Explaining Tennis and Its Rules to Beginners

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Tennis competition brings together the best players from all over the world, bringing with them a media spiral and millions of fans around the world.

And yet, for many of us, tennis is quite mysterious: why go from 15 to 30 points? What is the difference between clay court and quick? Why is the referee on such a high chair?

Come on guys and girlfriends, take my hand, I’ll take you to the wonderful world of tennis!

Where does tennis come from? A bit of history

This sport is a derivative of the palm game, the ancestor of racquet games, which is closer to modern squash.

Tennis was born in the second half of the 19th century in England. It is played on grass by English aristocrats who use balls that can bounce in the grass thanks to the invention of rubber.

The word tennis comes from the French “tenez”, addressed to the opponent when serving.

The sport became popular very quickly and attracted many spectators to the first tournaments organised at the end of the century, such as Wimbledon (future British Amateur International), the Irish Amateur Championships, the “Australasian International” (future Australian Open) as well as the US Championships (ancestor of the US Open).

Tennis Rules: A Sport for the Rich?

Tennis was originally a sport for aristocrats and retains certain codes – as evidenced by the many quarrels between amateurs and professionals and between aristocrats and more popular players until the beginning of the last century.

Moreover, unlike football and athletics, tennis has long been a sport for the elite and is still predominantly played in rich countries.

Players from African countries come mainly from white minorities in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Morocco.

The reason is that tennis is a sport that requires specific equipment, unlike football, which can be played just about anywhere.

In addition, the courts require a lot of maintenance, especially in the case of grass or clay courts.

Apart from these practical aspects, tennis has kept traces of its aristocratic culture, including silence!

Again, unlike football, no one shouts to cheer during a game of tennis and banners would be a little frowned upon.

The referee is required to maintain order and calm on the court and in the stands, otherwise the game will not resume, in order to ensure the players’ concentration.

Visually, tennis is also very codified: the ball pickers, judges and referee are motionless, again so as not to disturb the players.

Historically, tennis players were rather slender athletes, to ensure fast movements, with little emphasis on bodybuilding.

If this aspect has since changed, the players are still distinguished by their dress code, classic and practical at the same time, with aristocratic roots.

For many fans of the sport, tennis is also a gentleman’s game: the players are calm, fair play and do not show off by taking off their jerseys for every point won.

Even the most nervous and noisy players are noticed, such as Marat Safin or Björn Borg.

What Are The Rules Of Tennis?

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Once this little cultural introduction is over, let’s get down to the serious stuff that will save you from looking like a dick in front of your TV: the rules of tennis.

Obscure enough for most of us poor mortals, they are quite simple.

Tennis matches, whether singles (one-on-one) or doubles (two-on-two), are about each opponent throwing the ball across the court with the racket, after only one bounce, without taking it off the court.

The match is divided into “sets”, which in turn are made up of “games” in which points are scored.

Tennis Rules: Keeping Score

In most cases, two sets are required to win the game, except for men’s Grand Slam and Davis Cup matches, which are played in three winning sets.

To win a set, you have to be the first to score six sets with at least two sets difference (6-4 works but not 6-5: got it?).

During a game, points are counted in a way that is not always simple:

  • zero (“love” in English) for no points scored in the game.
  • fifteen: for a point scored
  • thirty: for two points scored
  • forty: for three points scored.

Once 40 is reached, the next point is the win of the game. The next game starts from scratch.

In the case where both opponents have scored three points, there is a tie: it is 40/40 or “40A” (the A after the name of the point is synonymous with a tie at one score: if both opponents have one point each, we say “15A”).

In the case of a 40 tie, the player who scores the next point gets an “advantage”; to win the game, the player with the advantage must score another point.

If the opponent scores, the score is reduced to 40A until one of the players has the advantage and wins the game.

If the score is still undecided and the opponents are 6-6, a tie-break is played, which allows the set to be won at 7-6.

On the other hand, tie-breaks are not played in the last set of Grand Slam matches (except the US Open) and the two-game tie-break rule is applied, even if the score is 14 games to 12.

In a tie-break, the players take turns to serve and the game goes to the player who manages to reach seven with at least two points between them, thus winning the tie-break and the set.

Tennis Rules: Doubles Matches

In doubles play, the match is won in two winning sets.

If both teams win one set each, they are separated in a “super tie break”, which serves as the deciding set: the rules are the same as for the tie break, but you must win ten points with at least two points between them.

As far as the serve is concerned, each player serves during a whole game, in turn (except for the tie break in which the serve alternates at each point but you already know this because you followed it well).

The server is entitled to two serves, in case he misses the first one, depending on his placement and that of his ball according to the different lines of the court.

Tennis Rules: The Boundaries of the Court

Speaking of lines, here! Here’s a tennis court, called a tennis court. White lines mark the outer boundaries of the court as well as the inner areas.

The long strips on the sides are the “corridors”, in which only doubles games are played.

Each player has his or her side of the court, separated by the net over which the ball must pass to reach the other side and be taken into account.

The ball must be sent before the baseline (the line on which the player in orange is standing), beyond which it is considered “out”.

In the event that the ball falls right on a line, its accuracy is decided by the referee as well as the linesmen and video refereeing.

The baseline and lanes are the only areas to be avoided during play, except for the first ball served.

The serve is made from or behind the baseline, diagonally: the ball must arrive on the other side of the net, of course, on the left if the serve is made from the right side (and vice versa), in the part closest to the net.

This is the square of the service, to be aimed well so that the service is not a foul.

Tennis Rules: Types of Courts

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Although they all have the same dimensions for regulatory purposes, they are not all equal. There are several types of surfaces, which have specific characteristics.

  • Hard surfaces (including concrete and quick) are the majority: these are fast surfaces that require little maintenance. On the other hand, they are physically demanding because they require solid support and the quality of rebound is variable.
  • Clay is a surface composed of a limestone screed covered with crushed brick or crushed stone: this is the surface of the courts at Roland-Garros. It requires a lot of maintenance against the weather. This surface is slower, which favours long exchanges and puts less strain on the players’ joints.
  • Grass, a historical surface present at Wimbledon but very rare, requires a lot of maintenance. It is an ultra-fast surface with a very low bounce: it favours a more aggressive game in the service for example as well as quickly concluded exchanges.
  • Indoor synthetic surfaces (carpet, parquet…) are very fast and similar to hard surfaces.

Tennis Rules: The Rankings

Players with a license from the FFT or other national tennis federation can be ranked by reaching a certain level of play through matches against opponents who are also ranked.

The ranking systems are different from one country to another and I let you refer to this well done page to understand what this buddy proudly explaining you to be 30/5 means.

(I also allow myself to congratulate you if you know someone who is part of this cult of rather well-made people, except for one arm bigger than the other).

For professional players, the world rankings are based on the results obtained during the last twelve months of competition: the WTA ranking for women and the ATP ranking for men.

With the exception of the Olympic Games, which included tennis in 1988, the sport is played in annual tournaments including the Grand Slam (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open) and the Masters, which are common to the WTA and ATP rankings.

These competitions pit players against each other in singles play as well as in doubles play, for their own person, unlike, for example, the David Cup, which is played by national teams.

Who Are the Legends of Tennis?

Due to the popularity of the sport, often broadcast on TV since the Open era, many players have become legends because of their records, techniques or personalities.

The record for the most titles won in Grand Slam tournaments is held by Roger Federer (17 titles) in the men’s and Margaret Smith Court (24 titles) in the women’s, also holding the record for successive titles in the same tournaments (6 titles), as do Steffi Graf and Martina Navrátilová.

Tournaments also have their darlings, specializing in certain surfaces rather than others.

For example, Rafael Nadal and his nine French Open titles, while Roger Federer prefers Wimbledon grass (7 titles) and Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams have more fun at the Australian Open (with five and six titles respectively).

On the French side, only four compatriots have ever won one of these prestigious tournaments: Yannick Noah (Roland Garros, 1983), Mary Pierce (Australian Open in 1995 and Wimbledon in 2000), Amélie Mauresmo (Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006) and more recently Marion Bartoli, crowned at Wimbledon in 2013.

The Grand Slam (winning all four tournaments in a row) has only been won by five players in a row: Donald Budge (1938), Rod Laver (1962 and 1969), Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Smith Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988), who had the luxury of winning the Olympic gold medal the same year.