Sport logo.

Articles: Tennis


The game of tennis is played by two players - or two pairs of players in the doubles format - on a court made of grass, clay, carpet or various other hard court surfaces. The aim is to hit a ball over a waist-high net into a marked rectangular area using a hand held racquet. If one player fails to return the ball before it has hit the ground twice, points are awarded to the opposing player or players. The scoring system consists of points, games and sets.

The origins of tennis can be traced back to 12th century France and a game called jeu de paume (game of palm). From this simple hand and ball game a more complex indoor game evolved which employed the use of a racket and was known as real tennis. The evolutionary journey of the game continued until the 1870s when the first rules of the modern version of lawn tennis were published in England by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield. The game was quickly adopted in the USA and Australia and soon spread to other countries around the world.

Tennis enjoyed major growth amongst participants and spectators during the 1960s and 1970s when an increase in the number of tournaments, improved TV coverage and better public facilities, made the game accessible to a wider audience. Tennis now stands as a truly global sport with players and spectators in every corner of the world. It has become firmly established as one of the top 5 most popular sports in the world and continues to grow in popularity.

A game of tennis

Tennis can be played by two people in the singles format, or by four people in the doubles version of the game. At international tournament level, the singles game is by far the most popular format and receives the highest amount of TV and media coverage.

Singles tennis is spilt into men’s and women’s categories at professional level but the doubles version of the game can be played in same sex and mixed sex formats.

Tennis was originally known as lawn tennis due to the fact that it was played outsides on grass; and at many British tennis clubs this name is still used. However, tennis is now played on multiple surfaces at tournament and amateur level including grass, clay, concrete, asphalt and acrylic. For some indoor tournaments, a carpeted surface is also used.

Tennis courts have a standard rectangular size of 23.77 m long x 8.23 m wide for singles matches but for doubles matches the court width is increased to 10.97 m. The shorter sides are known as baselines and the longer sides are known as sidelines. There are additional lines within the court to mark the service areas. All tennis courts are marked with white lines to accommodate both the singles and doubles formats of the game.

A net is placed across the centre of the court, parallel with the baselines, to separate the two playing zones. The net is held by a cable stretched over two supporting posts that are positioned 0.914m outside of the playing court on each side. The net must be 0.914m high in the centre and 1.067m high at the posts.

The players strike the ball with a racket which is basically a handle attached to a frame that holds a mesh of tightly pulled strings. Rackets were traditionally made using wooden frames strung with animal gut but since the 1980s a range of new materials has been employed to make rackets lighter and better performing.

The guidelines for tennis racket sizes have changed over the years but since 1997, the frame of the hitting area must be less than 73.660cm long and 31.75cm wide.

Tennis balls are constructed from rubber with a soft felt coating and have been made the same way for around 100 years. The only real change has been the colour which has moved away from the traditional white to a more visible bright yellow.

How a tennis match begins

Players begin a match on opposite sides of the court. The designated server hits the ball from outside of the baseline and alternately from either side of the centre line into the service zone on the opposite side of the court. The receiver can stand anywhere but they normally position themselves in the opposite corner of the court from the server. The receiver tries to return the serve into any part of the opposing playing zone. This continues until one player fails to return the ball and points are then awarded to the opponent.

The server is decided by a pre-game coin toss that is conducted by the umpire. The umpire also monitors the game and announces the scores from a raised chair that is place at the side of the court in line with the net. The umpire is aided by line judges who are strategically positioned to decide if the ball has gone out of play at any point in the game.

The main rules of the game

Tennis matches are scored in points, games and sets. When a player fails to return the ball legally, points are awarded to opponents using the following system: 15, 30, 40 and game. This is the same format that was first used in the game of real tennis. If both players reach 40 points the score becomes deuce and they must then win by two clear points to secure the game. The first point gives them advantage but if they fail to win the following point the scores go back to deuce. This continues until the player with advantage wins the next point.

To win a set a player must win at least six games and have a two game advantage. If the scores reach six games all, a tie-break game is played. In this game, points are counted as single units and a player must win at least seven points and have a two point advantage. The winner is awarded the game and wins the set by 7 games to 6.

Most tennis matches are played as the best of three sets but some of the major men’s tournaments have best of five set matches. In some major events, the fifth set does not have a tie-break and the play continues until one player has a two game advantage. The tie-break rules are not compulsory and are decided by the individual tournament directors.

The rules of tennis are decided by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) which is the governing body of world tennis.

Basic strategy and tactics playing tennis

From its humble origins as a gentle garden pastime, tennis has grown into an immensely physical combination of strategy and endurance.

The serve has become a major part of tennis and players are more likely to win a game in which they are serving. If a player serves well, their opponent may be unable to return the ball successfully but even if the ball is returned, they have a better chance of controlling the flow of play and winning the point.

Some players are better at playing from the back of the court while others like to move towards the net and put pressure on their opponents. The best players can recognise the weakness of their opponents and adopt a strategy to exploit that area of their game. This could mean anything from playing the ball towards their weaker side, slowing the game down or using lots of spin on certain shots.

Matches can be won or lost on strategy, physical exhaustion or mental strength. Modern tennis players will employ a large team of coaches and staff to help them prepare for the physical and mental aspects of the game.

Competing in tennis

Once a tennis player is old enough and successful enough to turn professional, they can register with the relevant governing body, compete in lower level tournaments and start accumulating ranking points. For both male and female players, this means playing on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) circuits.

These developmental circuits act as a springboard to higher levels of the sport. Players on the men’s circuit can progress to the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Challenger tour, which is one tier below the top level; while women who are successful on the ITF circuit can earn enough points to qualify for events on the main WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) tour.

The ITF are also responsible for the four major annual tournaments known as the Grand Slams. These tournaments are the most prestigious events on the tennis calendar and are recognised as the pinnacle of the sport.

Most of the other top level tournaments are organised by the ATP and the WTA; these tournaments take place throughout the year and are split into categories according to the amount of ranking points available.

The top ranked men’s players each year qualify for the end-of-season ATP World Tour finals and the top-ranked women compete in the WTA World Finals. These tournaments are considered as the fifth most prestigious on the tours behind the Grand Slams.

In most tournaments, players are seeded according to who is most likely to win. This may or may not corresponding with their ranking position as it depends on other factors such as who else is competing. The draw for each tournament is made in such a way that seeded players do not meet each other until the latter stages of the event. In certain tournaments, seeded players are allowed to skip the first round and this is known as a bye.

As well as competing in many events, tennis players also battle to finish at the top of the year-end world rankings table. Achieving this position, demonstrates a players quality throughout the whole season and for many it is the ultimate accolade in the sport.

Site reference: Tennis: Governing bodies

Site reference: Tennis: Competitions and organisers

Betting on tennis

With such widespread TV coverage, year-round tournaments and a huge amount of statistics available, tennis has grown into one of the most popular sports in the world for betting.

One of the most popular tennis bets is backing the outright winner (Winner market). Sometimes the most basic bets can be the most fruitful and tennis is one sport where knowledgeable fans can use statistics, potential opponents and historical data to accurately predict tournament winners.

Another popular bet involves predicting how far a player will progress in a tournament (Tournament Progress market). By studying the draw, it can be possible to predict at what stage a player is most likely to exit the tournament.

Serving plays such a big part in tennis, so it is no surprise that many people bet on who will serve the most aces in a match (Most Aces market).With this bet, statistical research can be employed to identify the tournament’s big servers.

Tennis matches are often about momentum swings and punters can take advantage of this by betting in-play when the odds are in their favour (In-play market).