Tennis is a sport usually played between two players (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles). Each player uses a racket that is strung to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over a net into the opponent’s court. Tennis is an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society at all ages. The sport can be played by anyone who can hold a racket, including people in wheelchairs.
The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England in the late 19th century as “lawn tennis” which has close connections to various field/lawn games as well as to the ancient game of real tennis. Up to then, “tennis” referred to the latter sport: for example, in Disraeli’s novel Sybil (1845), Lord Eugene De Vere announces that he will “go down to Hampton Court and play tennis. As it is the Derby, nobody will be there”. After its creation, lawn tennis spread throughout the upper-class English-speaking population before spreading around the world.
The rules of tennis have not changed much since the 1890s. Two exceptions are that from 1908 to 1961 the server had to keep one foot on the ground at all times, and the adoption of the tie-break in the 1970s. A recent addition to professional tennis has been the adoption of electronic review technology coupled with a point challenge system, which allows a player to challenge the line (or chair) umpire’s call of a point.
Players have unlimited opportunities to challenge provided the challenges made are correct. However, once three incorrect challenges are made in a set, they cannot challenge again until the next set. If the set goes to a tie break, players are given one additional opportunity to challenge the call. This electronic review, currently called Hawk-Eye, is available at a limited number of high-level ATP and WTA tournaments.
Tennis is enjoyed by millions of recreational players and is also a hugely popular worldwide spectator sport, especially the four Grand Slam tournaments (also referred to as the “Majors”): the Australian Open played on hard courts, the French Open played on red clay courts, Wimbledon played on grass courts, and the US Open played also on hard courts.
The History of Tennis
While the modern game of tennis originated in late 19th century England, most historians believe that the games ancient origin is from 12th century France, but the ball was then struck with the palm of the hand. It was not until the 16th century that rackets came into use, and the game began to be called “tennis”, from the Old French term Tenez, which can be translated as “hold!”, “receive!” or “take!”. An interjection used as a call from the server to his opponent.
It was popular in England and France, although the game was only played indoors where the ball could be hit off the wall. Henry VIII of England was a big fan of this game, which is now known as real tennis. During the 18th century and early 19th century, as real tennis declined, new racquets sports emerged in England.
Between 1859 and 1865 Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera developed a game that combined elements of rackets and the Basque ball game pelota, which they played on Perera’s croquet lawn in Birmingham, United Kingdom. In 1872, along with two local doctors, they founded the world’s first tennis club in Leamington Spa.
In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield designed and patented a similar game — which he called sphairistike, from ancient Greek meaning “skill at playing at ball”), and was soon known simply as “sticky” — for the amusement of his guests at a garden party on his estate of Nantclwyd, in Llanelidan, Wales.
Sport historians agree that Wingfield deserves much of the credit for the development of modern tennis. The world’s oldest tennis tournament, the Wimbledon championships, were first played in London in 1877. The first Championships culminated a significant debate on how to standardise the rules.
In America in 1874 Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a young socialite, returned from Bermuda where she met Major Wingfield. She laid out a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Clubin New Brighton Staten Island, New York. The exact location of the club was under what is now the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The first American National tournament in 1880 was played there.
An Englishman named O.E Woodhouse won the singles match. There was also a doubles match which was won by a local pair. There were different rules at each club. The ball in Boston was larger than the one normally used in NY. On May 21, 1881, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) was formed to standardise the rules and organize competitions.
The U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship, now the US Open, was first held in 1881 at Newport, Rhode Island. The U.S. National Women’s Singles Championships were first held in 1887. Tennis was also popular in France, where the French Open dates to 1891. Thus, Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open (dating to 1905) became and have remained the most prestigious events in tennis. Together these four events are called the Majors or Slams (a term borrowed from bridge rather than baseball).
The comprehensive rules promulgated in 1924 by the International Lawn Tennis Federation, now known as the International Tennis Federation, have remained largely stable in the ensuing eighty years, the one major change being the addition of the tie-break system designed by James Van Alen.
That same year, tennis withdrew from the Olympics after the 1924 Games but returned 60 years later as a 21-and-under demonstration event in 1984. This reinstatement was credited by the efforts by the then ITF President Philippe Chatrier, ITF General Secretary David Gray and ITF Vice President Pablo Llorens, and support from IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. The success of the event was overwhelming and the IOC decided to reintroduce tennis as a full medal sport at Seoul in 1988.
The Davis Cup, an annual competition between men’s national teams, dates to 1900. The analogous competition for women’s national teams, the Fed Cup, was founded as the Federation Cup in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the ITF also known as International Tennis Federation.
In 1926, promoter C.C. Pyle established the first professional tennis tour with a group of American and French tennis players playing exhibition matches to paying audiences. The most notable of these early professionals were the American Vinnie Richards and the Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments.
In 1968, commercial pressures and rumors of some amateurs taking money under the table led to the abandonment of this distinction, inaugurating the open era, in which all players could compete in all tournaments, and top players were able to make their living from tennis. With the beginning of the open era, the establishment of an international professional tennis circuit, and revenues from the sale of television rights, tennis’s popularity has spread worldwide, and the sport has shed its upper/middle-class English-speaking image (although it is acknowledged that this stereotype still exists).
In 1954, Van Alen founded the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a non-profit museum in Newport, Rhode Island. The building contains a large collection of tennis memorabilia as well as a hall of fame honoring prominent members and tennis players from all over the world. Each year, a grass-court tournament and an induction ceremony honouring new Hall of Fame members are hosted on its grounds
Tournaments are often organised by gender and number of players. Common tournament configurations include men’s singles, women’s singles, and doubles, where two players play on each side of the net. Tournaments may be arranged for specific age groups, with upper age limits for youth and lower age limits for senior players. Example of this include the Orange Bowl and Les Petits As. There are also tournaments for players with disabilities, such as wheelchair tennis and deaf tennis. In the four Grand Slam tournaments, the singles draws are limited to 128 people for each gender.
Most large tournaments Seed players, but players may also be matched by their skill level. According to how well a person does in sanctioned play, a player is given a rating that is adjusted periodically to maintain competitive matches. For example, the United States Tennis Association administers the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP), which rates players between 1.0 and 7.0 in 1/2 point increments. Average club players under this system would rate 3.0–4.5 while world class players would be 7.0 on this scale.
The four Grand Slam tournaments are considered to be the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world. They are held annually and include, in chronological order, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Apart from the Olympic Games, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and Hopman Cup, they are the only tournaments regulated by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
The ITF’s national associations, Tennis Australia (Australian Open), the French Tennis Federation (French Open), the United States Tennis Association (US Open), and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and Lawn Tennis Association (Wimbledon), are delegated the responsibility to organise these events.
Aside from the historical significance of these events, they also carry larger prize funds than any other tour event and are worth double the number of ranking points to the champion than in the next echelon of tournaments, the Masters 1000 (men) and Premier events (women). Another distinguishing feature is the number of players in the singles draw. There are 128, more than any other professional tennis tournament.
This draw is composed of 32 seeded players, other players ranked in the world’s top 100, qualifiers, and players who receive invitations through wild cards. Grand Slam men’s tournaments have best-of-five set matches throughout. Grand Slam tournaments are among the small number of events that last two weeks, the others being the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California and the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Currently, the Grand Slam tournaments are the only tour events that have mixed doubles contests.
Grand Slam tournaments are held in conjunction with wheelchair tennis tournaments (with the exception being Wimbledon, where the grass surface prevents this) and junior tennis competitions. Grand Slam tournaments are often seen as the culmination of a particular season, such as the US Open Series. These tournaments also contain their own idiosyncrasies.
For example, players at Wimbledon are required to wear predominantly white, a rule that has motivated certain players, such as Andre Agassi, to skip the tournament. Wimbledon has its own particular methods for disseminating tickets, often leading tennis fans to follow complex procedures to obtain tickets.
How to Play Tennis
A serve (or, more formally, a “service”) in tennis is a shot to start a point. The serve is initiated by tossing the ball into the air and hitting it (usually near the apex of its trajectory) into the diagonally opposite service box without touching the net. The serve may be hit under- or overhand. If the ball hits the net on the first serve and bounces over into the correct diagonal box then it is called a “let” and the server gets two more additional serves to get it in. If the server misses his or her first serve and gets a let on the second serve, then they get one more try to get the serve in the box.
Experienced players strive to master the conventional overhand serve to maximise its power and placement. The server may employ different types of serve including flat serve, topspin serve, slice serve, and kick (American twist) serve. A reverse type of spin serve is hit in a manner that spins the ball opposite the natural spin of the server, the spin direction depending upon right- or left-handedness. If the ball is spinning counter clockwise, it will curve right from the hitter’s point of view and curve left if spinning clockwise.
Some servers are content to use the serve simply to initiate the point; however, advanced players often try to hit a winning shot with their serve. A winning serve that is not touched by the opponent is called an “ace”.
Players use various grips during play, including the continental (The “Handshake Grip”), eastern (Can be either semi-eastern or full eastern. Usually used for backhands.), and western (semi-western or full western, usually for forehand grips) grips. Most players change grips during a match depending on what shot they are hitting; for example, slice shots and serves call for a continental grip.
For a right-handed player, the forehand is a stroke that begins on the right side of the body, continues across the body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the left side of the body. There are various grips for executing the forehand, and their popularity has fluctuated over the years. The most important ones are the continental, the eastern, the semi-western, and the western. For a number of years, the small, apparently frail 1920s player Bill Johnston was considered by many to have had the best forehand of all time, a stroke that he hit shoulder-high using a western grip.
Few top players used the western grip after the 1920s, but in the latter part of the 20th century, as shot-making techniques and equipment changed radically, the western forehand made a strong comeback and is now used by many modern players. No matter which grip is used, most forehands are generally executed with one hand holding the racquet, but there have been fine players with two-handed forehands.
In the 1940s and 50s, the Ecuadorian/American player Pancho Segura used a two-handed forehand to achieve a devastating effect against larger, more powerful players. Players such as Monica Seles or France’s Fabrice Santoro and Marion Bartoli are also notable players known for their two-handed forehands.
For right-handed players, the backhand is a stroke that begins on the left side of their body, continues across their body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the right side of their body. It can be executed with either one hand or with both and is generally considered more difficult to master than the forehand. For most of the 20th century, the backhand was performed with one hand, using either an eastern or a continental grip.
The first notable players to use two hands were the 1930s Australians Vivian McGrath and John Bromwich, but they were lonely exceptions. The two-handed grip gained popularity in the 1970s as Björn Borg, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, and later Mats Wilander and Marat Safin used it to great effect, and it is now used by a large number of the world’s best players, including Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
Two hands give the player more control, while one hand can generate a slice shot, applying backspin on the ball to produce a low trajectory bounce. Reach is also limited with the two-handed shot. The player long considered to have had the best backhand of all time, Don Budge, had a powerful one-handed stroke in the 1930s and 1940s that imparted topspin onto the ball.
Ken Rosewall, another player noted for his one-handed backhand, used a very accurate slice backhand through the 1950s and 1960s. A small number of players, notably Monica Seles, use two hands on both the backhand and forehand sides.
A volley is a shot returned to the opponent in mid-air before the ball bounces, generally performed near the net, and is usually made with a stiff-wristed punching motion to hit the ball into an open area of the opponent’s court. The half volley is made by hitting the ball on the rise just after it has bounced, once again generally in the vicinity of the net. The swinging volley is hit out of the air as the player approaches the net. It is an offensive shot used to take preparation time away from the opponent, as it returns the ball into the opponent’s court much faster than a standard volley.
From a poor defensive position on the baseline, the lob can be used as either an offensive or defensive weapon, hitting the ball high and deep into the opponent’s court to either enable the lobber to get into better defensive position or to win the point outright by hitting it over the opponent’s head. If the lob is not hit deeply enough into the other court, however, an opponent near the net may then hit an overhead smash, a hard, serve-like shot, to try to end the point.
Finally, if an opponent is deep in his court, a player may suddenly employ an unexpected drop shot, by softly tapping the ball just over the net so that the opponent is unable to run in fast enough to retrieve it. Advanced players will often apply back spin to a drop shot, causing the ball to “skid” upon landing and bounce sideways, with less forward momentum toward their opponent, or even backwards towards the net, thus making it even more difficult to return.
The Rules of Tennis
A tennis match is determined through the best of three or five sets. While recreational players may agree to play any number of sets, depending upon time availability or stamina, on the professional circuit, including all four Grand Slam tournaments, Davis Cup, and the final of the Olympic Games, women play three-set matches, while men play five-set matches.
For men, the first player to win three sets wins the match, and for women, the first player to win two sets wins the match. A set consists of games, and games, in turn, consist of points.
A game consists of a sequence of points played with the same player serving. A game is won by the first player to have won at least four points in total and at least two points more than the opponent. The running score of each game is described in a manner peculiar to tennis: scores from zero to three points are described as “love”, “fifteen”, “thirty”, and “forty” respectively (see Tennis score.)
If at least three points have been scored by each player, making the player’s scores equal at forty apiece, the score is not called out as “forty-forty”, but rather as “deuce”. If at least three points have been scored by each side and a player has one more point than his opponent, the score of the game is “advantage” for the player in the lead. During informal games, “advantage” can also be called “ad in” when the serving player is ahead, or “ad out” when the receiving player is ahead.
The score of a tennis match during play is always read with the serving player’s score first. In tournament play, the chair umpire calls the point count (e.g., “fifteen-love”) after each point. At the end of a game, the chair umpire also announces the winner of the game and the overall score.
A game point occurs in tennis whenever the player who is in the lead in the game needs only one more point to win the game. The terminology is extended to sets (set point), matches (match point), and even championships (championship point).
For example, if the player who is serving has a score of 40-love, the player has a triple game point (triple set point, etc.) as the player has three consecutive chances to win the game. Game points, set points, and match points are not part of official scoring and are not announced by the chair umpire in tournament play.
A break point occurs if the receiver, not the server, has a chance to win the game with the next point. Break points are of particular importance because serving is generally considered advantageous, with the server being expected to win games in which they are serving. A receiver who has one (score of 30–40), two (score of 15–40) or three (score of love-40) consecutive chances to win the game has break point, double break point or triple break point, respectively.
If the receiver does, in fact, win their break point, the game is awarded to the receiver, and the receiver is said to have converted their break point. If the receiver fails to win their break point it is called a failure to convert. Winning break points, and thus the game, is also referred to as breaking serve, as the receiver has disrupted, or broken the natural advantage of the server. If in the following game the previous server also wins a break point, it is often referred to as breaking back.
A set consists of a sequence of games played with service alternating between games, ending when the count of games won meets certain criteria. Typically, a player wins a set by winning at least six games and at least two games more than the opponent. If one player has won six games and the opponent five, an additional game is played. If the leading player wins that game, the player wins the set 7–5. If the trailing player wins the game, a tie-break is played.
A tie-break, played under a separate set of rules, allows one player to win one more game and thus the set, to give a final set score of 7–6. Only in the final sets of matches at the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympic Games, Davis Cup, and Fed Cup are tie-breaks not played. In these cases, sets are played indefinitely until one player has a two-game lead. A “love” set means that the loser of the set won zero games. In tournament play, the chair umpire announces the winner of the set and the overall score.
In tournament play, the chair umpire announces the end of the match with the well-known phrase “Game, set, match” followed by the winning person’s or team’s name. The final score in sets is always read with the winning player’s score first, even if the winning player loses set(s) during the match