Tennis is a racket sport that is played either individually against a single opponent (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles).
The dimensions of the tennis court are 78 by 27 feet (23.8 by 8.2 metres) for singles and 78 by 36 feet (23.8 by 11.0 metres) for doubles. The height of the net at the centre is 3 feet (0.91 metre), and it is supported at each side of the court by posts 3.5 feet (1.1 metre) high placed 3 feet outside the court.
Tennis was originally called lawn tennis, and grass courts are still in use, but the most common court materials today are clay (called “hard courts” in most places, although in the United States that term refers to any hard surface), cement, and a number of cushioned asphalt derivatives and synthetic surfaces. The latter may be hard surface or artificial grass, materials that have become popular for indoor courts along with the traditional wood.
A tennis ball consists of a pressurized rubber core covered with high-quality cloth, usually wool mixed with up to 35 percent nylon. Balls gradually go soft with use, and in tournament play they are changed at regular intervals agreed upon by officials and depending upon such factors as the court surface. Balls must have a uniform outer surface, and, if there are any seams, they must be stitchless. The ITF specifies that the ball must be yellow or white, between 2.5 and 2.8 inches (6.35 and 7.14 cm) in
diameter, and between 1.975 and 2.095 ounces (56 and 59.4 grams) in weight. The ball must have a bounce between 53 and 58 inches (135 and 147 cm) when dropped 100 inches (254 cm) upon a concrete base.
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.
It was not until the 16th century that rackets came into use and the game began to be called “tennis”, from the 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.
The word “racket” was derived from the Arabic word “rakhat”, which translated to the “palm of the hand”.
English King Henry VIII built a tennis court at Hampton Court Palace. While this exact court is no longer in existence, a similar court was built in its place in 1625. It is still in use today.
Between 1859 and 1865, in Birmingham, England, Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of the game of racquets and Basque pelota and played it on a croquet lawn in Edgbaston. In 1872, both men moved to Leamington Spa and in 1874, with two doctors from the Warneford Hospital, founded the world’s first tennis club, the Leamington Tennis Club.
Tennis became extremely popular throughout the 1870’s, as croquet clubs in England started to adopt the sport when it was realized that pre-existing grass croquet courts were perfectly suitable for tennis matches. The year also marked the first recorded tennis tournament, with the All England Croquet Club hosting the inaugural Wimbledon Championship.
In 1881, the very first US Open was played after America founded The United States National Lawn Tennis Association.
Although tennis was on the programme of the first Games of the modern era in Athens in 1896, where Britain’s John Pius Boland won the men’s singles to become the first gold medallist in his sport, and then won the doubles with Germany’s Friedrich Traun, women had to wait until the tournament at the 1900 Games in Paris, contested on clay in the bucolic setting of the Ile de Puteaux in the middle of the Seine.
In 1900 the international team competition known as the Davis Cup tournament began. Along with the Wightman Cup (begun 1923), an annual tournament between British and American women’s teams, the Davis Cup helped to focus international attention on tennis.
When the professional game showed itself to be profitable in the late 1920s, a number of amateur players joined the tour. One of the first to do so was William Tilden, perhaps the greatest player in the history of tennis. Before Tilden turned pro (1931), he won a total of seven United States singles championships and three Wimbledon championships.
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 was no longer permitted to compete in the major (amateur) tournaments.
In 1968, commercial pressures and rumours 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 middle-class English-speaking image (although it is acknowledged that this stereotype still exists).
The French Open also known as Roland-Garros is a major tennis tournament held over two weeks at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France, beginning in late May each year. Until 1975, the French Open was the only major tournament not played on grass.
The Australian Open is a tennis tournament held annually at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia. The tournament is the first of the four Grand Slam tennis events held each year, preceding the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Before 1988, it was played on grass courts, but since then three types of hardcourt surfaces have been used: green-coloured Rebound Ace up to 2007, blue Plexicushion from 2008 to 2019, and blue GreenSet since 2020.