big part of progressing in this sport!
Pickleballs vs Racquetballs
Pickleballs and racquetballs couldn’t be more different. Their only common characteristics are that they’re round and they bounce. A pickleball is designed for either outdoor or indoor play. The determining characteristic of an outdoor pickleball is they have 40 smaller holes, essentially to still fly through the air, but not be as affected by the wind. An indoor pickleball has 26 larger holes since the wind is not a factor while playing indoors.
Racquetballs are smaller than a pickleball and made of 100% rubber. They’re relatively hard but have enough give to them to bounce off the walls and are durable. (Especially considering they are smashed hundreds or thousands of times off a racquet and into a wall.) They are bouncy in nature, think somewhere between a bouncy ball and a pickleball.
Pickleball Courts vs Racquetball Courts
Pickleball courts and racquetball courts couldn’t be more distant opposites. Pickleball courts are typically outside, are 44’ long, 20’ wide, and have a net that stands 36” high. They have specific lines that a serve needs to land in, sidelines and a baseline where the ball must land on or inside of, and a non-volley zone you must stay out of unless a ball has bounced inside of it.
A traditional racquetball court is indoors, typically inside a gym or health club. It’s made up of 4 walls, a ceiling, and a door, which helps to get into the court. Once inside, it’s all but a free for all. As long as the ball hits the front wall before the floor, almost anything goes during rallies. (The serve is a different story) A racquetball court is 40’ long, 20’ feet wide, and stands 20’ feet tall.
Pickleball Paddles vs Racquetball Racquets
Racquetball racquets are usually 22” long and have a stringbed that extends to fill about 70% of the racquet’s length and 95% of the racquet’s width. Recreational racquets are made up of aluminum, and performance frames are typically 100% graphite frames. Racquetball racquets are weighed in grams, not ounces. Most racquets weigh between 160-180 grams unstrung, and around 185-205 grams strung.
Pickleball paddles are typically made up of a honeycomb core, polymer, graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and/or other lightweight, yet durable materials. They land somewhere in between a ping pong paddle and a padel paddle. They are typically between 12-18mm wide, roughly 15-16” long, and weigh between 7-8.5 ounces.
Needless to say, any type of racquet sports background will give any player a jumpstart into pickleball. Which is one of the reasons it’s so addicting! Right out of the gate, most high-level racquetball players will step on the court as an advanced pickleball player. It’s embracing the aspects of the game outside of their nature that will be the difference-maker on whether they can take their game to the next level.
We are big fans of both racquetball and pickleball. These two sports allow for competition and exercise that everyone can benefit from. If you're a racquetball player looking to get into pickleball, we'd love to embrace you with open arms. We're JustPaddles, and we're with you from Click To Court! If you need any help shopping for pickleball paddles, let our team of Paddle Experts help you out. They're available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 866-382-3465, or live chat on the website.