What is the Game of Tennis?
Tennis is a sport played on a clay or grass court. Players stand on either side of a net that spans across the center of the court and use a strung racket to hit a ball back and forth. When a player fails to return the ball or hits it out of bounds, their opponent earns a point. The first player (or team, if competing in doubles tennis) to reach four points wins the game, and the first to win six games wins the set.
When Was Tennis Invented?
Tennis is derived from jeu de paume (“game of the palm”), a French handball game first played in the 11th century. The sport evolved over time into real tennis, which was played indoors. The outdoor version of the game called lawn tennis was created in the 1870s.
Who Invented Tennis?
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield developed lawn tennis in the early 1870s. He published the first official rule book for the game in 1873.
The Basic History of Tennis
The French medieval game of jeu de paume (“game of the palm”) was first played in the 11th century. Though it was originally played with bare hands, this game would eventually influence the development of tennis.
In fact, the name of the sport itself derives from the players shouting the word “tenez!” (meaning “take” or “receive” in French) as they were about to serve the ball. Due to this common refrain, the game was later known as real tennis (or sometimes court tennis or royal tennis).
Around the 16th century, modifications to the game resulted in a version closer to the sport as it’s played today. During this period, rackets were first used instead of bare or gloved hands.
In addition, the unique scoring system for tennis was developed. Wooden balls were swapped out for leather balls filled with cellulose material to offer more bounce. However, there were still some very distinctive differences, such as the indoor location, the narrow shape of the court, the ball being played off walls, and points being scored by hitting the ball into a netting wall opening.
In the 1870s, British Army officer Major Walter Clopton Wingfield began developing an outdoor version of the game called lawn tennis. Although similar outdoor games were being played around that time, Wingfield was the first to publish an official rule book in 1873.
One of the most important rules to come from Wingfield was the introduction of a rubber ball which could bounce on grass. Later in the 1800s, clay and hardwood courts were used and eventually became more popular than the grass courts.
The first tennis clubs were established in England around this time, and by 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club held the first Wimbledon Championship. A women’s championship was added to Wimbledon in 1884, and the British Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) was formed in 1888.
Tennis Around the World
Tennis quickly caught on in the United States, where it was first played in the 1870s.
The first tennis championship in the U.S. was hosted by the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club in 1880. In 1881, the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association was established. This group, which would later be renamed as the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), held the country’s first national championship that year in Newport, Rhode Island. The first women’s national championship was introduced in 1887.
Near the end of the 1800s and very early 1900s, tennis also became more popular in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, and France, and these countries soon hosted their first national championships, followed by Italy, Egypt, and Denmark in the 1920s and ‘30s. The first international team competition, the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy (later known as the Davis Cup) was held in 1900.
Tennis became an Olympic event in 1896. It was discontinued in 1924 due to disagreements about defining amateur players. It was reinstated as a medal sport at the summer Olympics in 1988. Since then, both amateur and professional players have been welcome to compete.
In the late 1960s, tennis experienced a surge in popularity when major championships first became open to both professional and amateur players.
Two professional groups, the National Tennis League and World Championship Tennis, were formed in 1967, and they quickly began scheduling tours that attracted large crowds and plenty of publicity. Many tournaments, including Wimbledon, switched to an open format which allowed both amateur and pro players to compete. Prize money for these tournaments increased significantly as well, and more games were broadcast on television.
Some notable rivalries and star players from this era attracted more fans to the sport. Players like Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, and Jimmy Connors became household names.
There was also increased anticipation surrounding the Grand Slam, which consists of the four most important annual tennis competitions: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
In the 1980s, competition also became even more exciting with the development of newer rackets made of lightweight metal instead of wood, which enhanced power and speed in the game.
Today, tennis continues to be a popular sport that attracts standout players from countries around the world.
The Basic Rules & Gameplay of Tennis
What Is the Objective of Tennis?
The objective of the game is to score points by hitting the ball onto the opponent’s side of the court. Players earn points when the opponent is not able to return the ball correctly. The first player to reach four points wins the game, and the first to win six games wins the set.
What Are the Basic Rules of Tennis?
- Team size – Tennis is most commonly an individual sport. However, doubles matches are also permitted with two players on each team.
- Matches – Tennis games consist of multiple games which make up the set. The first player to win six games wins the set. In some competitions, a two-game margin is required in order to win.
- Serving – To start each point, a player must serve the ball by hitting it from behind the baseline on one side of the court (the first serve is made from the right-hand side, and alternates for every point after that). The ball must travel diagonally across the court to land in the opponent’s service box on the opposite side. The server is allowed one fault each time they serve, meaning that they get another chance to serve if the first ball hits the net or goes out of bounds. The opponent is awarded a point if the server fails to serve the ball correctly on the second try (known as a double fault).
- Return – The server’s opponent must allow the ball to bounce once after a serve before hitting it. After that, they attempt to hit the ball back to the server’s side. The server will then do the same, being allowed up to one bounce on their side before hitting it. The ball may be hit back and forth until one of the players fails to return the ball correctly. A player wins a point if their opponent does one of the following:
- Hits the ball into the net.
- Hits the ball outside the player’s boundaries.
- Allows the ball to bounce a second time on their side of the net before hitting it back.
- Shots – There are a number of different strategies and styles that tennis players use when striking the ball. Some of the most common tennis shots include:
- Serve: The ball is tossed up into the air and the player swings the racket up over their shoulder to hit it.
- Forehand: Hitting the ball with the wrist facing forward on the dominant side during the swing.
- Backhand: The racket is swung on the non-dominant side of the body and the back of the hand faces toward the court during the swing.
- Volley: The ball is returned before it hits the ground on the player’s side of the court. This type of shot is often made when positioned closer to the net.
- Smash: The racket is swung above the head to hit the ball with a lot of power. The swing is similar to a serve.
- Lob: Hitting the ball so that it travels up high and deep over the opponent’s side of the court. This type of shot may be used to buy time to move to a different area of the court or to move the opponent back on their side of the court.
- Scoring – Players must earn four points and be in the lead by a margin of two in order to win a game. The four points are scored as 15, 30, 40, game. Zero points is called “love.”
When the score is called, the server’s score is listed first. For example, if the game is 30-15, the server has two points and the receiver has one. A game tied at 40-40 (also known as 40-all) is called “deuce,” and the game continues until one player wins by a margin of two points.
- Out of bounds – Players are permitted to play outside the perimeter of the court, and the ball is still in play when it travels out of bounds (like after a single bounce within bounds on the court). However, if the ball touches the ground outside of the boundaries of the court, it is no longer in play.
- Officiating – A referee sits in a high chair positioned at one end of the net. This official makes final calls when there are disputes and oversees the conduct of the players. In some matches, line umpires are also assigned to call when the ball has gone out of bounds.
The Basic Equipment in Tennis
The essential equipment for tennis includes a ball and a racket.
The ball is made with a rubber core and features a soft cloth covering (usually wool). The standard ball measures 2.5 to 2.8 inches in diameter and weights between 1.975 and 2.095 ounces. Tennis rackets must be no more than 29 inches long and feature a minimum width of 12.5 inches.
Players typically wear tennis shoes with shorts or a skirt and a short-sleeved or sleeveless top.
Tennis is played on a court measuring 78 feet long by 36 feet wide. For singles matches, players use inner sidelines which mark the court at 27 feet wide. Across the center of the court, there is a net measuring 3 feet high. Most courts today are hard courts played on clay, cement, cushioned asphalt, or artificial grass.
There are several lines on a tennis court, including:
- Baseline: This line is found at each end of the court, parallel to the net. Serves must be hit behind this line. Shots that land beyond this line are out of bounds.
- Center line: This line is positioned at the middle of the baseline and measures 4 inches long. Players can’t cross over the center line when serving.
- Service line: The service line runs parallel to the net and is positioned halfway between the net and the baseline. A serve must land in between the service line on the opponent’s side and the net in order to avoid a fault.
- Center service line. This line is positioned at the center of the service line and runs perpendicular to it all the way to the net.
- Sidelines: The sidelines run the length of the court from one baseline to the other. Shots beyond these lines are out of bounds. Doubles matches use the full width of the court (36 feet). There are also inner sidelines that indicate the width for a singles court (27 feet).
The lines on the tennis court create several defined areas, including:
- No man’s land: The larger box on the end of each court between the baseline and the service line.
- Service boxes: Between the service line and the net, there is a left service box and a right service box on either side of the center service line.
- Doubles alley: The space between the singles and doubles sidelines.