Is pickleball played to 21 points?

Pickleball is a popular paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It is played with a paddle and a plastic ball on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. While the basic rules are similar to tennis, there are some key differences when it comes to scoring. So is pickleball played to 21 points like tennis?

The quick answer is no, pickleball is usually not played to 21 points. In most recreational and competitive pickleball games, matches are played to 11 points instead of 21. However, there are some variations when it comes to professional level pickleball – some pro tournaments do play to 21 points.

Scoring Basics

To understand pickleball scoring, it helps to first review some basics:

  • Matches consist of the best 2 out of 3 games
  • Games are played to 11 points, win by 2
  • Points are only scored by the serving side
  • The first side to score 11 points and lead by at least 2 points wins the game

So in a standard recreational or competitive pickleball match, the winning side must win 2 games out of 3. And each game is played to 11 points instead of the 21 points used in tennis.

Reasons for 11 Point Games

There are a few key reasons why 11 points per game became the standard for pickleball rather than using the tennis tradition of 21:

  • Faster pace – Shorter games to 11 points keep the action moving at a brisk pace. Pickleball is designed as a fast-paced game more akin to ping-pong than tennis.
  • More accessible for beginners – Winning to 11 is less daunting for newer players than having to get all the way to 21 points.
  • Adjusted for smaller court – With the smaller pickleball court dimensions compared to tennis, rallies and games go faster. So a lower total point score is more suitable.

Overall, 11 points per game (win by 2) hits the sweet spot for fast-paced pickleball action and accessibility.

When Are 21 Point Games Used?

While recreational and competitive club pickleball stick to the 11 point format, there are some exceptions at the professional level. Some pro tournaments will use a best of 3 games to 21 point format instead.

For example, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) uses the 21 point scoring system for many of their sanctioned pro tournaments. This includes well-known events like the US Open Pickleball Championships.

Using the traditional tennis-style 21 point games adds more stamina and strategy required at the pro level. It also helps make it easier for tennis fans to follow pickleball scoring.

So while 21 points is not typical for casual pickleball, it has become standard at the highest levels of professional play. But it is still far less common than the traditional 11 point games.

Game Variations

Beyond the standard 11 point and pro 21 point formats, there are some recreational and regional variations when it comes to pickleball game scoring:

  • One game match – Some casual players will just play a single game to 11 points instead of best of 3.
  • 15 points – Local groups may play to 15 points instead of 11, sometimes mixed with 11 point games.
  • Win by 1 – Requiring just a 1 point margin speeds up games but reduces comebacks.

Most competitive tournaments will follow the standard 11 point format. But when just playing for fun, feel free to experiment with different game lengths. The beauty of picklball is you can adapt the rules to suit different skill levels and pace preferences.

Points Scored Only By Serving Side

One unique aspect of pickleball scoring is that points can only be scored by the side currently serving. This differs from some other racquet sports like tennis where either side can score a point.

This wrinkle adds strategy to pickleball. The serving team must be effective to capitalize on their short scoring opportunities before the ball goes over to the other side. And the receiving team knows their sole objective is to gain back the serve as quickly as possible.

The back-and-forth creates exciting volleys as both teams try to control the serve advantage. And since service switches after every 2 points, no team can score too many quick unanswered points. The scoring dynamics keep games close while still allowing comebacks.

Matching Doubles Partner Strategies

In doubles pickleball, the service scoring rule requires strategic coordination with your partner. The serving side has the chance to score, so the server’s partner must be ready to capitalize.

Teams have to match up their formations based on who is serving. For example, the stronger player may take the lead up at the non-volley zone when their partner is serving. But then switch to protecting the backcourt when their partner is receiving.

Getting your team patterns and positioning tuned up takes practice. But seamless coordination leads to more scoring opportunities when controlling the serve.

Managing Scoring Discrepancies

The unique pickleball scoring style also requires some tactful management around mistakes. Since only the serving team can score points, it’s important to avoid incorrectly awarding points:

  • If the receiving team accidentally hits the ball out of bounds, no point is awarded.
  • If the receiving team accidentally scores in the net, no point is awarded.
  • To avoid scoring disputes, call outs and faults clearly and immediately.

With scorekeeping only going one direction, pay close attention to who the server is before awarding points. And when in doubt, re-serve the point to avoid unfair calls.


In conclusion, standard recreational and competitive pickleball matches are played to 11 points rather than the 21 points used in tennis. The shorter 11 point format helps create a fast-paced game that is accessible to newer players. However, some professional pickleball tournaments, especially those organized by the PPA, use the 21 point format instead. But for most casual and club games, play continues until one side reaches 11 points and leads by at least 2. This unique scoring style creates fun volley exchanges as teams strategize around controlling the serve. So while the basketball-like tally of counting by 1s goes to 11 instead of 21, the action and excitement of pickleball still delivers!

Scoring System Game Point Total Competitive Level
Standard 11 points Recreational and club play
Professional 21 points Pro tournaments
Variations 15 points, win by 1 Friendly games

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