The Science of Pickleball – Does Spin Matter?

The ongoing debate about the importance of spin in pickleball continues. 

Taking the “bull by the horns” (or pickleball by the horns?), we hired a film crew to shoot high speed footage of top level pickleball players to let the facts speak for themselves.

Then we simulated that average ball speed, RPMs, and trajectory with a Pickleball Tutor Plus to film ball after ball in order to film consistent patterns that meet the rigors of scientific study.

To share our research, we produced a 15-episode video series for YouTube called “The Science of Pickleball.” In this column, we put pen to paper to share this data with the readers of Pickleball Magazine. This first article shares the basics of pickleball RPMs, compares them to tennis, and discusses some of the basics of spin. Future columns will go into more depth with key indicators to help all levels of pickleball players improve. 

First, we learned that both top men and women can hit in the 1400-1500 Revolutions Per Minute (RPMs) range with topspin groundstrokes. While this may sound like a high number, the effect on ball flight is much less than tennis for two reasons.

  • First, tennis players of similar levels can hit topspin groundstrokes with twice the RPMs and top professionals reach over 4,000 RPMs.
  • Second, tennis balls do not have holes in them! The effect of 1500 RPMs of topspin in “holey” pickleball is far less than tennis, as the high pressure created above the ball only minimally pushes the ball downward as compared to tennis due to these holes. 

Does topspin help keep the ball in play?

Yes, but just to a small extent.

It is also much more challenging to hit topspin in pickleball as compared to tennis because pickleballs are hard, do not compress on the paddle, and the stringless hard paddle surface makes the ball rebound twice as fast as a tennis racquet as well.

You’ll hear more on this intriguing topic in future OnCourt OffCourt pickleball blogs! Stay tuned.

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