An Introduction to Tennis 
Chapter  1 Outline

In the last several years tennis has been growing, as both a participant and a spectator sport.  Tennis has gained immense popularity  as a participant sport because people have discovered that it not only is fun to play, but also provides good exercised in a short period of time. Today it is easier to have a rewarding career in tennis both as a player and as a teacher. More and more youngsters are choosing tennis over baseball, football, and other sports, a situation which means that there will be more and better players turning professional in the future. The sport of tennis has finally lost its "country club" image and is being enjoyed by an ever-increasing number of avid fans from all walks of life.  More information 

A 16th century German engraving of a game of tennis Although no one is certain where the game of tennis originated, the most popular theory is that it evolved from a handball type of game played by the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the 14th century, the game had become popular in France, where it was known as " The Sport of Kings", because it was played only royalty. In those early days, the ball, which was stuffed with hair and wrapped in string, was hit with open hand. The game was played indoors, a string serving as a net. Later, a short-handled paddle replaced the hand, the paddle finally evolving into the long handled racket in use today. Leather casing replaced the string wrapping of the earlier ball, and eventually today's pressurized felt-covered ball evolved.  As the game spread to other countries play moved outdoors. 

The game of tennis as we know it today was created by Major Walter Wingfield, a British army officer from a wealthy and prominent family. Major Wingfield needed entertainment for his lawn parties, so he developed a game combining some of the features from the common sports of his day, namely badminton, cricket and court tennis. He made new equipment, changed the court shape, lowered the net and wrote new rules. His version quickly spread throughout England. Since it was played on lawns, it became known as "lawn tennis". Wimbledon is still played on grass today, one of the few "lawn tennis" tournaments left.                                                               top of page

The introduction of the game into USA is credited to Miss Mary Outerbridge, who saw tennis being played by British soldiers, while she was vacationing in Bermuda. She returned home with a racket and net. Later her brother was instrumental in forming the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA), the major governing body for tennis  activities in the United States. 

In recent years the Association's name was changed to USTA because tennis is now played on surfaces other than grass. Many important tournaments and competitions had their beginnings in the late 1800's and early 1900's, including the U.S. National Championships, Wimbledon, and the Davis Cup. In the mid 1960's, tennis tournaments began to combine both amateurs and professionals, an action which ushered tennis into the present era.

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Hammer® 26









The number of different kinds of tennis rackets on the market today is astounding and confusing to the player trying to make a selection. Rackets are constructed from many kinds of materials including wood, aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, Kevlar and ceramic. Some rackets, called composites, are a combination of fibers. There are different sized faces and shapes. Other than the older standard sized face, there are now mid-sized, over-sized and super over-sized faces. These bigger faces offer a larger hitting surface and sweetspot and have become very popular. Some rackets have wider frames and are known as wide-bodied; which generate more power than other rackets and are ideal for a player who has a slow racket swing speed. (see Figure 1 for comparisons of racket sizes and widths.) Each has its own playing features, and the player must decide which best fits his style of play.

Selection of proper grip size is very important in purchasing a racket. Most rackets fall into these grips sizes: 4 1/4, 4 3/8, 4 1/2, and 4 5/8. Most female players use a 4 3/8 or 4 1/2 grip, while most male players use a 4 1/2 grip, while most male players use a 4 1/2 or 4 5/8 grip size. The grip should fit the hand with the "Goldilocks" effect--not too big and not too small. 

Most rackets weigh about the same, somewhere  between 11 and 12 ounces. Extra weight can be added to rackets by adding lead tape to the head, making the racket more head-heavy, thus increasing the pace of groundstroke. Lead tape added to the handle will make the racket head-light, increasing the racket maneuverability preferred by net players. Many players prefer a racket which is evenly balanced. The player should purchase his racket in person so that these things can be considered, and it is helpful for him to have the guidance of a tennis professional in making the selection.                          top of page

Tennis racket strings come in nylon and gut. It is not practical for the beginner or the intermediate player to use gut, which is very expensive, and these players would probably not be able to tell the difference in the playing characteristics as compared with nylon. The most important consideration when having a racket strung is the poundage or tension of the strings.  The recommended tension for standard frames is 55-60 lbs., for mid-sized frames 60-70 lbs., and for oversized frames 70-80 lbs. Generally speaking, more control is gained with higher tensions and more power is gained with lower tensions. As in the case of racket selection , it is helpful to have the guidance of a professional.

Tennis balls are much easier to purchase than rackets or strings. Balls come in two categories: pressurized and non pressurized. The non-pressurized balls, packaged in boxes, are not responsive off the racket, but they have advantage of lasting longer. The pressurized balls, packaged in vacuum cans, are used in all tournament and competitions. They are more responsive off the racket but they wear out quickly. Beginners and intermediates frequently try to make these balls last too long. Rarely will pressurized balls last more than six sets. Because they are vacuum packed, these balls begin to lose pressure after the can is opened, whether they are used or not. Pressured tennis balls packaged in plastic bags should be avoided because usually they are "dead," even before they are opened. The felt on most tennis balls is optic yellow. It has been determined by experts that yellow is the most visible color, thereby making it easier for tennis player to "track: the ball.

There is a wide range of clothing and tennis shoes available. White was once traditional in tennis but color has come in to the game. Light colors are the best choice as dark colors absorb more heat. Clothes should not be binding . Shoes should have good padding and arch support.  Because tennis demands special lateral and vertical movements, the player should choose a shoe designed for tennis rather than one for general sports such as a jogging shoe.

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Types of Courts
Tennis Center photo There are four main types of surfaces which tennis is played today;
  • rubber-based asphalt. 
  • cement
  • synthetic clay products
  • grass courts

The most popular surface is rubber-based asphalt, commonly called by its trade name, such as Laykold. It is a medium fast surface; gives good, even bounce; and, because it requires very little maintenance, is favorite of city recreational facilities, schools and colleges. Some courts, primarily in California, are built from cement. These are very fast and tend to promote the serve and volley game rather than the ground stroking game. Asphalt and cement courts are often referred to as "hard" courts. 

"Soft" courts are made either from synthetic clay products or from red clay. In the United States, the most  common "soft" court is made from the synthetic clay and it generally found at country clubs and tennis clubs. These courts are fast-drying  and require specialized maintenance, including frequent wetting with a sprinkler system. 

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There are still some grass courts left in the United States, but they are becoming more and more rare, because maintenance is very difficult as much depends on the weather  and the soil in which the grass is planted. Grass tennis courts are similar to a golf green and promote a skidding bounce of the ball. For this reason,  most players will try serving and volleying more often on grass rather than staying on the baseline. 

A fifth type of surface has been developed: the indoor synthetic carpet, which is similar to indoor-outdoor carpet. It is a medium fast surface, but is very expensive and susceptible to tears and ripples. More information

Tennis Administrative Agencies
The strongest and most important organizations is the USTA. It has branches that function on the national, regional, state, and local levels. Counted in its membership are thousands of tennis players ranging in skill from #1 pro in the USA to the beginner at the local levels. Another powerful agency in tennis is the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) which controls many of the tournaments for male professionals. The female counterpart to the ATP is the Women's International Tennis Associations (WITA) which controls tournaments and activities for women pros.

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Tournament Structure
ITF Logo



There is no longer a single tennis "season" because tournaments under the direction of the USTA are plentiful throughout the year. There are tournaments for amateurs only, tournaments for pros only, and some which mix these two. There are junior events for those eighteen and under and senior events for those thirty-five and older, as well as some that are open to all age groups. 

In 1968 the majority of tournaments became open—that is, eligible to both amateur and professional players. After that, professional players quickly came to dominate tournament tennis. To prevent players from going pro too early, minimum age requirements for the professional tours were established. These regulations are sometimes altered, but current guidelines decree that men under the age of 14 are not permitted to play professionally, and from the ages of 14 to 16, they may only play a limited number of pro tournaments. Women under the age of 14 cannot play professionally, and may only participate in a limited number of pro tournaments until they reach the age of 18.

There are three major organizations that govern professional tennis. The ITF has jurisdiction over the four so-called grand slam tournaments: the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia; the French Open in Paris; the Lawn Tennis Championships, commonly called Wimbledon, in London; and the U.S. Open in New York City. The ITF also governs the Davis Cup (men) and the Fed Cup (women), annual international competitions held between national teams. The ATP (formerly the Association of Tennis Professionals), located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, has jurisdiction over the men’s professional events except for the grand slam tournaments. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour, located in Saint Petersburg, Florida, governs women’s professional tennis.

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Major Tournaments and Competitions
  1. U.S. Open- The United States National Championship held at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., played on hard courts.
  2. Wimbledon- The English National Championship held in Wimbledon, England; considered the World Championship, played on grass.
  3. French Open- The French National Championships held in Paris, played on red clay.
  4. Australian Open- The Australian National Championships held in Australia, played on hard courts.
  5. Davis Cup- Team competition between men of various nations.
  6. Federation Cup- Team competition between women or various nations.

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Great Players of the Game
Rod Laver It is generally recognized in tennis circles that the great players are those who have won the singles championships of one of more of the tournaments which constitute the Grand Slam: the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, the French Championships and Wimbledon. To be a "Grand Slam Winner," a player must win the single titles of all four tournaments in a single year. Only four players to date have achieved this distinction.
1938 American Don Budge first to achieve Grand Slam
1953 American Maureen Connolly second to achieve Grand Slam
1962 Australian Rod Laver third to achieve Grand Slam
1969 Rod Laver completes his second Grand Slam
1970 Australian Margaret Court Smith, fourth to achieve Grand Slam
1988 German Steffi Graf, fifth to achieve Grand Slam

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With the Grand Slam as the measure of greatness, one of the greatest players in tennis history would be Rod Laver, who won it not once but twice, as an amateur and again as a professional. Never before had this been achieved and it is likely that it will not be duplicated. 

Some players deserve mention because they have won pieces of the Grand Slam and have at some time ranked #1 in the world. Among this group are Billy Jean King, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi of the USA. Bjorn Borg of Sweden, Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova of Czechoslovakia, Boris Becker of West Germany and Monica Seles of Yugoslavia are international players of distinction.

One of the great pleasures of the technological age is watching these players perform on television encouraging students that watch to begin and strive for perfection. Some Internet sites enable to be kept up to date with the latest information concerning tennis as fast as a click.

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  • Payne, Gloria- Tennis for beginning and intermediate players: A practical guide to learning tennis.
  • "Rod Laver,"Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia 
  • "Tennis Courts," http://TennisLovers.Com  (1996-2003)
  • "Australian Open," "Davis Cup," "Fed Cup," "French Open," "United States Open," "Wimbledon (tennis)," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004  © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
© The University of Texas at Brownsville & Texas Southmost College
For comments or more information, contact Jack Loff.