Let’s Compare: Badminton, Tennis, Table Tennis, and Pickleball


While you’ve likely heard of badminton, tennis, and table tennis, a sport that’s a bit newer on the international racket sports scene is pickleball. This sport is a fun alternative that combines elements of all three of those sports for a new sporting challenge! Still, what are the exact differences between all these sports?

Badminton, tennis, table tennis, and pickleball are all racquet (or paddle) sports, though the courts (or tables) used are of varying sizes. All can be played against a single opponent or as doubles – where it’s two versus two.

Here’s the rundown of what you need to know to compare all the sports and work out what’s best for you.

An image of a Top view of various sport equipment on green grass.

Paddles and Rackets: which sports use which

One of the biggest differences between these sports is the equipment that you use. In badminton and tennis, players hit the ball (or shuttlecock) with rackets, whereas in table tennis and pickleball the players use a paddle to hit a Wiffle ball or a ping pong ball.

The main difference between rackets and paddles is the material of the center; while rackets are strung across the center, paddles are solid pieces of material.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the differences between the paddles and rackets in these sports!

SportPaddle or Racket?MaterialShape
BadmintonRacketAluminum/Carbon fiber frame (depending on the quality and player level, but the aim is to use the lightest possible strong material)
Nylon Strings make the mesh used to hit the shuttlecock.
Long stick after the grip, with a small almost circular net at the end.
TennisRacketAluminum/Carbon fiber frame (the same as a badminton racket, but thicker and stronger)
Nylon Strings (also thicker than on the badminton racket to absorb more impact)
The large egg-shaped section after the grip. Much thicker and stronger generally than the badminton racket.
Table tennisPaddleLaminated wood, covered with rubber on both sides to facilitate using spin (the rubber is often black on one side of the paddle with red on the other)A small circle after a short grip (only enough for one hand on the handle)
PickleballPaddleWood or carbon fiber Many different types of pickleball paddles exist, but to be acceptable for pro play they must be approved by the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association). This involves rules meaning it cannot be outside a certain weight boundary, and must not be reflective.Similar to the table tennis paddle, but more square and larger.
Table 1: Paddles and racquets used in badminton, table tennis, tennis, and pickleball.

Scoring Differences between Badminton, Tennis, Pickleball, and Table Tennis

A big difference in the gameplay of these sports is how you count the scores (though all are fairly unanimous in how to score – that you can’t allow the ball to bounce more than once before returning it).

Badminton scoring

You score points when the shuttlecock touches the floor in bounds on your opponent’s side of the court, regardless of who served at the beginning of the point.

Points are simply counted up numerically, and a game is won when one player reaches 21 points, with a two-point lead.

If there’s no two-point lead (for example, 21-20), then play continues until someone opens up this lead to win by two points. The winner of the match is whoever wins the best of the three games. 

Tennis scoring

Tennis has perhaps the most confusing scoring system of all the games on this list. In each match, you score points (regardless of who served), just like in badminton.

However, the points are not counted numerically, but as 0 (also known as love, allegedly because if you’re playing with no points you must be playing for your love of the game!), 15, 30, and 40.

If the other player doesn’t have 40 and you do, it will be declared a game point, meaning that if you win it you will have won the game. If the scores are tied at 40-40, this is known as a ‘deuce’, meaning play continues until one player can win the ‘advantage’ and the game point.

If you win a game, you still have a fair way to go! Next up, you’ll need to win a ‘set’, by winning six games (although again, you’ll need a two-game lead, so if you are tied on 5-5 for example you’ll need to win 7-5).

Matches are generally decided as a best of three or best of five sets. This is why, when someone finally wins, you’ll hear the iconic ‘game, set, and match’.

Table Tennis score system

Table tennis has a simpler scoring system, where points are awarded numerically after a player fails to successfully return the ball.

The winner of the game is the first to reach 11 (though, as in the other games, you must have a two-point lead).

The winner of the match is normally whoever gets the best of five games.

Pickleball scoring

Has some very distinctive rules of its own, even in terms of how to score! One of the most unusual rules is that, in pickleball, you can only score on a point that you began by serving.

If you score, you continue to serve, though alternating the side of the court that you served from. Just like in tennis, serves must be performed diagonally across the court.

This means that to score in pickleball, you need to first successfully defend a volley to win the chance to serve, and it is only on this service that you’ll be able to actually score points.

In the doubles format of the game, pickleball scores are made up of three numbers (yes, it’s confusing). While the first two indicate the score (like in most games), the third number indicates which player is serving.

This means that when you hear someone shout out three numbers in a doubles match you don’t need to start worrying about where the third pair of players has come from!

Pickleball games are generally played to 11 points (yet again with the rule that you must finish the game with a two-point lead). Tournament games can be played to 15 or 21 points, depending on the tournament.

What do These Sports have in Common?

Badminton, pickleball, table tennis (ping pong), and tennis have a lot in common. Although there’s some nuance to this, the aim of every game is to keep returning the ball or shuttlecock over a net to your opponent’s side until they commit a fault.

Each of these sports also requires very similar skills, such as strong hand-eye coordination and agility, although due to different equipment (very light equipment in badminton compared to the heavier and more powerful equipment of tennis, for example) they suit people with slightly different physical requirements.

What’s Different Between Badminton, Tennis, Pickleball, & Table Tennis?

The first difference you’ll notice when comparing these sports is the court size.

  • Badminton is played indoors on a relatively small court (44 feet by 17 feet), with a 5’ net.
  • Pickleball and tennis have similar courts — although pickleball’s is a little smaller. The pickleball net also differs a little from that of tennis, as it dips by about an inch in the center.
  • Table tennis obviously has the smallest ‘court’ of the sports on this list, with just a 9’ by 5’ table, 2.5’ from the ground, with a 6-inch net.

Tennis is played on many different surfaces such as grass, clay, or even asphalt, inside or outside. Different international tournaments have different surface preferences, and international pros even become famous for playing on their own best surface!

Another key difference is the ball in each sport.

  • The tennis ball is the most famous. It is a hand-sized ball, normally green and white, that can be hit pretty hard due to its spongy rubber material.
  • The table tennis ball is a small ball (around the size of a closed finger and thumb) made of lightweight plastic and is normally orange or white for visibility purposes.
  • Badminton uses no ball at all, but a shuttlecock, which is a small cork with a feather cone.
  • Pickleball uses a hand-sized whiffle ball, which is a hollow ball with holes in the outside to affect its flight.

Once you get past the venues and equipment, there are also different rules for each sport. There are many different nuances to these, and I’ve included links to full rules for each sport in the ‘resources’ at the bottom of the page, but here’s a guide to some of the biggest differences!

Serves

Badminton

Underarm only, with an upwards action, diagonally across the court,


Tennis

Underarm or overarm (but usually overarm to be as fast as possible), played diagonally into the first squares of the opponent’s court.

Pickleball

Underarm played diagonally as in tennis.


Table Tennis

Serve is played diagonally, must bounce on your own side first, and must not pass off the side of the table.

Volleys

Badminton

All badminton shots are volleys! In fact, the shuttlecock must not touch the ground.


Tennis

Allowed, after the serve.

Pickleball

Allowed but not in ‘the kitchen’, an area of the court marked by the two boxes closest to the net. The ball must also have bounced once on either side of the net before volleys are allowed.


Table Tennis

Not allowed.

Typical faults and fouls

Badminton

  • Failing to return the shuttlecock to the other side
  • ‘Catching’ the shuttlecock with the racket
  • Touching the net

Tennis

  • Failing to return the ball in bounds on the other side of the net before bouncing twice on your side
  • Hitting the ball more than once

Pickleball

  • Failing to return the ball in bounds on the other side of the net before bouncing twice on your side
  • Volleying from ‘the kitchen’
  • Hitting the net from a serve

Table Tennis

  • Foul serves (off the side of the net)
  • Failing to return the ball in bounds on the other side of the net before bouncing twice on your side
  • Hitting the table, or hitting a shot onto the other side via obstacles near the table

Which is the Easiest Sport?

While it’s not really fair to compare sports as harder or easier than each other (after all, they all have serious athletes at their highest levels), certain sports might be better suited to your needs.

If you are a family with small children, have a large family, or want to play with people of all ages, then your physical needs will be different, and there’ll be a sport for you!

For families with small children, try table tennis, wiffleball, or pickleball. The large court of tennis is a little unsuitable for kids, although some play ‘mini tennis’ (with small rackets and court limits) as a way to get into the game. Badminton is also tricky for small children, as the long racks can be tricky to coordinate when it’s far from their little bodies.

For large families with older children, any of these sports is a good idea! They all have singles and doubles formats, so can be played by up to four people. Most facilities will have more than one court that you can use to play on to get everybody involved.

Table tennis is a particularly good option, as you can invent your own games that can get everyone running around the table trying to play such as ‘around the world’ style table tennis!

If you’re playing with a multigenerational family, consider low-impact sports, so tennis with its large courts and physical demands to hit the ball may be less fun than something like pickleball or badminton, which can be played on smaller courts with less running and no heavy hitting on the joints. 

In my experience, any of these sports can be a good workout, but here’s how they rank in terms of impact on the joints from hardest to easiest.

  1. Tennis is the roughest sport on joints due to the amount of running (due to the size of the court). This can be mitigated by playing doubles or with a smaller court.
  2. Badminton is pretty easy on the joints and body unless you’re playing competitive badminton with a bunch of friends. Then it’s an amazing workout!
  3. Pickleball can also be a good workout, but it was easier on my joints than badminton. It may be because I tend to play badminton with a crowd that skews 50-60+, so your mileage may vary.
  4. Table tennis could probably be more of a workout, but I tend to play very docile ping pong games where we focus on having fun. Also, I don’t like chasing the ball too far.

Costs for Badminton, Tennis, Table Tennis, and Pickleball Compared

Another way that you might choose which sports are more suitable for you is by their costs (although if you’re looking to just play occasionally, most of these sports are playable in small local venues which generally have low costs to hire equipment and get involved).

However, if you’re looking into getting more seriously involved, here’s a breakdown of some typical costs across the sports;

Racket or paddle costs

Badminton

Anywhere from $10 for a set of two (including shuttlecocks) up to $200 for a professional quality racket


Tennis

From $20 for a decent beginner racket to $300 for top-end quality

Pickleball

$13 to $150 (Depends a lot on the material – cheaper paddles are often wooden which is pretty heavy compared to composite materials)


Table Tennis

From $10 to $100

Ball or shuttlecock costs

Badminton

Entry-level shuttlecocks are super cheap. Walmart currently sells 6 for $2. At the other end of the scale, professional-quality ones (which last longer and fly better) cost around $3 each.


Tennis

Around a dollar each, but can be picked up for less in bulk (and at the rate these get lost, you’ll probably need to buy in bulk)

Pickleball

From $8 to $25 (and these are pretty durable)


Table Tennis

Beginner balls are about 10 cents each, and even professional quality balls are less than a dollar. You’ll need lots though as they smash fairly easily!

Club membership costs

Badminton

Expect around $60 a month per adult player, but try lots of local clubs to be sure!


Tennis

Most centers offer membership, which you need to have to be able to book a court, with additional court fees. Memberships will cost around $50 per month with court fees of around $40 per hour but again ask around to get local prices.

Pickleball

This varies greatly, but tennis clubs generally offer pickleball memberships at a better rate than their tennis memberships. USAPA memberships cost $35 per year regardless of age.


Table Tennis

USA Table Tennis membership costs $75 per year for adults and $45 for juniors, with many clubs signed up. For a cheaper option, many clubs will let you use facilities on a one-off basis, or you can even find bars and restaurants with tables available to play on.

Custom court fees

Badminton

  • A badminton court costs as little or much as you can afford. Huge complexes of courts cost up to $1,000,000.
  • A mat floor marked with lines for about $3,500.
  • Or buy a starter net for $50 at Costco and chalk a line in your grass.

Tennis

  • If you want to build a tennis court, the costs are pretty high. Expect to pay between 40K and 100K to install a tennis court.
  • Expect the nets to cost $1,000-$2,000 each.

Pickleball

  • Installing a pickleball court is estimated to cost between 20K and 40K, dependent on surface and local labor costs. 
  • Putting down permanent lines costs between $1,000-$3,000.

Table Tennis

  • A decent table tennis table costs around $300.
  • If you want a cheaper option, you can buy an adjustable net for less than $10. While it won’t turn your dining table into a pro-level table, it can be good fun!

Want to read more about comparing just tennis and badminton? Make sure you read this article I wrote: Tennis Vs Badminton (What Are The Differences).

Key Takeaways: Badminton vs Pickleball vs Table Tennis vs Tennis

All of these sports are amazing – they really are. They’re each fun and the “right pick” for any of the various settings and groups of people.

If I could only pick one sport to play, it would be pickleball. It’s a sport that can be played at any and all ages – and can be played with intergenerational groups.

My kids are learning how to play pickleball – and it’s a sport we can play with our older neighbors and family members.

If I could pick two of the sports to be able to play, it would be pickleball and badminton. My boys love playing tennis, though, so they’d probably insist I pick tennis as third.

Table tennis would be our last pick as a family, simply because we don’t have a great place to put a table. But if your family has a good room for a table tennis setup? Then it could rank higher on your list. We just don’t like chasing those little balls all through our backyard!

In any case, don’t be afraid to get out there and try some new sports. Each of these can be tried relatively cheaply – especially if you reach out to your local parks and rec department. Many beginner classes will supply the equipment you can borrow for the duration of a class. Just be sure to check with the department for details, as not every class loans out equipment.

Resources

Learning from your own experiences is important, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.

  • “How To Play Pickleball, Pickleball Rules and Scoring.” Winona Tennis Association, www.winonatennis.com/winona-pickleball/learn-to-play/.
  • “The Laws of Badminton.” Badminton BC, www.badmintonbc.com/page/2888/The-Laws-of-Badminton.
  • “Official Rules of Table Tennis.” PongFit, www.pongfit.org/official-rules-of-table-tennis.
  • Pechenkov, Litah. “Comparing Sports: Tennis vs. Badminton.” Sportamix Blog, 7 Mar. 2019, sportamix.com/blog/comparing-sports-tennis-vs-badminton/.
  • “Similarities and Differences: Pickleball and Tennis.” Dink Pro, dinkpro.us/similarities-differences-pickleball-tennis/.
  • “Tennis Rules & Regulations: Tennis Scoring.” USTA, www.usta.com/en/home/about-usta/who-we-are/national/officiating-rules-and-regulations.html.

About Us

We’re the Starrs. We love playing sports together as a family in the backyard. This is the site where we share what we’ve learned about the various sports that we’ve learned together with our children.

We believe in transparency.

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