Tennis is a popular sport played and watched right around the world. However, there are a good many variants of tennis as well as other racket sports which can offer a different challenge for a tennis player. Trying other sports similar to tennis can be fun, with certain skills transferable between the different sports.
There are a good number of sports which are similar to tennis. From familiar sports such as squash and badminton to lesser-known variations like racketlon and qianball, they all incorporate elements associated with tennis. These sports all have rule variations that make them unique.
In this article, I will look at 16 sports similar to tennis and briefly discuss their origins and where they differ from tennis.
1. Table Tennis
Most of us will have played table tennis, or ping pong, at some point, but watching the top players in the world play is something else.
Although played on a table measuring just 2.74 meters long and 1.52 meters wide, with small paddles instead of rackets and a lightweight smaller ball, there is one thing which is not reduced in table tennis – reaction times.
Table tennis requires rapid reactions as the ball can travel a short distance at over 100 kph.
While the main objectives of the game are similar to tennis the scoring is different. Matches are usually the best of five games with each game won by taking 11 points.
Table tennis is a fast but popular sport, ideal as a recreational game as it does not require a large dedicated court.
Racquetball is played on an enclosed court upon a wooden surface.
There is no net as racquetball players strike the ball against the front wall. Tennis uses a larger ball and larger rackets, while the racket in racquetball has a distinctive teardrop shape.
Racquetball developed from tennis during the 1950s, and like tennis, you score a point when your opponent fails to return before the second bounce of the ball.
However, a racquetball player can only win a point on their own serve, with fifteen points needed to win the first two sets. If the match goes to a deciding third set a player needs 11 points to win (source).
The proximity of the players in an enclosed court with a ball flying around at 100 mph also sees some safety features in racquetball absent in tennis.
Safety goggles and a wrist strap tethered to the racket are important safety accessories in racquetball.
3. Soft Tennis
This is one of the closest alternatives to tennis you can play and is ideal for anyone looking for a less intense variant of the sport. The main differences are in the softer ball used and the lighter rackets.
This makes it easier on the arm with the lighter ball and more loosely strung racket in soft tennis reducing the shock impact on the arm.
Soft tennis can be a good introduction to tennis or ideal for anyone struggling with the rigors of the regular game. The court dimensions are similar, as are the rules, though the scoring system can be made a little looser when playing for recreation.
Popular in Asia, and particularly Japan, the sport found a footing in Europe in the early 2000s with a number of countries now having their own soft tennis federations.
4. Real Tennis
This is a game played on the quirkiest of enclosed courts which has not changed much from medieval times.
The asymmetrical court, sloping roofs, and court wall openings certainly make this a game in which you need your wits about you.
The image is often of a genteel sport, but further could be from the truth.
This is a high-energy game with very little let-up, where you do not want to take a hit from the ball.
Real tennis balls are more like cricket balls than tennis balls in substance, propelled by pear-shaped rackets which have a smaller sweet spot than regular tennis rackets.
Real tennis is definitely an experience, but with just 10 courts in the US, it is a relatively exclusive sport. The following is a clip of some impressive real tennis rallies.
Anyone who has played badminton, especially singles, will appreciate what a good workout it can provide.
The distinctive badminton shuttlecock can fly around at speeds of up to 200 mph, requiring rapid-fire reactions as well as excellent levels of fitness to cover the court.
The shuttlecock and rackets are much lighter compared to tennis, which can mean less tension through the arm. The higher net in badminton requires precise shot placement and a killer smash.
A tennis court is also 1.5x larger than a badminton court.
Competitive badminton is an indoor sport and the rapid-fire nature of the sport produces quicker rallies in general. Badminton is a popular, accessible sport and tends to be played over the best of three sets, with 15 points required to win a set in the classic scoring format of the sport.
This is a tennis-style game but played on a badminton size court. Invented in the states in the 1960s, pickleball uses solid paddles and a plastic ball containing holes.
This is a fun sport which can be played indoors or out with a net similar in height to tennis.
This is a very similar game to tennis, and one suited to all ages and levels of ability. All the shots, including the serve, are largely played from below waist level height.
The size of the court means there is much less running involved than in tennis, opening up the game to more people.
You can only score on your own serve in pickleball, with 11 points needed to win a game, although this can increase to 15 or even 21 in tournaments. A player has to lead by two clear points to win the game.
Both the receiver and then the server must let the ball bounce once at the start of a rally, after which they can volley if they so choose.
Squash is another fast-paced racket sport that is played on an enclosed court using a front wall to strike the ball against.
There is no net, so opposing players share the same court space and must do all they can to avoid getting in the way of their opponent’s shot.
The players strike the smaller ball alternately against the front wall as they try to maneuver their opponent around the court. The players can use all four walls against which to ricochet the ball after first hitting the front wall.
The squash court is considerably smaller, measuring 32 ft by 21 ft.
Squash has its origins in the enclosed courts of real tennis, but the pace on the smaller, less bouncy squash ball needs to come from a quick, strong swing.
Squash is played over the best of five sets, with 11 points needed to win a set, providing you have a clear two-point gap.
8. Beach Tennis
Combining elements of tennis, badminton, and volleyball, beach tennis is a fun beach sport for all.
The net separating the court in two is the height of a volleyball net and players can only strike the ball once before it must go over the net. The ball can not bounce or you lose the point.
You could use regular tennis rackets if playing for fun, but most beach tennis games use smaller paddles. Beach tennis balls are also smaller than regular tennis balls, and they are also less pressurized, making them slower.
Scoring in beach tennis is the same as regular tennis, although sets may be the first to seven or even nine.
A tie break is played if the scores stand at 6-6 or 8-8 in these instances. Beach volleyball is already a popular activity and why beach tennis could also strike a chord with people once they try the game.
9. Touch Tennis
This is probably the most similar sport to tennis on the whole list.
In essence, it is a miniature version of the regular game, a bit like how you may compare five-a-side soccer to the eleven-a-side version. The touch tennis court is much smaller than in tennis, though the markings are the same.
The rackets are also smaller at 21 inches in length, while the ball is made of foam.
The emphasis is on placement rather than power, allowing people of all ages and abilities to play each other. In touch tennis, you do not get a second chance when serving.
You can serve underarm or overarm and there is no let if the serve clips the top of the net.
Touch tennis offers a good work-out to players as you try to maneuver your opponent around the court. The scoring is geared to a fast format, with four games needed to win a set, and a tiebreaker at 4 games all. There is a sudden death point played in deuce games.
10. Pop Tennis
Pop tennis is an updated version of the more established paddle tennis. It is a fast game aimed at all abilities, played on a smaller court than is used for tennis. The width of the court can be larger for doubles matches.
One of the major differences is pop tennis uses a decompressed tennis ball. This combines with a lower net and smaller 21-inch paddles to make for a highly accessible game.
Players must serve underhand only and there are no second serves if you fault on the first.
Pop tennis uses the same points system as tennis for games, with six games also taking a set. Pop tennis is usually the best of three sets.
Instead of introducing people to a variant of tennis or another racket sport, racketlon combines four sports in one game. In racketlon you play an opponent in a set of table tennis, badminton, squash, and tennis.
The order of the sports just listed is the order they are played in racketlon.
This is definitely one for the racket sports enthusiast. Each of the four disciplines is played to 21 points and the winner is the one with the most points after all four sports have been played.
Many people come to racketlon having only played one of the sports involved before. It can be a great introduction to the other sports, although you need to have the appropriate rackets for each event.
Padel is played on a court which is enclosed on all sides by windows.
The sport is played largely in a doubles format with a net separating the two ends of the court. While the court is smaller than a standard tennis court, padel retains the same scoring system as tennis.
Padel was invented in Mexico during the 1970s and is a fun, sociable sport. It uses solid rackets without any strings, although they are perforated, while the balls are the same as in tennis, just with slightly less pressure.
The windows can come into play as soon as the ball has bounced, and a player can exit the court through the access points on each side of the net to return a ball. The following clip shows padel at its best.
13. Platform Tennis
Platform tennis is similar to padel, although it is played on a raised court that can be heated from underneath.
This allows play on the outdoor, enclosed court all year round and allows the sport to be played whatever the weather decides it is going to throw your way.
Instead of a window enclosure, the court is surrounded by screens and tightly strung wire against which the ball can be played.
The court is about a third of the size of a regular tennis court and players use an 18-inch paddle perforated with holes to strike the sponge ball. Platform tennis uses the same scoring system as tennis.
This is another sport that uses an enclosed or partially enclosed court, but the main deviation from tennis is the sport does not use a racket.
Instead, players use their hands to strike the ball, and this is the reason why the sport is sometimes called Hand Tennis or Hand Pelota.
The game has a heritage largely derived from private schools in England. Fives uses a court that can have either three or four sides and is largely played in a doubles format.
Generally, a team needs to win 12 points to take a game, with the match often the best of five games.
Similar to squash there is no net used in fives, but different schools have slight variations in the way they play the game and how the court is designed.
Qianball developed in China toward the end of the 1990s and is sometimes referred to as squash without the walls.
Qianball uses a net, but opposing players are positioned on the same side of the court. This is the player’s zone, with the side beyond the net called the ball zone.
A weighted ball bag or a hook embedded in the floor near the net is connected to the ball with a rubber band(source). The ball must be struck before it bounces within the player zone, although it can bounce in the ball zone. The match is played over the best of three sets, with 15 points required to win a set.
Qianball is played in either singles or doubles format on a court which is smaller than a regular tennis court. The racket used in qianball is quite similar to the one used in squash.
This sport is also called Speedminton, which may give you a heavy clue on where the emphasis of the game lies.
This is a hybrid of badminton and was originally devised as a way to play the game outside without the wind causing havoc with the shuttlecock.
In Crossminton there is no net between the players. The court is as long as a tennis court, but half the width. Each side of the court has scoring areas that measure 5.5m x 5.5m.
The shuttlecock used is termed a speeder and is smaller but weightier than a standard shuttlecock. This allows it to be less affected by the wind.
The rackets used in crossminton are similar to squash rackets, but shorter. The game soon becomes a faster version of badminton, which is a pretty rapid sport to begin with.
Over the years many variations of tennis and other racket sports have developed. While there are obvious similarities between the sports, each one has its own unique elements.
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All the variations in racket sports allow people to find a sport better suited to their abilities and fitness levels.
However, it is also fun and challenging to try out different sports and see if you can successfully transfer your skills between them.
Taking up one of these 16 different racket sports may also pave the way for some to start playing regular tennis. Either way, by playing one of these sports you can enjoy all the health and social benefits racket sports offer.