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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A tennis net
A tennis net

Tennis is a game played between either two players ("singles") or two teams of two players ("doubles"). Players use a stringed racquet to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over a net into the opponent's court. In some places tennis is still called lawn tennis to distinguish it from real tennis (also known as royal tennis or court tennis), an older form of the game that originated in France in the Middle Ages and is played indoors on a very different court. Originating in England in the late 19th century, lawn tennis spread first throughout the English-speaking world, particularly among the upper classes. Tennis is now once again an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society, by all ages, and in many countries around the world. Except for the adoption of the tie-breaker in the 1970s, its rules have remained remarkably unchanged since the 1890s. Along with its millions of players, millions of people follow tennis as a spectator sport, especially the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Manner of play

For individual terms see: Tennis terminology

The court

Main article: Tennis court
The dimensions of a tennis court, in feet.
The dimensions of a tennis court, in feet.
The Wimbledon courts host one of the world's most prestigious tennis tournaments
The Wimbledon courts host one of the world's most prestigious tennis tournaments

Tennis is played on a rectangular, flat surface, usually grass, clay, or a hardcourt of concrete and/or asphalt. The court is 78 feet (23.77 m) long, and its width is 27 feet (8.23 m) for singles matches and 36 feet (10.97 m) for doubles matches. Additional clear space around the court is required in order for players to reach overrun balls. A net is stretched across the full width of the court, parallel with the baselines, dividing it into two equal ends. The net is 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m) high at the posts and 3 feet (914 mm) high in the center.

The Lines

Each of the lines that delineate the width of the court is called the baseline. The short mark in the center of each baseline is referred to as either the hash mark or the center mark. The outermost lines that make up the length are both called the doubles sideline. These are the boundaries used when doubles is being played. The area between the doubles sideline and the lines next to them is called the doubles alley, which is considered out in singles play. These lines next to the doubles sideline are the singles sidelines, and used as boundaries in singles play. The line that runs across the center of a player's side of the court is called the service line; despite its name this is not where a player legally stands when making a serve. The line dividing the service line in two is called the center line or center service line. The boxes this center line creates are called the service boxes; depending on a player's position, they will have to hit the ball into one of these when serving. A ball is out only if none of it has hit the line upon its first bounce.

Types of Courts

There are four main types of courts. Depending on the materials used for the court surfaces, each surface provides a difference in the speed and bounce of the ball, which in turn can affect the level of play of the individual players. The four most common types of courts are:

  • Clay court - (green clay ( Also known as Har-Tru because of the material used - mainly in the U.S.), red clay)
  • Grass court
  • Hardcourt - (cement, Rebound Ace, coated asphalt)
  • Indoor (most commonly wood, cement, or carpet)

Some players are more successful on certain surfaces and are known as, for instance, "clay court specialists."

Clay courts are considered relatively "slow." This means that a ball first loses speed as it hits the course clay surface because of increased friction and then bounces relatively high. The slowness of the court makes it more difficult for a player to hit an unreturnable shot (a "winner") because the opponent has more time to reach and return the ball. The best clay court players generally use western grips to impart heavy topspin on the ball when playing on clay. Clay courts are often constructed from pulverized brick and may include other soil composites such as shale or stone. On clay courts, line calls are easily reviewable because the ball generally leaves a visible mark.

Hardcourts are generally considered to be faster than clay courts. Depending on how a hardcourt is constructed, including the surface layers of the court, a hardcourt can be relatively slow or fast. A fast hardcourt is characterised by low bounces, where fast-serving and hard-hitting players hold an advantage. There are many different types of hardcourts. The ones used at Grand Slam tournaments (Rebound Ace and DecoTurf) consist of layers of different compounds on top of an asphalt base.

Grass is a fast surface and was the surface used at three of the Grand Slam tournaments until the Australian Open and the U.S. Open changed to hardcourts. Grass keeps the ball low and quick and generally favours players with short backswings, slice shots (where the ball slides off the grass), and eastern or continental grips. Low bounces keep rallies short, which gives hard-serving and hard-hitting players an advantage. Grass courts add an additional variable with bounces depending on how healthy the grass is and how recently it has been mown.

For the Grand Slam tournaments, four different surfaces are used. The Australian Open uses Rebound Ace, a synthetic type of hardcourt consisting of polyurethane rubber, fiberglass, and other materials on top of an asphalt base. The French Open is played on red clay. Wimbledon is played on grass. The U.S. Open is played on DecoTurf, a hardcourt composed of layers of acrylic, rubber, silica, and other materials on top of an asphalt base.

Play of a single point

Main article: Play of a single point

The players (or teams) start on opposite sides of the net. One player is designated the server, and the opposing player, or in doubles one of the opposing players, is the receiver. Service alternates between the two halves of the court.

For each point, the server starts behind his baseline, between the center mark and the sideline. The receiver may start anywhere on his side of the net. When the receiver is ready, the server will serve, although the receiver must play to the pace of the server.

In a legal service, the ball travels over the net (without touching it) and into the diagonally opposite service box. If the ball hits the net but lands in the service box, this is a let service, which is void, and the server gets to retake that serve. If the first service is otherwise faulty in any way, wide, long or not over the net, the serving player has a second attempt at service. There is also a "foot fault" which occurs when a player's foot touches the baseline before the ball is hit. If the second service is also faulty, this is a double fault and the receiver wins the point. However, if the serve is in then it is considered a legal service.

A legal service starts a rally, in which the players alternate hitting the ball across the net. A legal return consists of the player or team hitting the ball exactly once before it has bounced twice or hit any fixtures except the net provided that it still falls in the server's court. It then travels back over the net and bounces in the court on the opposite side. The first player or team to fail to make a legal return loses the point.


Main article: Tennis score

A tennis match usually comprises one to five sets. A set consists of a number of games, and games, in turn, consist of points.

Matches consist of an odd number of sets, the match winner being the player who wins more than half of the sets. The match ends as soon as this winning condition is met. Some matches may consist of five sets (the winner being the first to win three sets), while most matches are three sets (the winner being the first to win two sets).

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 when he wins at least six games and at least two games more than his opponent. It has become common, however, to play a "twelve-point tiebreak" or "tiebreaker" when each player has won six games. A tiebreaker, 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. (See Tennis score for a description of both tie-break scoring and its history.)

A game consists of a sequence of points played with the same player serving, and is won by the first player to have won at least four points and at least two points more than his opponent. The running score of each game is described in a manner particular to tennis: scores of zero to three points are described as "love" or "zero," "fifteen," "thirty," and "forty" respectively. When at least three points have been scored by each side and the players have the same number of points, the score is "deuce." When 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 winning player. During informal games, "advantage" can also be called "ad in" or "ad out", depending on whether the serving player or receiving player, respectively, is ahead. (See Tennis score for further explanation of how to score a game.)

A game point occurs in tennis whenever the player who is in the lead in the game (the smallest unit of play) 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, he has a triple game point (triple set point, etc.).

A break point occurs if the receiver, not the server, has a game point. It is of importance in professional tennis, since service breaks happen less frequently with professional players. It may happen that the player who is in the lead in the game has more than one chance to score the winning point, even if his opponent should take the next point(s). For example, if the player who is serving has a score of 15-40, the receiver has a double break point. Should the player in the lead take any one of the next two points, he wins the game.

For two years before the open era, in 1955 and 1956, the United States Pro Championship in Cleveland, Ohio was played by the Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System (VASSS) rules, created by James Van Alen, who later invented the tie-breaker. The scoring was the same as that in table tennis, with sets played to 21 points and players alternating 5 services, with no second service. The rules were partially created in order to limit the effectiveness of the powerful service of the reigning professional champion, Pancho Gonzales. Even with the new rules, however, Gonzales beat Pancho Segura in the finals of both tournaments. Even though the 1955 match went to 5 sets, with Gonzales barely holding on to win the last one 21-19, apparently it took only 47 minutes to play.[1] The fans attending the matches preferred the traditional rules, however, and in 1957 the tournament reverted to the old method of scoring.


In serious play, there is an officiating chair umpire (usually referred to as the umpire), who sits in a raised chair to one side of the court. The umpire has absolute authority to make factual determinations. The umpire may be assisted by line judges, who determine whether the ball has landed within the required part of the court and who also call foot faults. There also may be a net judge who determines whether the ball has touched the net during service. In some tournaments, certain line judges, usually those who would be calling the serve, are replaced by electronic sensors that beep when an out call would have been made. In some open-tournament matches, players are allowed to challenge a limited number of close calls by means of instant replay. The U.S. Open, U.S. Open Series, and World Team Tennis started using a "challenge" system in 2006. This used the Hawk-Eye system and the rules were similar to those used in the NFL, where a player gets a limited number of instant-replay challenges per match/set. In clay-court matches, a call may be questioned by reference to the mark left by the ball's impact on the court surface.

The referee, who is usually located off the court, is the final authority about tennis rules. When called to the court by a player or team captain, the referee may overrule the umpire's decision if the tennis rules were violated (question of law) but may not change the umpire's decision on a question of fact. If, however, the referee is on the court during play, the referee may overrule the umpire's decision.

Ball boys (who are usually children) may be employed to retrieve balls, pass them to the players, and hand players their towels. They have no adjudicative role. In rare events (e.g., if they are hurt or if they have caused a hindrance), the umpire may ask them for a statement of what actually happened. The umpire may consider their statements when making a decision.

In some leagues, especially junior leagues, players make their own calls, trusting each other to be honest. This is the case for many school and university level matches. However, the referee or referee's assistant can be called on court at a player's request, and the referee or assistant may change a player's call. In unofficiated matches, a ball is out only if the player entitled to make the call is sure that the ball is out.


Main article Junior Tennis

In tennis, a junior is any player under the age of 18 who is still legally protected by a parent or guardian. Players on the main adult tour who are under 18 must have documents signed by a parent or guardian. These players, however, are still eligible to play in junior tournaments.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) conducts a junior tour that allows juniors to establish a world ranking and an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) or Women's Tennis Association ranking. Most juniors who enter the international circuit do so by progressing through ITF, Satellite, Future, and Challenger tournaments before entering the main circuit. The latter three circuits also have adults competing in them. Some juniors, however, such as Australian Lleyton Hewitt and Frenchman Gael Monfils, have catapulted directly from the junior tour to the ATP tour by dominating the junior scene or by taking advantage of opportunities given to them to participate in professional tournaments.

In 2004, the ITF implemented a new rankings scheme to encourage greater participation in doubles, by combining two rankings (singles and doubles) into one combined tally. Junior tournaments do not offer prize money except for the Grand Slams, which are the most prestigious junior events. Juniors may earn income from tennis by participating in the Future, Satellite, or Challenger tours. Tournaments are broken up into different tiers offering different amounts of ranking points, culminating with Grade A.

As of November 16, 2006, the top three boys in the world are: 1. Thiemo De Bakker, the Netherlands; 2. Martin Klizak, Slovakia; 3. Dusan Lodja, the Czech Republic. As of November 16, 2006, the top three girls in the world are: 1. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Russia; 2. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark; 3. Ksenia Milevskaya, Belarus.

Leading juniors are also allowed to participate for their nation in the Junior Fed Cup and Davis Cup competitions as well.

Grassroots and early development

To succeed in tennis often means having to begin playing at a young age. To facilitate and nurture a junior's growth in tennis, almost all tennis playing nations have developed a junior development system. Juniors develop their play through a range of tournaments on all surfaces, accommodating all different standards of play. Talented juniors may also receive sponsorships from governing bodies or private institutions. A strong junior base can often be the prerequisite of a future champion.


A tennis match is intended to be continuous. Stamina is a relevant factor, so arbitrary delays are not permitted. In most cases, service is required to occur no more than 20 (ITF events) or 25 (ATP/WTA events) seconds after the end of the previous point. This is increased to 90 seconds when the players change ends (every two games), and a 120 second break is permitted between sets. Other than this, breaks are permitted only when forced by events beyond the players' control, such as rain, damaged footwear, or the need to retrieve an errant ball. Should a player be determined to be stalling repeatedly, the chair umpire may initially give a warning followed by subsequent penalties of "point," "game," and default of the match for the player who is consistently taking longer than the allowed time limit.

Balls wear out quickly in serious play and, therefore, are changed after every nine games. The first change occurs after only seven games because the first set of balls is also used for the pre-match warm-up. Continuity of the balls' condition is considered part of the game, so if a re-warm-up is required after an extended break in play (usually due to rain), then the re-warm-up is done using a separate set of balls, and use of the match balls is resumed only when play resumes.

Wheelchair tennis can be played by able-bodied players as well as people who require a wheelchair for mobility. The use of legs or feet is then prohibited, and the player is required to remain seated in the wheelchair. There is an exception for those who are only able to propel themselves using a foot. In wheelchair tennis, in which the players move in wheelchairs instead of using legs, an extra bounce is permitted. This rule makes it possible to have mixed wheelchair and able-bodied matches. It is possible for a doubles team to consist of a wheelchair player and an able-bodied player (referred to as "one-up, one-down"), or for a wheelchair player to play against an able-bodied player. In such cases, the extra bounce is permitted for the wheelchair users only.

Another, informal, tennis format is called "Canadian doubles" (also referred to as "American Doubles" in Australia and "Australian Doubles" in Canada). This involves three players, with one person playing against a doubles team. For the single player, singles-court rules apply (such that the ball must be within the singles-court lines) but on the side of the doubles team, doubles-court rules apply (the alleys are considered in). The scoring is the same as a regular game. This format is not sanctioned by any official body and is only played when a fourth player is not available for normal doubles.

It has recently been proposed to allow coaching on court during a match on a limited basis. Also, technological review of official calls made its debut in a major tournament at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Lastly, there is a tennis formation called "Australian doubles" in which both players on the same team line up on the same side of the court, with one player at the net and one in the backcourt. The one in back will generally move to the vacant side of the court after the point begins, which forces the opposing player to hit the ball down the line. This formation also allows the player at the net to poach more easily.

Other rules of play used in American college tennis

As of 1999, in Division I tennis at the college level, a let service is considered playable. This rule change was made to prevent receivers from falsely claiming a valid service to be a let, which is a call that cannot be overruled. Thus, a service that hits the net before landing in the service box is a playable shot, and must be returned by the receiver. Otherwise, the receiver loses the point.

Other rules of play used in American high school tennis

During high school tennis team matches players may have to follow a few different rules:

Pro set: Instead of playing best out of three sets, players may play one pro set. A pro set is first to 8 games instead of 6. All other rules apply.

Super tie-break: This is played sometimes after players split sets (Each wins one set). It decides who wins instead of a third set. This is played like a regular tie-break but the winner must attain ten points instead of seven.

No-ad: The players play through the match without any ads. When the game is at deuce the receiving player has the option to choose what side of court (either the deuce side or the ad side) they want to receive the serve for the final game-deciding point. The first player or doubles team to four points wins the game.


A competent tennis player has eight basic shots in his or her repertoire: the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, half-volley, overhead smash, drop shot, and lob.


Main article: Serve
In the days of wooden racquets, Pancho Gonzales's 112-mph serve was the fastest ever recorded.
In the days of wooden racquets, Pancho Gonzales's 112-mph serve was the fastest ever recorded.

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.

Experienced players strive to master the conventional overhand serve to maximize its power and placement. The server may employ different types of serve:

  • Flat Serve
  • Topspin Serve (Sometimes called a "Kick/Kicker" serve. Often confused with the "American Twist" serve, since both types of serves are called "Kick/Kicker" serves.)
  • American Twist/Twist Serve (Also, sometimes called a "Kick/Kicker" serve, which can confuse people, since "Topspin" serves are also called the same thing. Furthermore, this serve is often confused with the "Topspin-Slice" serve.)
  • Slice/Slider/Sidespin Serve
  • Topspin-Slice Serve (Often mistakenly identified as the American Twist/Twist. The serves are very different from one another.)
  • Reverse Slice/Reverse Slider/Reverse Sidespin Serve
  • Reverse Twist/Reverse American Twist Serve
  • Reverse Topspin-Slice 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.

Some servers are content to use the serve simply to initiate the point; 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; if the receiver manages to touch it but fails to successfully return it, it is called a service winner.


Players may use the continental, semi-western, western, extreme western or eastern grips during play. Different grips generally are used for different types of spin and shots.


Main article: Forehand
Pancho Segura hitting his famous two-handed forehand
Pancho Segura hitting his famous two-handed forehand

For a right-handed player, the forehand is a stroke that begins on the right side of his body, continues across his body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the left side of his 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, "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 devastating effect against larger, more powerful players, and many females and young players use the two-handed grips today. At a professional event in 1951 the forehand drives of a number of players were electronically measured. Pancho Gonzales hit the fastest, 112.88 mph, followed by Jack Kramer at 107.8 and Welby Van Horn at 104.[2]


Main article: Backhand
Don Budge following through on his backhand in 1935
Don Budge following through on his backhand in 1935

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 it 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 used it to great effect, and it is now used by a large number of the world's best players, including Andre Agassi and Venus Williams. Andy Roddick uses the "extreme western" grip to create massive amounts of top spin. It is difficult to do this and also causes injuries when done incorrectly. Two hands give the player more power, while one hand can generate a slice shot, applying backspin on the ball to produce a low trajectory bounce. The player long considered to have had the best backhand of all time, Don Budge, had a very powerful one-handed stroke in the 1930s and '40s that imparted topspin onto the ball. Ken Rosewall, another player noted for his one-handed backhand, used a deadly accurate slice backhand with underspin through the 1950s and '60s. A small number of players, notably Monica Seles, use two hands on both the backhand and forehand sides.


Other shots

Jack Crawford, a great Australian player of the 1930s, hitting a forehand volley
Jack Crawford, a great Australian player of the 1930s, hitting a forehand volley

A volley is made in the air before the ball bounces, generally 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. 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, the opponent 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, softly tapping the ball just over the net so that the opponent is unable to run in fast enough to retrieve it.


Tournaments are often organized by gender and number of players. Common tournament configurations include men's singles, women's singles, doubles (where two players of the same gender play on each side), and mixed doubles (with a member of each gender per side). Tournaments may be arranged for specific age groups, with upper age limits for youth and lower age limits for senior players. There are also tournaments for players with disabilities. In the four Grand Slam tournaments, the singles draws are limited to 128 people for each gender.

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, which is divided into the following ratings (with higher numbers indicating more skill): 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 6.5, and 7.0. Average club players under this system would rate 3.0-4.5 while world class players would be 7.0 on this scale.


Tennis can be traced as far back as the ancient Greek game of sphairistike (Greek: Σφαιριστική). Major Walter Wingfield borrowed the name of this Greek game, in order to name the recreation he patented in 1874. It was soon converted into a three-syllable word rhyming with “pike” and afterwards abbreviated either to sticky or the mock-French stické, before being finally called "lawn tennis", which was a second name patented by Wingfield for the game.

Its establishment as the modern sport can be dated to two separate roots. In 1856, Alex Ryden, a solicitor, and his friend Joao Batista Pereira, a Portuguese merchant, who both lived in Birmingham, England played a game they named "pelota", after a Spanish ball game. The game was played on a lawn in Edgbaston. In 1872 both men moved to Leamington Spa, and with two doctors from the Warneford Hospital, played pelota on the lawn behind the Manor House Hotel (now residential apartments). Pereira joined with Dr. Frederick Haynes and Dr. A. Wellesley Tomkins to found the first lawn tennis club in the world, and played the game on nearby lawns. In 1874 they formed the Leamington Tennis Club, setting out the original rules of the game. The Courier of 23 July 1884 recorded one of the first tennis tournaments, held in the grounds of Shrubland Hall (demolished 1948).

In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield devised a similar game for the amusement of his guests at a garden party on his estate at Nantclwyd, Wales. He based the game on the older sport of indoor tennis or real tennis ("royal tennis"), which had been invented in 12th century France and was played by French aristocrats down to the time of the French Revolution.

According to most tennis historians, modern tennis terminology also derives from this period, as Wingfield borrowed both the name and much of the French vocabulary of royal tennis and applied them to his new game:

  • Tennis comes from the French tenez, the imperative form of the verb tenir, to hold: This was a cry used by the player serving in royal tennis, meaning "I am about to serve!" (rather like the cry "Fore!" in golf).
  • Racquet comes from raquette, which derives from the Arabic rakhat, meaning the palm of the hand.
  • Deuce comes from à deux le jeu, meaning "to both is the game" (that is, the two players have equal scores).
  • Love may come from l'œuf, the egg, a reference to the egg-shaped zero symbol; however, since "un œuf" is more commonly used, the etymology remains in question.
  • The convention of numbering scores "15", "30" and "40" comes from quinze, trente and quarante, which to French ears makes a euphonious sequence, or from the quarters of a clock (15, 30, 45) with 45 simplified to 40.

Seeing the commercial potential of the game, Wingfield patented it in 1874, but never succeeded in enforcing his patent. Tennis spread rapidly among the leisured classes in Britain and the United States. It was first played in the U.S. at the home of Mary Ewing Outerbridge on Staten Island, New York in 1874.

In 1881 the desire to play tennis competitively led to the establishment of tennis clubs. The first championships at Wimbledon, in London were played in 1877. In 1881 the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) was formed to standardize the rules and organize competitions. The comprehensive I.L.T.F. rules promulgated in 1924 have remained remarkably stable in the ensuing eighty years, the one major change being the addition of the tie-breaker system designed by James Van Alen. The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the U.S. Open, was first held in 1881 at Newport, Rhode Island. The U.S. National Women's Singles Championships were first held in 1887. The Davis Cup, an annual competition between national teams, dates to 1900.

Tennis was for many years predominantly a sport of the English-speaking world, dominated by the United States, Britain and Australia. It was also popular in France, where the French Open dates to 1891. Thus Wimbledon, the U.S. 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 Grand Slam (a term borrowed from bridge). Winning the Grand Slam, by capturing these four titles in one calendar year, is the highest ambition of most tennis players.

In 1926 promoter C.C. ("Cash and Carry") 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. For 42 years professional and amateur tennis remained strictly separate. Once a player turned pro he or she could not compete in the major (amateur) tournaments. In 1968, commercial pressures 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 has spread all over the world and has lost its upper-class English-speaking image. Since the 1970s great champions have emerged from Germany (Boris Becker and Steffi Graf), Australia (Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter), the former Czechoslovakia (Ivan Lendl, Martina Navrátilová, and Hana Mandlíková), Sweden (Björn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander), Brazil (Gustavo Kuerten), Argentina (Gabriela Sabatini, Guillermo Vilas and Gastón Gaudio), Russia (Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marat Safin, Maria Sharapova, Anastasia Myskina, and Svetlana Kuznetsova), Belgium (Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne), France (Amélie Mauresmo, Yannick Noah and Mary Pierce), Spain (Juan Carlos Ferrero, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Carlos Moya, Conchita Martinez, and Rafael Nadal), Switzerland (Martina Hingis and Roger Federer) and from many other countries.

In America, the game has seen a seismic shift from a sport that the "country-club set" played to one that is an activity for anyone. Successes by players from across the spectrum, from the working-class Jimmy Connors to great African-American stars such as Arthur Ashe and the Williams sisters Venus and Serena, have firmly established tennis as a game for all in the United States. This is perhaps best embodied in the fact that in the 1970s, when popularity of the game was at a peak, the USTA decided to move the U.S. Open from the posh West Side Tennis Club to a public park (the USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows Park) that is accessible to anyone with the "greens fees" (currently $17). About the same time, the ruling body's name was also changed from United States Lawn Tennis Association to United States Tennis Association.

In 1954 James 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 is hosted on the grounds that are home to the Tennis Hall of Fame, as well as an induction ceremony honoring new Hall of Fame members.

Great players

Numerous great players played in the days before tennis's open era, many of whom are unknown by modern sports fans. For a comprehensive list of annual rankings of the great players, as well as additional information about them, from 1913 to the start of the open era, see World No. 1 Tennis Player Pre-ATP Rankings. Among them, chronologically, are:

Bill Tilden hitting an overhead with classic form, circa 1925
Bill Tilden hitting an overhead with classic form, circa 1925
  • "Big Bill" Tilden - winner of 21 amateur Grand Slam titles, 7 consecutive Davis Cups, 4 professional Grand Slam titles, the professional doubles title at age 52; was for 7 years the World No. 1 player
  • Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, René Lacoste - the three best of the "Four Musketeers", won 46 amateur Grand Slam titles amongst them, 6 consecutive Davis Cups, 1 professional Grand Slam title; between them, Lacoste and Cochet were for 5 consecutive years the World No. 1 player
  • Ellsworth Vines - winner of 6 amateur Grand Slam titles, 4 professional Grand Slam titles; was world #1 professional player, 1933-1937; had a tremendous flat, hard forehand and service; was for 3 years the World No. 1 player
  • Fred Perry - won 13 amateur Grand Slam titles including 3 consecutive Wimbledons; was the first to win 4 consecutive Grand Slam titles; won 2 professional Grand Slam titles; was for 5 years the World No. 1 player
  • Don Budge - winner of 14 amateur Grand Slam titles; was the first to win 4 Grand Slam titles in a single year, 4 professional Grand Slam titles; is widely viewed as having had the best backhand of all time before Rosewall; was for 5 years the World No. 1 player
  • Bobby Riggs - winner of 6 amateur Grand Slam titles, 4 professional Grand Slam titles and 7 times a finalist; was for 3 years the World No. 1 player, first as an amateur in 1941 and then as a professional in 1946 and 1947
  • Jack Kramer - won 10 amateur Grand Slam titles and 2 professional Grand Slam titles; was the first great player to play serve-volley on all serves; beat Gonzales badly in the 1949-1950 tour; was for 5 years the World No. 1 player
  • Pancho Segura - winner of 3 professional Grand Slam titles, including 2 victories over Gonzales, and 7 times a finalist; was for 1 year the World No. 1 player; Kramer called Segura's two-handed forehand "the single best shot ever produced in tennis."
  • Pancho Gonzales - winner of 4 amateur Grand Slam titles, 12 professional Grand Slam titles and 6 times a finalist; world #1 amateur in 1949; was still world #6 player in 1969 and #9 American in 1972 at 44; was for 8 consecutive years the World No. 1 player, an unequalled 9 times overall
  • Frank Sedgman - won 22 amateur Grand Slam titles, 3 professional Grand Slam titles and 4 times a finalist; winner of 3 consecutive Davis Cups
  • Ken Rosewall - won 18 Grand Slam titles, first 11 as an amateur, then 7 in the open era, plus another 18 professional Grand Slam titles and was 5 times a finalist; winner of 3 consecutive Davis Cups; was for 4 years the World No. 1 player
  • Lew Hoad - won 11 amateur Grand Slam titles and 7 times a finalist in the professional Grand Slam; Gonzales said of him: "I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine."

Other fine players of the pre-open era include Maurice McLoughlin, "Little Bill" Johnston, Vinnie Richards, Jack Crawford, Gottfried von Cramm, Ted Schroeder, Vic Seixas, and Tony Trabert.

Among women, the top pre-open era players include, among others, Dorothea Douglass Chambers, Suzanne Lenglen, Helen Wills Moody, Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, Kitty McKane Godfree, Helen Hull Jacobs, Dorothy Round Little, Alice Marble, Pauline Betz Addie, Margaret Osborne duPont, Louise Brough Clapp, Doris Hart, Shirley Fry Irvin, Maureen Connolly Brinker, Althea Gibson, Maria Bueno, Ann Haydon Jones, and Darlene Hard. Connolly Brinker was the first female player to win all four Grand Slam singles tournaments in a calendar year (1953). Hart was the first player to win all 12 possible singles, doubles, and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles

Among the greatest male players of the open era, with the number of career Grand Slam singles titles in parentheses, are: Pete Sampras (14), Roy Emerson (12), Rod Laver (11), Björn Borg (11), Roger Federer (9), Jimmy Connors (8), Ivan Lendl (8), Andre Agassi (8), John Newcombe (7), John McEnroe (7), Mats Wilander (7), Boris Becker (6), Stefan Edberg (6), Jim Courier (4), Guillermo Vilas (4), Arthur Ashe (3), Gustavo Kuerten (3), Stan Smith (2), Ilie Năstase (2), Lleyton Hewitt (2), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (2), Patrick Rafter (2), Marat Safin (2), and Rafael Nadal (2)

The greatest women players of the open era, again with the number of career Grand Slam singles titles in parentheses for each, are: Margaret Smith Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Chris Evert (18), Martina Navrátilová (18), Billie Jean King (12), Monica Seles (9), Serena Williams (7), Evonne Goolagong Cawley (7), Venus Williams (5), Martina Hingis (5), Justine Henin-Hardenne (5), Hana Mandlíková (4), Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (4), Virginia Wade (3), Lindsay Davenport (3), Jennifer Capriati (3), Nancy Richey Gunter (2), Tracy Austin (2), Mary Pierce (2), Amélie Mauresmo (2), and Maria Sharapova (2)

The greatest player of all time

Until the mid-1950s, Bill Tilden was generally considered the greatest player ever, his only rivals being Vines, Budge, and Kramer. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, many thought Gonzales had claimed that title. Since then, first Laver, then more recently Borg, McEnroe, and Sampras, were widely regarded by many of their contemporaries as the greatest ever. Roger Federer is now considered by many observers to have the most "complete" game in modern tennis, with the potential to challenge the achievements of these past greats. Even among experts, however, no consensus exists as to who has been the greatest of all. Kramer, for instance, still believes that Budge was the best ever on a consistent basis, while Vines was the best at the top of his game. Segura opts for Gonzales, and Gonzales himself considered Hoad, at the height of his game, to be the best.

It frequently appears to be the case when trying to decide who is the best of all time that contemporaries over-value the worth of great players of their own time. Each time that a great new player such as Tilden, Vines, Budge, Kramer, or Gonzales came on the scene and dominated it for several years, many observers at that time would then declare him to be the best of all time. A clear example of this occurred in early 1986 when Inside Tennis, a magazine edited in Northern California, devoted parts of four issues to a lengthy article called "Tournament of the Century", an imaginary tournament to determine the greatest of all time. They asked 37 tennis notables such as Kramer, Budge, Perry, and Riggs and observers such as Bud Collins and Allison Danzig to list the 10 greatest players in order.[3] This was probably as prestigious and knowledgeable a group of tennis experts as has ever been assembled. Nevertheless, there appears to be a clear predilection for choosing their near-contemporaries as the best player ever.

Twenty-five players in all were named by the 37 experts in their lists of the 10 best. The magazine then ranked them in descending order by total number of points assigned. The top eight players in overall points, with their number of first-place votes, were: Rod Laver (9), John McEnroe (3), Don Budge (4), Jack Kramer (5), Björn Borg (6), Pancho Gonzales (1), Bill Tilden (6), and Lew Hoad (1). McEnroe was still an active player and Laver, Borg, and Gonzales had only recently retired. In the imaginary tournament Laver beat McEnroe in the finals in 5 sets.

Among the women, Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Moody vie for the distinction of greatest of all time, along with several modern players: Margaret Smith Court, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, and Maureen Connolly Brinker.

The great doubles players

Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad in a 1952 Davis Cup doubles match
Ken Rosewall and Lew Hoad in a 1952 Davis Cup doubles match

Men's doubles is no longer as important to spectator tennis as it was in the first half of the 20th century, when its attraction, particularly in Davis Cup, was nearly equal to that of singles.

The Woodies (Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde) is the most successful male doubles team in history. They won 61 ATP tournaments (including 11 Grand Slam tournaments) and a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

George Lott, who himself won 5 U.S. and 2 Wimbledon doubles titles, wrote an article in the May 1973 issue of Tennis Magazine in which he ranked the great doubles teams and the great players. The teams, in descending order, were:

  • John Newcombe and Tony Roche
  • R. Norris Williams and Vinnie Richards
  • Bill Talbert and Gardnar Mulloy
  • Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor
  • Adrian Quist and John Bromwich
  • Roy Emerson and Rod Laver
  • Bill Tilden and Vinnie Richards
  • Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet
  • Wilmer Allison and John Van Ryn
  • Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall

Other great teams would include:

  • George Lott and Les Stoefen
  • Bob Lutz and Stan Smith
  • Frew McMillan and Bob Hewitt
  • John McEnroe and Peter Fleming

Lott also wrote: "It is frequently said that a doubles team is as good as its weakest link.... I believe a really great doubles player can solidify that weak link." His list of the greatest doubles players is:

  • John Bromwich, Jack Kramer, and Don Budge, tied for 1st
  • Frank Sedgman, Adrian Quist, and Roy Emerson tied for 4th
  • Vinnie Richards
  • Jacques Brugnon
  • Marty Riessen, Bill Talbert, and Gardnar Mulloy tied for 9th

A list of the great female doubles teams would include:

  • Margaret Smith Court with Judy Tegart Dalton, Virginia Wade, or Lesley Turner Bowrey
  • Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver
  • Billie Jean King and Rosemary Casals
  • Margaret Osborne duPont and Louise Brough Clapp
  • Doris Hart and Shirley Fry Irvin
  • Alice Marble and Sarah Palfrey Cooke
  • Suzanne Lenglen and Elizabeth Ryan
  • Venus Williams and Serena Williams
  • Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva
  • Maria Bueno and Darlene Hard
  • Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suárez
  • Nancye Wynne Bolton and Thelma Coyne Long

See also


Tennis in general

  • Tennis terminology
  • Tennis scoring
  • Tennis strategy

Professional circuit

  • Professional Tennis Championships (1927-1999)
  • World No. 1 Tennis Player Pre-ATP Rankings (1913-1972; also ATP rankings through 2002)
  • List of ATP number 1 ranked players (1973-2006)
  • List of WTA number 1 ranked players (1975-2006)
  • International Tennis Federation
  • Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)
  • Women's Tennis Association (WTA)
  • List of male tennis players
  • List of female tennis players
  • Tennis statistics


  • List of tennis tournaments
  • Grand Slam in tennis
    • Australian Open
    • French Open
    • Wimbledon
    • U.S. Open
  • Tennis Masters Series
  • Satellite tournaments
  • Davis Cup
  • Fed Cup (formerly known as Federation Cup)
  • Hopman Cup
  • World Team Cup
  • Tennis Channel Open


  • Paddle tennis
  • Platform tennis
  • The Prince of Tennis (テニスの王子様, Tenisu no Ōjisama)
  • List of tennis courts
  • Dakete (a quickfire version of tennis)
  • Male tennis players with most singles major championship wins
  • Female tennis players with most singles major championship wins
  • Performance timelines for all male tennis players who reached at least one Grand Slam final
  • Performance timelines for all female tennis players who reached at least one Grand Slam final
  • Tennis players with most titles (open era)
  • Tennis players with most singles titles (open era)
  • Most ATP Tour wins in a year


Cited references/footnotes
  1. ^ USTA Midwest,
  2. ^ The History of Professional Tennis, Joe McCauley, page 57
  3. ^ The 37 were: Vijay Amritraj, Arthur Ashe, Lennart Bergelin, Björn Borg's coach, Nick Bollettieri, Norm Brooks, Don Budge, Nick Carter, Bud Collins, Allison Danzig, Donald Dell, Cliff Drysdale, Allan Fox, John Gardiner, Dick Gould, Slew Hester, Bill Jacobsen, Alan King, Jack Kramer, Art Larsen, Rod Laver, Bob Lutz, Barry MacKay, Marty Mulligan. Yannick Noah, Manuel Orantes, Charlie Pasarell, Fred Perry, Whitney Reed, Bobby Riggs, Vic Seixas, Stan Smith, Bill Talbert, Eliot Teltscher, Ted Tinling, Tony Trabert, Dennis van der Meer, Erik van Dillen.


  • The Game, My 40 Years in Tennis (1979), Jack Kramer with Frank Deford (ISBN 0-399-12336-9)
  • The History of Professional Tennis (2003), Joe McCauley

External links


  • The International Tennis Federation
  • ATP - The official site for men's professional tennis
  • Sony Ericsson WTA Tour - The official site for women's professional tennis
  • The International Tennis Hall of Fame
  • Davis Cup site
  • Fed Cup site
  • Hopman Cup site
  • ATP Tennis Ranking and Results
  • ATP Tennis Statistics
  • The Tennis Channel
  • ESPN Tennis
  • BBC Tennis
  • The Worldwide Tennis Website


  • BBC's "History of Tennis"
  • Planet Tennis-"The History of Tennis"
  • History of the Pro Tennis Wars
    • Chapter I: Suzanne Lenglen and the First Pro Tour
    • Chapter II, Part 1: The eminence of Karel Kozeluh and Vincent Richards 1927-1928
    • Chapter II, Part 2: Deja vu 1929-1930
    • Chapter III: Tilden's Year of Triumph in 1931
    • Chapter IV: Tilden and Nusslein, 1932-1933
    • Chapter V: The Early Ascendancy of Vines, 1934
    • Chapter VI: Vines's Second Year: 1935
    • Chapter VII: Awaiting Perry, 1936
    • Chapter VIII: Perry and Vines, 1937
    • Chapter IX: Readying for Budge, 1938
    • Chapter X: Budge's Great Pro Year, 1939
    • Chapter XI: America, 1940-1941


  • Lawn Tennis Association - Governing Body of Tennis in Great Britain
  • Chinese Tennis news and resource
  • United States Tennis Association
  • Tennis Canada
  • Tennis Europe - The European Governing Body of Tennis
  • Tennis Australia
  • Fédération Française de Tennis
  • Brazilian Tennis
  • Tennis NEWS

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