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Centre Court.jpg
A tennis match at Wimbledon, the oldest and the most prestigious tennis tournament.
Highest governing body International Tennis Federation
First played Between 1859 and 1865 (Birmingham, England)
Contact No
Team members Single or doubles
Mixed gender Yes, separate tours & mixed doubles
Categorization Racket sport
Equipment Tennis ball, tennis racket
Venue Indoor or outdoor tennis court
Olympic Part of Summer Olympic programme from 1896 to 1924
Demonstration sport in the 1968 and 1984 Summer Olympics
Part of Summer Olympic programme since 1988
Paralympic Part of Summer Paralympic programme since 1992
Country or region Worldwide

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 and into the opponent's court. The object of the game is to play the ball in such a way that the opponent is not able to play a good return. 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". It had close connections both to various field ("lawn") games such as croquet and bowls as well as to the older raquet sport of real tennis. During most of the 19th-century in fact, the term "tennis" referred to real tennis, not lawn tennis: for example, in Disraeli's novel Sybil (1845), Lord Eugene De Vere announces that he will "go down to Hampton Court and play tennis.".

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 contest the line call of a point.

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.


Augurio Perera's house in Edgbaston, Birmingham, where he and Harry Gem first played the modern game of lawn tennis


Historians believe that the game's ancient origin lay in 12th century northern France, where a ball was struck with the palm of the hand. Louis X of France was a keen player of jeu de paume (“game of the palm”), which evolved into real tennis, and became notable as the first person to construct indoor tennis courts in the modern style. Louis was unhappy with playing tennis out of doors and accordingly had indoor, enclosed courts made in Paris "around the end of the 13th century". In due course this design spread across royal palaces all over Europe. Unfortunately, in June 1316 at Vincennes, Val-de-Marne and following a particularly exhausting game, Louis drank a large quantity of cooled wine and subsequently died of either pneumonia or pleurisy, although there was also suspicion of poisoning. Because of the contemporary accounts of his death, Louis X is history's first tennis player known by name. Another of the early enthusiasts of the game was King Charles V of France, who had a court set up at the Louvre Palace.

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 rackets sports emerged in England.

Origins of the modern game

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.

Lawn tennis in the U.S., 1887

In December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield designed and patented a similar game – which he called sphairistike (Greek: σφάίρίστική, 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. According to Honour Godfrey, museum curator at Wimbledon, Wingfield "popularized this game enormously. He produced a boxed set which included a net, poles, rackets, balls for playing the game -- and most importantly you had his rules. He was absolutely terrific at marketing and he sent his game all over the world. He had very good connections with the clergy, the law profession, and the aristocracy and he sent thousands of sets out in the first year or so, in 1874." 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 standardize the rules.

Lawn tennis in Canada, ca. 1900

In America in 1874 Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a young socialite, returned from Bermuda with a sphairistike set. She laid out a tennis court at the Staten Island Cricket Club at Camp Washington, Tompkinsville, New York. The first American National championship was played there in September 1880. An Englishman named O.E Woodhouse won the singles title, and a silver cup worth $100, by defeating Canadian I.F. Hellmuth. 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 New York. On 21 May 1881, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the United States Tennis Association) was formed to standardize the rules and organize competitions. The U.S. National Men's Singles Championship, now the US Open, was first held in 1881 at the Newport Casino, Newport, Rhode Island. The U.S. National Women's Singles Championships were first held in 1887 in Philadelphia.

Tennis was also popular in France, where the French Championships dates to 1891 although until 1925 it was open only to tennis players who were members of French clubs. 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 (ITF), 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.

International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino

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.

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. This resulted in a schism between the amateur and pro tennis ranks that would last until the advent of the Open Era.

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 honoring new Hall of Fame members are hosted on its grounds.


Part of the appeal of tennis stems from the simplicity of equipment required for play. Beginners need only a racket and balls.


The components of a tennis racket include a handle, known as the grip, connected to a neck which joins a roughly elliptical frame that holds a matrix of tightly pulled strings. For the first 100 years of the modern game, rackets were of wood and of standard size, and strings were of animal gut. Laminated wood construction yielded more strength in rackets used through most of the 20th century until first metal and then composites of carbon graphite, ceramics, and lighter metals such as titanium were introduced. These stronger materials enabled the production of oversized rackets that yielded yet more power. Meanwhile technology led to the use of synthetic strings that match the feel of gut yet with added durability.

Under modern rules of tennis, the rackets must adhere to the following guidelines;

  • The hitting area, composed of the strings, must be flat and generally uniform.
  • The frame of the hitting area may not be more than 29 inches in length and 12.5 inches in width.
  • The entire rackets must be of a fixed shape, size, weight, and weight distribution. There may not be any energy source built into the rackets.
  • The rackets must not provide any kind of communication, instruction or advice to the player during the match.

The rules regarding rackets have changed over time, as material and engineering advances have been made. For example, the maximum length of the frame had been 32 inches until 1997, when it was shortened to 29 inches.

A tennis racket and balls.

Many companies manufacture and distribute tennis rackets. Wilson, Head and Babolat are some of the more commonly used brands however, many more companies exist. The same companies sponsor players to use these rackets in the hopes that the company name will become more well known by the public.


Tennis balls are of hollow rubber with a felt coating. Traditionally white, the predominant colour was gradually changed to Optic Yellow in the latter part of the 20th century to allow for improved visibility. Tennis balls must conform to certain criteria for size, weight, deformation, and bounce criteria to be approved for regulation play. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) defines the official diameter as 65.41-68.58 mm (2.575-2.700 inches). Balls must weigh between 56.0 g and 59.4 g (1.975-2.095 ounces).

Manner of play

The dimensions of a tennis court
Two players before a serve


Tennis is played on a rectangular, flat surface, usually grass, clay, a hardcourt of concrete and/or asphalt and occasionally carpet (indoor). The court is 78 feet (23.77 m) long, and 27 feet (8.23 m) wide for singles matches and 36 ft (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 (0.914 m) high in the centre. The net posts are 3 feet (0.914 m) outside the doubles court on each side or, for a singles net, 3 feet (0.914 m) outside the singles court on each side.

The modern tennis court owes its design to Major Walter Clopton Wingfield who, in 1873, patented a court much the same as the current one for his stické tennis (sphairistike). This template was modified in 1875 to the court design that exists today, with markings similar to Wingfield's version, but with the hourglass shape of his court changed to a rectangle.


The lines that delineate the width of the court are called the baseline (farthest back) and the service line (middle of the court). 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 called the doubles sidelines. These are the boundaries used when doubles is being played. The lines to the inside of the doubles sidelines are the singles sidelines and are used as boundaries in singles play. The area between a doubles sideline and the nearest singles sideline is called the doubles alley, which is considered playable in doubles play. The line that runs across the center of a player's side of the court is called the service line because the serve must be delivered into the area between the service line and the net on the receiving side. 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 centre line creates are called the service boxes; depending on a player's position, he or she 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 or the area inside the lines upon its first bounce. All the lines are required to be between 1 and 2 inches (51 mm) in width. The baseline can be up to 4 inches (100 mm) wide.

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 is the receiver. The choice to be server or receiver in the first game and the choice of ends is decided by a toss before the warm-up starts. Service alternates game by game between the two players (or teams.) For each point, the server starts behind the baseline, between the centre mark and the sideline. The receiver may start anywhere on their 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 or net service, which is void, and the server retakes that serve. The player can serve any number of let services in a point and they are always treated as voids and not as faults. A fault is a serve that falls long or wide of the service box, or does not clear the net. There is also a "foot fault", which occurs when a player's foot touches the baseline or an extension of the centre mark before the ball is hit. If the second service is also a fault, the server double faults, and the receiver wins the point. However, if the serve is in, 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 before it has bounced twice or hit any fixtures except the net, provided that it still falls in the server's court. A player or team cannot hit the ball twice in a row. The ball must travel past the net into the other players' court. A ball that hits the net during a rally is still considered a legal return. The first player or team to fail to make a legal return loses the point. The server then moves to the other side of the service line at the start of a new point.



The outcome of a tennis match is determined through a best of three or five sets system. Recreational players may agree to play any number of sets, depending upon time availability or stamina. On the professional circuit, men play best-of-five-set matches at all four Grand Slam tournaments, Davis Cup, and the final of the Olympic Games and best-of-three-set matches at all other tournaments, while women play best-of-three-set matches at all tournaments. The first player to win two sets in a best-of-three, or three sets in a best-of-five, wins the match. A set consists of games, and games, in turn, consist of points.

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, e.g. "6–2, 4–6, 6–0, 7–5".


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, colloquially termed a 'bagel'. In tournament play, the chair umpire announces the winner of the set and the overall score.


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. 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" or "van in" when the serving player is ahead, and "ad out" or "van out" when the receiving player is ahead.

The scoreboard of a match between Andy Roddick and Cyril Saulnier.

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.

Game point

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.

Break point

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.

Rule variations

  • No ad
From 'No advantage'. Scoring method created by Jimmy Van Alen. The first player or doubles team to win four points wins the game, regardless of whether the player or team is ahead by two points. When the game score reaches three points each, the receiver chooses which side of the court (advantage court or deuce court) the service is to be delivered on the seventh and game-deciding point. Utilized by World Team Tennis professional competition and ITF Junior Doubles.
  • Pro set
Instead of playing multiple sets, players may play one "pro set". A pro set is first to 8 (or 10) games by a margin of two games, instead of first to 6 games. A 12-point tie-break is usually played when the score is 8–8 (or 10–10). These are often played with no-ad scoring.
  • Match tie-break
This is sometimes played instead of a third set. A match tie-break is played like a regular tie-break, but the winner must win ten points instead of seven. Match tie-breaks are used in the Hopman Cup and the 2012 Olympic Games for mixed doubles, on the ATP and WTA tours for doubles and as a player's choice in USTA league play.

Another, however informal, tennis format is called Canadian doubles. This involves three players, with one person playing a doubles team. The single player gets to utilize the alleys normally reserved only for a doubles team. Conversely, the doubles team does not use the alleys when executing a shot. The scoring is the same as a regular game. This format is not sanctioned by any official body.

"Australian doubles", another informal and unsanctioned form of tennis, is played with similar rules to the Canadian doubles style, only in this version, players rotate court position after each game. As such, each player plays doubles and singles over the course of a match, with the singles player always serving. Scoring styles vary, but one popular method is to assign a value of 2 points to each game, with the server taking both points if he or she holds serve and the doubles team each taking one if they break serve.

Wheelchair tennis can be played by able-bodied players as well as people who require a wheelchair for mobility. 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.


There are five types of court surface used in professional play. Each surface is different in the speed and height of the bounce of the ball. The same surface plays faster indoors than outdoors.

  • Clay
Examples are red clay, used at the French Open, and green clay (an example of which is Har-Tru and used mainly in the U.S.). Almost all red clay courts are made not of natural clay but of crushed brick that is packed to make the court. The crushed brick is then covered with a topping of other crushed particles. This type of surface does not absorb water easily and is the most common in Europe and Latin America. Clay courts normally have a slower paced ball and a fairly true bounce with more spin.
  • Hard
Examples of hardcourts are acrylic (e.g. Plexicushion used at the Australian Open, DecoTurf used at the US Open, GreenSet used at the ATP World Tour Finals), asphalt, and concrete. Hardcourts typically have a faster-paced ball with a very true bounce and it is the predominant surface type used on the professional tour.
  • Grass
Grass courts usually have a faster-paced ball, and a more erratic bounce. Grass is used at Wimbledon and until 1974 three of the four Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open) were played on grass. In 2001 Wimbledon changed the type of grass to make the courts more durable and thus better able to withstand the wear of the modern game. The new grass causes the ball to bounce higher and slows it down compared to the previous grass type.
  • Carpet
Any form of removable court covering, including carpeting and artificial turf. The bounce can be higher or lower than a hard court. Carpet surface has not been used on the ATP and WTA tour since 2009.
  • Wood
Popular from the 1880s through the first half of the 20th century, wooden surface provides a very low bounce and plays very fast. There are no longer any professional tournaments held on a wooden surface although some tournaments (e.g. Rotterdam Open and Open Sud de France), are played on a wood-based court with an acrylic layer on top.


An umpire informing two players of the rules

In most professional play and some amateur competition, there is an officiating head judge or 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. The umpire has the right to overrule a line judge or a net judge if the umpire is sure that a clear mistake has been made.

In some tournaments, line judges who would be calling the serve, were assisted by electronic sensors that beeped to indicate the serve was out. This system was called " Cyclops". Cyclops has since largely been replaced by the Hawk-Eye system. In professional tournaments using this system, players are allowed three unsuccessful appeals per set, plus one additional appeal in the tie-break to challenge close line calls by means of an electronic review. The US Open, Miami Masters, US Open Series, and World Team Tennis started using this challenge system in 2006 and the Australian Open and Wimbledon introduced the system in 2007. In clay-court matches, such as at the French Open, 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 (This would only happen in Davis Cup or Fed Cup matches, not at the World Group level, when a chair umpire from a non-neutral country is in the chair).

Ball boys and girls 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. The referee or referee's assistant, however, 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.

Junior tennis

In tennis, a junior is a player 18 and under 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 (WTA) 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 Gaël 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 Slam tournaments, 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.

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

Match play

Convention dictates that two players shake hands at the end of a match

A tennis match is intended to be continuous. Because stamina is a relevant factor, arbitrary delays are not permitted. In most cases, service is required to occur no more than 20 seconds after the end of the previous point. This is increased to 90 seconds when the players change ends (after every odd-numbered game), and a 2-minute 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, damaged racket, 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.

In the event of a rain delay, darkness or other external conditions halting play, the match is resumed at a later time, with the same score as at the time of the delay, and the players at the same end of the court when rain halted play, or at the same position (north or south) if play is resumed on a different court.

Balls wear out quickly in serious play and, therefore, in ATP and WTA tournaments, they are changed after every nine games with the first change occurring after only seven games, because the first set of balls is also used for the pre-match warm-up. As a courtesy to the receiver, the server will often signal to the receiver before the first serve of the game in which new balls are used as a reminder that they are using new balls. However, in ITF tournaments like Fed Cup, the balls are changed in a 9–11 style. 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.

A recent rule change is to allow coaching on court on a limited basis during a match. This has been introduced in women's tennis for WTA Tour events in 2009 and allows the player to request her coach once per set.

Tim Henman preparing to hit a serve. The left arm is extended, having just launched the ball into the air. The right arm will be raised up and forward at speed so that the racket connects with the ball
Roger Federer preparing to hit a forehand. He is "loading" his body weight on his back (right) foot and coiling his shoulders with the help of his left hand. From this position, he will "uncoil" his body beginning with his legs, progressing to his hips and then on to his arms. This is how the "modern" forehand, utilizing the open stance, is executed.
Rafael Nadal performing a backhand volley
Justine Henin performing a backhand volley


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.


A grip is a way of holding the racket in order to hit shots during a match. The grip affects the angle of the racket face when it hits the ball and influences the pace, spin, and placement of the shot. 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.


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 although underhand serving remains a rarity. 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 maximize 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 counterclockwise, 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".


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, 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 racket, 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.

Other shots

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, also generally in the vicinity of the net, and played with the racket close to the ground. 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.


Tournaments are often organized 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 junior tournaments. 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 players 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.

Grand Slam tournaments

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 Fédération Française de Tennis (French Open), the Lawn Tennis Association (Wimbledon) and the United States Tennis Association (US Open) are delegated the responsibility to organize 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 while the women play best-of-three. Grand Slam tournaments are among the small number of events that last two weeks, the others being the Indian Wells Masters and the Miami Masters. 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 and junior tennis competitions. These tournaments also contain their own idiosyncrasies. For example, players at Wimbledon are required to wear predominantly white. Andre Agassi chose to skip Wimbledon from 1988 through 1990 citing the event's traditionalism, particularly its "predominantly white" dress code. Wimbledon has its own particular methods for disseminating tickets, often leading tennis fans to follow complex procedures to obtain tickets.

Grand Slam Tournaments
Date Tournament Location Surface Prize Money First Held
January Australian Open Melbourne Hard ( Plexicushion) A$26,000,000 1905
May–June French Open Paris Clay €18,718,000 1925*
June–July Wimbledon London Grass £14,600,000 1877
August–September US Open New York City Hard ( DecoTurf) US$21,016,000 1881

* non-international tournament began in 1891

Men's tournament structure

Masters 1000

The ATP World Tour Masters 1000 is a group of nine tournaments that form the second-highest echelon in men's tennis. Each event is held annually, and a win at one of these events is worth 1000 ranking points. When the ATP, led by Hamilton Jordan, began running the men's tour in 1990, the directors designated the top nine tournaments, outside of the Grand Slam events, as "Super 9" events. In 2000 this became the Tennis Masters Series and in 2004 the ATP Masters Series. In November at the end of the tennis year, the world's top eight players compete in the ATP World Tour Finals, a tournament with a rotating locale. It is currently held in London, England.

In August 2007 the ATP announced major changes to the tour that were introduced in 2009. The Masters Series was renamed to the “Masters 1000”, the addition of the number 1000 referring to the number of ranking points earned by the winner of each tournament. Contrary to earlier plans, the number of tournaments was not reduced from nine to eight and the Monte Carlo Masters remains part of the series although, unlike the other events, it does not have a mandatory player commitment. The Hamburg Masters has been downgraded to a 500 point event. The Madrid Masters moved to May and onto clay courts, and a new tournament in Shanghai took over Madrid's former indoor October slot. As of 2011 six of the nine “1000” level tournaments are combined ATP and WTA events.

Masters 1000 Tournaments
Start Month Tournament Location Surface Environment First Held
March Indian Wells Masters Indian Wells Hard Outdoors 1987
March Miami Masters Miami1 Hard Outdoors 1985
April Monte Carlo Masters Monte-Carlo2 Clay Outdoors 1897
May Madrid Masters Madrid Clay Outdoors 2002
May Rome Masters Rome Clay Outdoors 1930
August Canada Masters Montreal, Toronto Hard Outdoors 1881
August Cincinnati Masters Cincinnati3 Hard Outdoors 1889
October Shanghai Masters Shanghai Hard Outdoors 2009
November Paris Masters Paris Hard Indoors 1968

1. Actual location in the adjacent suburb of Key Biscayne, Florida
2. Actual location in the adjacent French commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
3. Actual location in the suburb of Mason, Ohio.

250 and 500 Series

ATP World Tour 500 and 250 logos

The third and fourth tier of men's tennis tournaments are formed by the ATP World Tour 500 series, consisting of 11 tournaments, and the ATP World Tour 250 series with 40 tournaments. Like the ATP World Tour Masters 1000, these events offer various amounts of prize money and the numbers refer to the amount of ranking points earned by the winner of a tournament. The Dubai Tennis Championships offer the largest financial incentive to players, with total prize money of US$2,313,975 (2012). These series have various draws of 28, 32, 48 and 56 for singles and 16 and 24 for doubles. It is mandatory for leading players to enter at least four 500 events, including at least one after the US Open.

Challenger Tour and Futures tournaments

The Challenger Tour for men is the lowest level of tournament administered by the ATP. It is composed of about 150 events and, as a result, features a more diverse range of countries hosting events. The majority of players use the Challenger Series at the beginning of their career to work their way up the rankings. Andre Agassi, between winning Grand Slam tournaments, plummeted to World No. 141 and used Challenger Series events for match experience and to progress back up the rankings. The Challenger Series offers prize funds of between US$25,000 and US$150,000.

Below the Challenger Tour are the Futures tournaments, events on the ITF Men's Circuit. These tournaments also contribute towards a player's ATP rankings points. Futures Tournaments offer prize funds of between US$10,000 and US$15,000. Approximately 530 Futures Tournaments are played each year.

Women's tournament stucture

Premier events

Premier events for women form the most prestigious level of events on the Women's Tennis Association Tour after the Grand Slam tournaments. These events offer the largest rewards in terms of points and prize money. Within the Premier category are Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, and Premier tournaments. The Premier events were introduced in 2009 replacing the previous Tier I and II tournament categories. Currently four tournaments are Premier Mandatory, five tournaments are Premier 5, and twelve tournaments are Premier. The first tiering system in women's tennis was introduced in 1988. At the time of its creation, only two tournaments, the Lipton International Players Championships in Florida and the German Open in Berlin, comprised the Tier I category.

International events

International tournaments are the second main tier of the WTA tour and consist of 31 tournaments, with a prize money for every event at U.S.$220,000, except for the year-ending Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali, which has prize money of U.S.$600,000.


Professional tennis players enjoy the same relative perks as most top sports personalities: clothing, equipment and endorsements. Like players of other individual sports such as golf, they are not salaried, but must play and finish highly in tournaments to obtain money. As of 2012 the "Big Four" men's tennis players includes Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.

In recent years, some controversy has surrounded the involuntary or deliberate noise caused by players' grunting.

Grand Slam tournament winners

The following players have won at least five singles titles at Grand Slam tournaments:

  • Roger Federer (17)
  • Pete Sampras (14)
  • Roy Emerson (12)
  • Rod Laver (11)
  • Björn Borg (11)
  • Rafael Nadal (11)
  • Bill Tilden (10)
  • Fred Perry (8)
  • Ken Rosewall (8)
  • Jimmy Connors (8)
  • Ivan Lendl (8)
  • Andre Agassi (8)
  • William Renshaw (7)
  • Richard Sears (7)
  • William Larned (7)
  • Henri Cochet (7)
  • Rene Lacoste (7)
  • John Newcombe (7)
  • John McEnroe (7)
  • Mats Wilander (7)
  • Novak Djokovic (6)
  • Lawrence Doherty (6)
  • Anthony Wilding (6)
  • Donald Budge (6)
  • Jack Crawford (6)
  • Boris Becker (6)
  • Stefan Edberg (6)
  • Frank Sedgman (5)
  • Tony Trabert (5)
  • Margaret Court (24)
  • Steffi Graf (22)
  • Helen Wills Moody (19)
  • Chris Evert (18)
  • Martina Navratilova (18)
  • Serena Williams (15)
  • Billie Jean King (12)
  • Maureen Connolly Brinker (9)
  • Monica Seles (9)
  • Suzanne Lenglen (8)
  • Molla Bjurstedt Mallory (8)
  • Dorothea Lambert Chambers (7)
  • Maria Bueno (7)
  • Evonne Goolagong Cawley (7)
  • Venus Williams (7)
  • Justine Henin (7)
  • Doris Hart (6)
  • Blanche Bingley Hillyard (6)
  • Margaret Osborne duPont (6)
  • Nancye Wynne Bolton (6)
  • Louise Brough Clapp (6)
  • Lottie Dod (5)
  • Charlotte Cooper Sterry (5)
  • Daphne Akhurst Cozens (5)
  • Helen Jacobs (5)
  • Alice Marble (5)
  • Pauline Betz Addie (5)
  • Althea Gibson (5)
  • Martina Hingis (5)
Margaret Court
Roger Federer

Greatest male players

A frequent topic of discussion among tennis fans and commentators is who was the greatest male singles player of all time. By a large margin, an Associated Press poll in 1950 named Bill Tilden as the greatest player of the first half of the 20th century. From 1920 to 1930, Tilden won singles titles at Wimbledon three times and the U.S. Championships seven times. In 1938, however, Donald Budge became the first person to win all four major singles titles during the same calendar year, the Grand Slam, and won six consecutive major titles in 1937 and 1938. Tilden called Budge "the finest player 365 days a year that ever lived." And in his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer said that, based on consistent play, Budge was the greatest player ever. Some observers, however, also felt that Kramer deserved consideration for the title. Kramer was among the few who dominated amateur and professional tennis during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Tony Trabert has said that of the players he saw before the start of the open era, Kramer was the best male champion. By the latter half of the 1950s and 1960s, Budge and others had added Pancho Gonzales and Lew Hoad to the list of contenders. Budge reportedly believed that Gonzales was the greatest player ever. Gonzales said about Hoad, "When Lew's game was at its peak nobody could touch him.  ... I think his game was the best game ever. Better than mine. He was capable of making more shots than anybody. His two volleys were great. His overhead was enormous. He had the most natural tennis mind with the most natural tennis physique."

During the open era, first Rod Laver and then more recently Björn Borg and Pete Sampras were regarded by many of their contemporaries as among the greatest ever. Andre Agassi, the first of two male players in history to have achieved a Career Golden Slam in singles tennis (followed by Rafael Nadal), has been called the best service returner in the history of the game. He is the first man to win slams on all modern surfaces (previous holders of all slams played in an era of grass and clay only), and is regarded by a number of critics and fellow players to be among the greatest players of all time. Roger Federer is now considered by many observers to have the most "complete" game in modern tennis. He has won 17 grand slam titles, the most for any male player. Many experts of tennis, former tennis players and his own tennis peers believe Federer is the greatest player in the history of the game. Federer's biggest rival Rafael Nadal is regarded as the greatest competitor in tennis history by former players and is regarded to have the potential to be the greatest of all time.

Greatest female players

As with the men there are frequent discussions about who is the greatest female singles player of all time with Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova being the two players most often nominated.

In March 2012 the TennisChannel published a combined list of the 100 greatest men and women tennis players of all time. It ranked Steffi Graf as the greatest female player (in 3rd place overall), followed by Martina Navratilova (4th place) and Margaret Court (8th place). The rankings were determined by an international panel.

Sportwriter John Wertheim of Sports Illustrated stated in an article in July 2010 that Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player ever with the argument that "Head-to-head, on a neutral surface (i.e. hard courts), everyone at their best, I can't help feeling that she crushes the other legends.". In a reaction to this article Yahoo sports blog Busted Racket published a list of the top-10 women's tennis players of all time placing Martina Navratilova in first spot. This top-10 list was similar to the one published in June 2008 by the Bleacher Report who also ranked Martina Navratilova as the top female player of all time.

Steffi Graf is considered by some to be the greatest female player. Billie Jean King said in 1999, "Steffi is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time." Martina Navratilova has included Graf on her list of great players. In December 1999, Graf was named the greatest female tennis player of the 20th century by a panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press. Tennis writer Steve Flink, in his book The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century, named her as the best female player of the 20th century, directly followed by Martina Navratilova.

Tennis magazine selected Martina Navratilova as the greatest female tennis player for the years 1965 through 2005. Tennis historian and journalist Bud Collins has called Navratilova "arguably, the greatest player of all time." Billie Jean King said about Navratilova in 2006, "She's the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who's ever lived."

In popular culture

  • David Foster Wallace, an amateur tennis player himself at Urbana High School in Illinois, included tennis in many of his works of nonfiction and fiction including "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness," the autobiographical piece "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," and Infinite Jest, which is partially set at the fictional "Enfield Tennis Academy" in Massachusetts.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) features Richie Tenenbaum ( Luke Wilson), a tennis pro who suffers from depression and has a breakdown on court in front of thousands of fans.
  • Wimbledon (2004) is a film about a discouraged pro tennis player ( Paul Bettany) who meets a young woman on the women's tennis circuit ( Kirsten Dunst) who helps him find his drive to go and win Wimbledon.
  • In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Joan ( Laura Linney) has an affair with her kids' tennis coach, Ivan ( William Baldwin). In a symbolic scene, Joan's ex-husband, Bernard ( Jeff Daniels), loses a tennis match against Ivan in front of the kids.
  • Woody Allen's Match Point (2005) features a love affair between a former tennis pro ( Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who falls in love with his best friend's fiance ( Scarlett Johansson).
  • Confetti (2006) is a mockumentary which sees three couples competing to win the title of "Most Original Wedding of the Year". One competing couple ( Meredith MacNeill and Stephen Mangan) are a pair of hyper-competitive professional tennis players holding a tennis-themed wedding.
  • There are several tennis video games including Mario Tennis, the TopSpin series, Wii Sports, and Grand Slam Tennis.
  • In the Japanese anime and manga series known as Prince of Tennis, the main character is Ryoma Echizen, a tennis prodigy who recently moves to Japan and attends Seishun Academy. He joins the tennis club and has defeated many of his upperclassmen, gaining a spot in the team's regulars. The team's ultimate goal is to compete in the National Middle School Tennis Championship but they must play against other teams along the way to reach their goal.
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