views updated May 29 2018


Tennis is one of the most popular recreational and sport activities in modern society. With a long and fascinating international history, tennis has retained its popularity through the ages. Although the history of tennis in the United States is relatively short, the popularity of tennis has steadily increased since its introduction to the States in 1874. Historically, only the wealthy members of high society played tennis, usually in a country club–type setting. However, tennis has evolved into a game for all people of a variety of cultures, socioeconomic levels, and ages. Now, tennis courts are available to the public in almost every community.

Tennis is a popular leisure-time activity in modern society, with a host of benefits. Enjoyed as both a participatory and spectator's sport, tennis is a game of complex rules, intense physical play, and psychological strategy making. It may produce serious physical injuries as well as negative psychological reactions.

Tennis as a Popular Leisure Activity

There are many reasons for the popularity of tennis. Tennis can be played by a variety of people:, people with disabilities (wheelchair tennis is a common form of the game), the young and old, professionals and nonprofessionals. Tennis requires only two or four players, and it can be played as both an individual and a team sport.

Easy accessibility to courts also contributes to the popularity of tennis. Beginning in the 1930s, communities and schools began constructing tennis courts to make the game more accessible to the public. Tennis courts can be seen in nearly all public parks, recreation centers, and even some schools grounds. Many communities have tennis clubs and leagues that compete with other community clubs. Both public and private courts are widely available in most communities. In some communities, both outdoor and indoor courts are available. The use of public courts is often free of charge. Although at one time tennis was considered a game of high society and played mostly at country clubs, tennis today is attainable for all people. In addition, equipment costs for tennis are relatively low when compared to other sports, and equipment is often available for rent at tennis facilities.

According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the two primary driving forces for participation in tennis are exercise (health) and fun (social aspects). Tennis provides a strenuous physical workout, which can vary depending on the competitiveness and vigor of the players. Tennis requires integrated movement and eyehand coordination, and it provides a good cardiovascular workout. It can be categorized as a vigorous exercise such as jogging, running, bicycling, swimming, or racquetball. Engagement in vigorous physical activities, including tennis, reduces the risk for developing diverticular diseases and heart and coronary diseases, and reduces the mortality rate.

The social nature of tennis is of equal importance. People can meet new friends or play with their family members for the purpose of relaxation or fun. Tennis also can be an appropriate outlet for pent-up aggression and other emotions; it facilitates sublimation and permits unconscious conflict to be expressed. That is, tennis as a recreational sport can provide a safe opportunity to rid the individual of aggressive energy or other emotions, thereby producing relief from the tension or making a person feel better (a form of cathartic notion).

Tennis may be especially appealing to those who like competitive ball sports. It is a fast-paced and physically demanding activity, requiring integrated movement such as speed, balance, and coordination. Due to the physically compelling nature of tennis, people who are not properly trained may experience injury while playing.

Origin, Development, and Organization of Tennis in the United States

Although the origin of tennis is not clear, the sport has a rich and interesting cultural history. Historians have indicated that a form of tennis was played in the ancient Greek and Roman Empires, as well as in the Orient more than 2,000 years ago. However, a clear history of tennis dates back to the twelfth century in France. During that time tennis was called jeu de paume (meaning "game of the hand"). It was first a barehanded game of hitting a stuffed cloth bag over a rope. In the fourteenth century, paddles were added, and the game became popular in England as well as France. It is estimated that there were approximately 1,400 professional players in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century. In 1599, the first standardized written rules of tennis were developed.

In 1873, British army major Walter Clopton Wingfield devised an activity in search of a more vigorous game than croquet for the leisure classes. It was called sphairistike ("ball game" in Greek), which was later referred to as "lawn tennis." In 1874, Miss Mary Outbridge, a New Yorker, introduced sphairistike to the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club in the United States. Within a few years, tennis was played at nearly every major cricket club in the East. In 1881, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now USTA) was established.

The first tournament for the first official National Championship of the United States was held in 1881 in Newport, Rhode Island. This tournament is now called the U.S. Open and is one of the four "Grand Slam" events on the professional tours. The other three events are the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. Tennis was introduced to the Olympics for the first time in 1924. In 1988, it was adopted as an Olympic game and was open to professional players.

Until the 1960s, major competitions were organized and managed by volunteer wealthy men drawn from the membership of the private clubs that served as the sites for the sport's major competitions. The competitions were open exclusively to amateurs. As early as 1926, a small group of players left amateur tennis and began to earn incomes for their efforts as professionals. With the increased popularity, the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) was founded in 1927. In 1968, Wimbledon would be open to professional players; the other national associations followed the lead of the English, therefore initiating the era of open tennis. In 1972, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) was founded as a union for male professionals, and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) was founded in 1973 for female professionals. In recent years, tennis professionals have joined the ranks of the highest-paid professional athletes in the world, and tennis is one of the few sports played professionally in virtually every country.

Tennis as a Participant Sport

According to the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association (ITA), approximately 23.5 million Americans played tennis as of 2003 (at least one time in the past twelve months). Of the 23.5 million players, 5.1 million people were identified as new players. This boom in participation is attributed to the increasing interest among young people, women, African Americans, and Hispanics. However, the increase in new players is offset by losses of players who at one time regularly played, but no longer do so.

About 20 percent of tennis players identified themselves as frequent players, playing twenty-one or more times per year (USTA). Many players enjoy their games with their friends, families, and acquaintances, while players who are more interested in skills development and competition may be involved in formal games such as leagues, clubs, and tournaments (available through national or local tennis organizations, clubs, centers, and schools).

Not surprisingly, geographic locations and weather influence participation in tennis. The highest levels of tennis participation are in California, Florida, and Texas, while North and South Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, and Wyoming show the lowest participation in the sport.

Tennis as a Spectator Sport

Tennis is also a popular spectator sport. Most major tennis tournaments are televised and watched by millions of people and are often broadcasted as a prime-time television program. The popularity of tennis is also evident when one sees professional tennis players advertising products on television. Players' showmanship, unique styles, and innovative attire are new factors that attract numerous fans and crowd to the stadium and television. For example, 625,000 fans attended the U.S. Open in 2002, more than 100 million viewers watched the U.S. Open on televisions' CBS Sports and USA Network, and international broadcasts reached 165 countries (USTA). ESPN allocates approximately 300 hours per year for tennis coverage. Some cable companies now provide tennis channels for tennis fans.

Courts, Equipment, and Attire

Although the rules of the game of tennis have remained essentially the same over its history, courts, equipment, and styles of players have changed a great deal. Modern tennis courts are typically hard and made of cement, concrete, or asphalt. Tennis was originally played on a grass surface (the Wimbledon tournament is still played on grass). The French Open is played on a surface made of clay. Both the U.S. Open and the Australian Open are played on hard, synthetic surfaces. The introduction of surfaces other than grass played a role in contributing to the development of tennis as a popular leisure and recreational sport in modern society, finally dispelling the country-club image of lawn tennis.

The equipment required for tennis is a tennis racquet and tennis balls. Until the 1970s, racquets were almost all similar in size, shape, and composition. During the 1970s, synthetic materials such as graphite and fiberglass replaced the laminated wood frames. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) regulates the size of racquets, which range between 90 square inches and 120 square inches. The tennis ball measures two and one-half inches in diameter and weighs about two ounces. The ball is made of two rubber cups molded together and covered with soft felt. The official colors for tennis balls are yellow and white.

Traditionally, tennis players have long been ruled by an all-white dress code: white shirt with collars and sleeves, white pants, white hat or cap, and white shoes. Although some private tennis clubs still strictly apply the white rule, most people wear any comfortable sport outfit to play tennis. Many professional players create their own unique images and styles through fashionably innovative and technologically advanced tennis outfits.

Other Considerations

The primary concerns associated with tennis are physical injuries, including elbow injuries (lateral and medial epicondylitis), impingement syndrome (injuries to the rotator cuff), wrist and hand injuries, back strain, abdominal injury, tennis leg, Achilles tendon injury, and ankle injury. Tennis elbow is the most common affliction occurring in recreational tennis players, and it is caused by improper backhand strokes. Ankle injury and back strain are also quite common in tennis players. To avoid these potential physical injuries, players should warm up and stretch before playing tennis. Proper instruction on swing techniques will also help to prevent injury.

Choosing a good teacher or coach is another essential consideration of tennis. Tennis clubs often offer instruction, and private coaches can be hired for lessons. Community centers may offer courses in learning to play tennis. Many schools now have tennis teams and are staffed with tennis coaches to teach students how to play. Tennis camp is a popular way to spend a summer for a youth who excels in the game of tennis, as the multiple complex rules and nuances of tennis can be overwhelming to a new actor.

Tennis is clearly a valued recreational activity in American culture, and internationally as well. Its popularity can be attributed to its ease of play, access to courts and equipment, affordability, and the social and competitive natures of the game. Playing tennis will surely continue to be a popular recreational endeavor in the years to come.

See also: Leisure Class, Professionalization of Sport, Racquetball


Association of Tennis Professionals. Home page at

Bull, R. C., ed. Handbook of Sports Injuries. New York: McGraw Hill, 1999.

Levinson, D., and K. Christensen, eds. Encyclopedia of World Sport. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Mood, D. P., F. F. Musker, and J. E. Rink. Sports and Recreational Activities. 13th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003.

Tennis Online. Home page at

United States Professional Tennis Association. Home page at

USA Tennis. Home page at

"USTA and TIA Complete Most Comprehensive Research in Sport." Available from

Heewon Yang and Kelly Chandler


views updated Jun 08 2018


TENNIS, or more properly, lawn tennis, derives from the ancient game of court tennis. It was introduced in the United States shortly after Major Walter Clopton Wing-field demonstrated a game he called Sphairistike at a garden party in Nantclwyd, Wales, in December 1873. Formerly, some historians believed that Wingfield's game of Sphairistike, played on an hourglass-shaped court, was first brought to America by way of Bermuda. In 1875 Mary Ewing Outerbridge, an American, obtained a set of tennis equipment from British officers stationed there and her brother, A. Emilius Outerbridge, set up a court on the grounds of the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club in New York City, the home of the first national tournament in September 1880. However, Outerbridge was preceded by Dr. James Dwight (often called the father of American lawn tennis) and F. R. Sears Jr., who played the first tennis match in the United States at Nahant, Massachusetts, in August 1874. The present scoring system of 15, 30, 40, games, and sets became official at the first Wimbledon (England) Championship in 1877. In 1881, the newly formed U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) (the "National" was dropped in 1920, the "Lawn" in 1975) hosted the first official tennis championship in the United States at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. Richard D. Sears of Boston won the tournament, a feat he repeated annually through 1887.

From the Late Nineteenth to the Mid-Twentieth Century

Although tennis was initially confined mainly to the Northeast, by the 1880s and 1890s it was spreading throughout the United States, with tournaments and clubs organized in Cincinnati, Atlanta, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago, which was awarded the national doubles championships in 1893 as part of the World's Columbian Exposition there. The first Davis Cup matches, between the United States and Great Britain, were held at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1900. The cup donor, Dwight F. Davis, was a native of St. Louis but was at Harvard when he put up the cup, as were Malcolm Whitman and Holcombe Ward, also members of the first Davis Cup team. At that time, there were 44 tennis clubs in the United States; by 1908, there were 115. Like golf, tennis was most popular among America's economic and cultural elite. African Americans, Jews, and recent immigrants were usually excluded from the private clubs where tennis thrived.

From its introduction in the United States, tennis greatly appealed to both sexes, yet women were initially forbidden from playing in public tournaments. American clubs, like those in Europe, often assigned female players different venues and imposed confining styles of dress that limited their range of motion. Nevertheless, the United States has consistently produced some of the strongest women players in tennis history. The English-born Californian May Sutton was national champion in 1904, and in 1905 became the first American to win at Wimbledon. Hazel Hotchkiss' volleying style of attack allowed her to win forty-three national titles. She was also the donor of the Wightman Cup, sought annually since 1923 by British and American women's teams. Fifty years later, Billie Jean King, winner of four U.S. titles, would defeat the aging Bobby Riggs in what was called the Battle of the Sexes, a landmark event in the histories of both tennis and feminism.

In 1916 the USNLTA funded a series of programs and clinics to develop the skills of budding tennis players and promote the sport on a wider scale. As a result, the following decades saw numerous American players receive worldwide acclaim. Over the course of his career, William T. Tilden II won seven U.S. titles and three Wimbledon championships. Beginning in 1923, Helen Wills won the first of seven U.S. women's championships and ultimately triumphed at Wimbledon for a record eight times. Her match at Cannes in 1926 with Suzanne Leglen, six-time Wimbledon champion, was the most celebrated women's contest in the history of the game. A decade later Don Budge, the first player to complete the coveted "grand slam" by winning at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open, regained the Davis Cup for the United States in 1937 after

a period of French and English domination. Following World War II, the development of young tennis players continued under the auspices of the Tennis Educational Association. School physical education instructors were trained to teach tennis, while inner-city programs attempted to spread tennis to underprivileged youths. At the same time, the American Tennis Association became an outlet for aspiring African American players, including Althea Gibson, who in 1950 became the first African American to participate in the U.S. Open.

Radical Innovations

The late 1960s saw revolutionary changes in tennis, both in the United States and worldwide. Until that time, the sport's most prestigious competitions were open exclusively to amateurs. However, in 1968 the International Lawn Tennis Federation sanctioned open tournaments, permitting amateurs to compete against professionals. This shift had a profound impact on both professional and amateur tennis. New promoters and commercial sponsors came into the game and the schedule of tournaments was radically revised and enlarged. The prize money available for professional players increased dramatically, with tennis superstars such as Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by the mid-1970s. Top players no longer struggled to earn a living under the rules governing amateur status; as a result, the mean age of competitive players rose sharply, as many found they could earn more playing tennis than in other careers. Matches were also increasingly televised, especially after 1970, when the introduction of the "sudden death" tiebreaker made it possible to control the length of matches.

Improvements in racket technology further revolutionized the sport of tennis during the 1960s and 1970s. Steel, aluminum, and graphite rackets soon replaced the traditional wooden designs. Over the next two decades, wood and metal rackets gave way to stronger and lighter synthetic materials, while conventional head sizes disappeared in favor of intermediate and oversized racket heads, first introduced by Prince Manufacturing in 1976. Competitive techniques and styles of play were greatly affected by the new racket technology. The two-handed backhand, popularized during the 1970s, proved ideally suited to the new, larger racket heads and became a staple of the competitive game. The new racket technology was clearly responsible for a greater reliance on power in both men's and women's competitive tennis throughout the 1990s.

U.S. Dominance

During the last three decades of the twentieth century, the United States remained the single most important source of world-class players. Between 1974 and 1999, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi held the world's top men's ranking for a combined sixteen years. In the same period, Americans Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, and Lindsay Davenport held the top women's ranking in a total of ten years, with Martina Navratilova, a naturalized American, adding another seven. Since the late 1970s, when an estimated thirty-two to thirty-four million Americans played tennis, the popularity of the sport has been in decline. Although interest in tennis experienced a resurgence during the early 1990s, by the decade's end only 17.5 million Americans were actually playing the sport. Particularly underrepresented have been Americans of color, despite the success and influence of such players as Michael Chang and Venus and Serena Williams. Nevertheless, tennis remains a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, with top tournaments frequently hosting record crowds.


Collins, Bud, and Zander Hollander, eds. Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 1994.

Gillmeister, Heiner. Tennis: A Cultural History. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Parsons, John. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Tennis: The Definitive Illustrated Guide to World Tennis. London: Carlton Books, 1998.

Phillips, Caryl. The Right Set: A Tennis Anthology. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Sports Illustrated 2002 Sports Almanac. New York: Bishop Books, 2001.


David W.Galenson

John M.Kinder

See alsoSports .


views updated Jun 11 2018


Tennis is a sport played within a defined rectangular zone called the court. The court is divided into two equal portions by a net that runs across the width of the court. Tennis is played between two players (singles) or between two teams each consisting of two players (doubles). The object of the game is to hit the ball over the net into the opposition zone such that the ball is not successfully returned. The player or team that has hit the un-returnable shot scores a point. A game is decided by a set number of points, with a determined number of games constituting a set, and a defined number of winning sets determining the overall winner of the match.

In its present form, tennis originated in France in the sixteenth century. A precursor to the modern game, which used a racquet that was more similar to a squash racquet, was played even earlier. Records date back to the twelfth century.

Once a game restricted to the wealthy and privileged, the appeal of tennis grew in the twenty-first century. Now, municipally operated and maintained tennis courts are a recreational mainstay of most communities. Tennis is a medal sport of the Summer Olympics and the various professional tours are a popular spectator pastime. As with the sport of golf, professional tennis has four tournaments that are considered to be paramount in prestige to the others. Winning one of these tournaments is a career accomplishment. Winning all four of the tournaments in the same competitive season—a feat called the "Grand Slam"—has been accomplished by only a handful of players.

The tennis court can be made of different surfaces, including concrete or wood ("hard court"), grass, or pressed clay. The surface affects the way the game is played. The tennis ball will rebound with greater energy off a hard court, since less energy is absorbed on impact. Conversely, a ball that is hit so that it spins through the air after it leaves the racquet face will tend to move more following impact with clay or grass, whose increased friction grabs the ball more than a hard court. As well, the surface character of concrete will be much more uniform than either grass or clay, whose surfaces can be marred during play. The changing character of the latter surfaces can add to the appeal and challenge of the tennis match.

The set-up of a player for a shot will be different on concrete, where he or she cannot slide into the shot, versus grass or clay, where sliding to meet the ball is the desirable way to achieve the best shot. Players who are successful on the various surfaces must have an ability to alter their style of play to match the conditions.

Of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the United States Open and Australian Open are hard court competitions, the French Open utilizes a clay court, and Wimbleton (an English tournament) is a grass court event.

Whatever the composition of the playing surface, the dimensions of a tennis court are standard. In a singles match, the rectangular surface is 78 ft (almost 24 m) long and 27 ft (slightly over 8 m) wide. For a doubles match, the length of the court is the same, but the width increases to 36 ft (almost 11 m). The different widths are denoted by an outer set of lines running the length of the court and two other lines parallel to these that define the width of the singles area.

Another line runs parallel to the length of the court. This line begins at the center of the court and extends 21 ft (6.4 m) to either side of the net. This line helps create the zones where the first shot of each point (the service) must land.

Horizontal lines are also present. A central line divides the court in half. A mesh-like net with a reinforced top is placed over this line. A rope strung through the top of the net connects the net with support posts at either side of the court. A properly positioned net should be 3 ft 6 in (slightly over 1 m) off the ground at each post and 3 ft (slightly less than 1 m) high at center court. Two other horizontal lines positioned 21 ft (6.4 m) on either side of the net join the central line to complete the service zones (which, if viewed from overhead, look like four smaller rectangles positioned within the main rectangle of the court). Finally, two other horizontal lines (the baselines) define either end of the court.

In singles play, one competitor is on either side of the net. In doubles play, the two teammates are on the same side of the net. Typically, one of the doubles teammates will be closer to the baseline, with the other teammate positioned closer to the net. Play begins in the same way in singles or doubles competition, with the server, who is positioned behind the baseline, hitting the ball to the receiver. Recreational level players may elect to hit the ball with an underhand motion or after tossing the ball slightly up into the air to improve their changes of making contact with the ball. Elite players will toss the ball about 10 ft (3 m) above them, giving time to position their body to make an aggressive movement toward the descending ball in such a way that a great deal of energy from the body movement and swinging of the racquet is transferred to the ball. If properly done, the ball can rocket off the racquet face at over 100 mph (160 kmp).

If the ball does not land in the same rectangular service area on the other side of the net, or does not make it to the net, or hits the net on its way to the other side of the court, the server must hit another shot. If the second shot is unsuccessful, the competitor is awarded the point for that part of the game.

The receivers' task is to make contact with the ball and send it back over the net before or after it has bounced. Only one bounce is allowed. If the ball bounces twice or more before being returned, the server is awarded the point for the play. Sometimes the ball moves so fast that contact is not made. This is called an "ace" and is worth a point to the server. Sometimes the receiver is successful in sending the ball back to the server's side of the court. Play then continues, with the ball being hit back and forth across the net (a rally) until one player is unable to return the ball. Then, the other person or team is awarded the point for that portion of the game.

A complete tennis game is called a match. The match is divided into sets, and each set consists of games. Finally, each game is decided by the number of points accumulated. Each player begin each game with zero points (also called "love"). As serves are won, a player or team accumulates points in the order 15, 30, 40, 41, 42 (game point). One player or team serves for an entire game. The next game, the service shifts to the other player or team.

As one or the other competitor wins games, a point is reached where one player or team has won the predefined number of games necessary to win the set. A new set then begins, with the tally of games won shifting back to zero. A complete match is won when a player or team wins a defined number of sets.

Depending on the experience and athleticism of the competitors, a match can be relatively sedate and relaxing, or a fast-paced and serious contest. Recreational contests typically involve just the players, who govern play and interpret results by themselves. More competitive contests may involve an umpire (who is the ultimate authority should disputes arise and who sits in an elevated seat, permitting a view of the entire court), other umpires who determine if serves and other shots land in bounds or out of bounds, and helpers who retrieve the balls and keep play moving at a brisk pace.

Tennis is played using a specially designed racquet and a ball constructed of rubber that is hollow and is covered by a felt layer. The felt imparts some resistance to the ball, allowing it to be hit so as to give it spin, and so it will not bounce wildly high or wide on impact. Elite players can hit the ball such that it rotates clockwise or counterclockwise while moving through the air, or has a vertically oriented, downward spin (topspin). The different spins will cause the ball to move differently on contact with the court.

In top-flight tennis, the felt is worn out quickly, and a new ball will be put into play after a designated number of games (typically nine) or when both players or teams agree that the ball in play is worn out.

In singles tennis, each player must roam over the entire half of the court to try to return shots that have landed close to the net, far back on the court, or near each sideline. In doubles competition, the teammates will coordinate their movements so that they most efficiently cover the territory of the court. This is important since, in doubles, the play can be very fast, with the ball often cannoning back and forth over the net without touching the ground.

A tennis ball can be hit with a forehand or a backhand motion, and can be returned very close to the net at higher speeds or high up in the air at a slower speed (a lob). The choice of shot depends on the player's ability and the position of the competitor. For example, if a competitor is very close to the net, a prudent shot can be to hit a lob that lands far back in the court, since it may be difficult for the competitor to reach the shot and return it.

Part of the appeal of tennis is that it can be played for a lifetime and by people of all physical abilities. Millions of people around the world are active participants and millions more enjoy the thrill of watching the game.

see also Badminton; Racquetball; Squash; Tennis racquet construction.


views updated Jun 11 2018


A ball, a racket, and a net. The simplicity of tennis is one reason that its origins are difficult to pinpoint. At any one point in time, variations of the game were probably played in almost every country in the world. Some historians believe the game was first invented in the Middle Ages—it is mentioned in twelfth-century manuscripts—but exactly when and where is probably lost to antiquity. The word tennis is derived from the French word "tenez," meaning "to hold." Certainly the French greatly enjoyed the game, and by the sixteenth century up to 2,000 Jeu-de-Paume (the name for the ball) courts had been built in France, and it is thought that every western European country had courts at the time.

Perhaps until the nineteenth century, tennis courts were walled, and the exact rules of the game may have differed from country to country, perhaps even court to court. In 1858, however, a lawn court was constructed in England, and by 1873 an Englishman, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, modernized and standardized the game. Calling his game Sphairistike (Greek for ball and stick), the net was set at four feet eight inches, while the court was shaped like an hourglass, narrow at the net and wider at the baseline. The game was played to 15 points. This standardization probably was the reason for an increased interest in the game. At about the same time, the game spread to the United States, and soon after, worldwide.

The early establishment of national championships in major tennis-playing countries demonstrates the fast-growing popularity of tennis during this period. In 1877, Wimbledon, the British championship, was first played. In 1881, the United States National Championship (now the U.S. Open) was held. Ten years later the French National championship (now the French Open) began, and by 1905 the national championship of Australia (now the Australian Open) was played. In addition, in 1900 the Davis Cup, a team competition between the United States and England, was first held, and the tournament has since become an annual international championship.

Over the years, various surfaces have been used to play the game, ranging from grass to clay to concrete to composition. Each is generally better suited to different aspects of the game, and rather than undermining the standardization of the game, it has added a diversity to both amateur and tournament play. For example, the French Open is played on clay while Wimbledon is on grass.

Unlike most sports, tennis had a remarkably difficult time meshing amateur and professional status into its organizational format. Although a professional tournament had been held in the United States as early as 1927, not until the 1960s did the "Open Era" of professional tennis begin.

Tennis in the twentieth century is highlighted by a litany of great players from different eras. In the 1920s, American Bill Tilden enjoyed great popularity. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, and Lew Hoad, were, at various times, either ranked number one or regarded as such. In the 1950s and early 1960s, a host of Australian players reached the top echelon, most notably Rod Laver. Others included Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Frank Sedgman, and Neal Fraser. By the late 1960s and 1970s, players like Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, and John Newcombe came to the forefront. By the 1980s, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, and John McEnroe were marquee names while Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, and Andre Agassi have been dominate players in the 1990s.

Women's tennis has also had an illustrious list of notable players such as Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920s, Americans Helen Wills and Helen Hull Jacobs in the 1920s and 1930s, Americans Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly and Althea Gibson, the first to break the color line in tennis, in the 1950s, Australian Margaret Court, Brazilian Maria Bueno, and American Billie Jean King in the 1960s, Australian Evonne Goolagong, American Chris Evert, and Czech Martina Navratilova in the 1970s and 1980s, and German Steffi Graf, American Monica Seles, and Swiss Martina Hingis in the 1990s.

In part, professional tennis has been somewhat of a battle of the sexes. The battle was perhaps best exemplified by the much ballyhooed "match of the century" held in the Houston Astrodome in 1973. The match pitted women's star Billie Jean King against former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs. Months earlier Riggs, a self-appointed "king of the chauvinist pigs," challenged all women athletes in general, but specifically the top ranked woman's player in the world, to a tennis match. The number two ranked women's tennis player Margaret Court accepted, and Riggs promptly beat her 6-2, 6-1 in what was called the Mother's Day Massacre. This led to the King-Riggs Astrodome match in front of 30,000 fans and a worldwide television audience of 50 million. Although Riggs claimed to be a chauvinist, he probably did more for women's tennis than any male player in history. In front of the large audience, King beat Riggs in three straight sets and took home the $100,000 winner-take-all prize. The resultant publicity drew attention to the growing complaint from women professionals that their prize money should be equal to men's, particularly since many women players felt their blend of finesse and power made women's matches more enjoyable for spectators. The Women's Tennis Association, coincidentally founded the year of the King-Riggs match, has consistently worked toward greater equity in prize money and purses for women have become substantially larger, but generally remain smaller than those awarded to men.

—Lloyd Chiasson Jr.

Further Reading:

Cummings, Parke. American Tennis: The Story of a Game and Its People. Boston, Little Brown, 1957.

Grimsley, Will. Tennis: Its History, People and Events. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1971.

Lorimer, Larry. The Tennis Book: A Complete A-to-Z Encyclopedia of Tennis. New York, Random House, 1980.

Schickel, Richard. The World of Tennis. New York, Random House, 1975.

Schwabacher, Martin. Superstars of Women's Tennis. Broomall, Pennsylvania, Chelsea House, 1997.


views updated May 08 2018


A Bermuda socialite, Mary Outerbridge, brought tennis to America in 1874, and national tournaments restricted to whites began in 1881. But enterprising black players organized local tournaments as early as 1895 at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In the early twentieth century, varsity teams were formed at Howard University, Lincoln University, Tuskegee Institute, Atlanta University, and Hampton Institute. On the eve of World War I, tennis was firmly rooted in black communities in the Northeast, South, and northern California.

In 1916 a group of black tennis enthusiasts formed the American Tennis Association (ATA). The ATA is the oldest continuously operated independent black sports organization in the United States. The first ATA National Championships were held in 1917 at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. The first ATA women's champion, Lucy D. Slowe, became the first black female national titleholder in any sport.

The ATA has formed the backbone of black tennis participation in the United States, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It sponsored traveling tours by good players and sought assistance for top black college players. The ATA began serious junior development programs in the late 1930s. Hundreds of tennis courts were built by the federal government during the Great Depression to help provide work, and the ATA wanted to take advantage of these public facilities, as well as ensure a steady flow of players for its events.

Tuskegee Institute sisters Margaret "Pete" Peters and Matilda Roumania "Repeat" Peters (Pete and Repeat) won a record fourteen ATA doubles championships on two streaks from 1938 to 1941 and 1944 to 1953. Roumania Peters also won ATA singles titles in 1944 and 1946, making her and her sister the first set of African-American siblings to make tennis history. In the 1946 tournament, Roumania defeated another woman who would make international tennis history, Althea Gibson.

In September 1950 Althea Gibson became the first black player to compete at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, the site of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Championships. In addition to winning the ATA junior and senior singles and doubles titles, Gibson also captured the French singles and doubles (1956), the Wimbledon singles crown (twice, in 1957 and 1958), and the United States singles title (twice, in 1957 and 1958), as well as the Australian mixed doubles event (1957). After Gibson's initial appearance at Forest Hills in 1950, the USTA and the ATA announced that they had arrived at an arrangement whereby for twenty years to come the ATA would nominate black players who would be automatically entered in the main draw.

Althea Gibson's coach, Robert W. Johnson, led the ATA junior development effort, while his son, Robert Johnson Jr., provided much of the on-court expertise. One of the products of the program was Arthur Ashe Jr., who from 1955 to 1962 won eleven ATA titles. Ashe went on to capture singles crowns in the U.S. Open in 1968, in the Australian Open in 1970, and at Wimbledon in 1975. He was co-ranked number one in the world in 1968 and again in 1975, and was a member of the American Davis Cup team in 1963, 1965 to 1970, 1975, 1977, and 1978. He served as team captain from 1981 to 1985.

The era of "open" tennis (with amateurs and professionals playing together) began in 1968, and black players, schools, and coaches responded with growing numbers and excellence. The 1990s witnessed the development of African-American tennis stars such as Zina Garrison, who in 1990 at Wimbledon became the first African-American woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson thirty-two years earlier. In Garrison's fifteen-year professional career she won fourteen singles titles and twenty doubles crowns. Like Garrison, MaliVai Washington, who won four career singles titles, has transformed tennis success into philanthropic ventures supporting young African Americans. Chanda Rubin, who first gained international recognition in the 1990s, has earned at least seven singles titles. In addition, the number of people of African descent on the tour increased dramatically during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Perhaps the most famous African-American women in tennis history, Venus and Serena Williams have transformed women's tennis in the twenty-first century, turning it into a game requiring far more fitness, agility, speed, and power. They have repeatedly made history, each of them earning dozens of singles and doubles titles, as well as numerous grand slam championships, and often being "first" in everything from service speed to sisters facing each other as finalists in multiple major tennis events.

The success of the Compton, California-reared Williams sisters inspired growing numbers of African Americans to play tennis and encouraged the USTA to invest in developing tennis programs in urban centers. Although great strides have been made in tennis for African Americans, history is still being made. In 2004 eighteen-year-old Scoville Jenkins became the first African American to win the USTA boys title in the event's eighty-nine year history.

See also American Tennis Association; Ashe, Arthur; Gibson, Althea; Williams, Venus and Serena


Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. Off the Court. New York: New American Library, 1981.

Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete, 3 vols. New York: Warner, 1988.

Djata, Sundiata A. K. Blacks in Tennis: A Global History of "White Sport" and Its Colorful Players. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 2002.

Smith, Doug. Whirlwind, the Godfather of Black Tennis: The Life and Times of Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. Washington, D.C.: Blue Eagle, 2004.

arthur r. ashe jr. (1996)

imani perry (2005)


views updated Jun 08 2018

tennis Racket and ball game played either by two (singles) or four (doubles) players. It is sometimes known as lawn tennis, despite being played on concrete, clay, shale, and wood as well as grass. The game is played on a court, 23.8m (78ft) by 8.2m (27ft) for singles. For doubles play, the court widens to 11m (36ft). A net, 0.9m (3ft) high at the centre, bisects the court. On each side of the net there are two service areas marked by rectangular lines. The ball is put into play by the server, who is allowed two attempts to hit it into the opposite service court. One player serves for a complete game. If the opponent returns the ball in court, play continues until one player fails to hit the ball, hits it into the net, or hits it outside the confines of the court; his opponent then wins the point. A minimum of four points are required to win a game, which must be won by two clear points. A minimum of six games must be won to win a set, which must be won by either two clear games or by winning the tie-break game, which is played at six games all. Modern tennis evolved from real tennis in England in the 1860s.


views updated May 17 2018

ten·nis / ˈtenis/ • n. a game in which two or four players strike a ball with rackets over a net stretched across a court. The usual form (originally called lawn tennis) is played with a felt-covered hollow rubber ball on a grass, clay, or artificial surface.See also court tennis.


views updated Jun 11 2018

tennis ball game played with rackets in a walled court XIV; short for lawn t., XIX. ME. tenetz, tene(y)s, tenyse, usu. taken to be — (O)F. tenez, imper. of tenir hold, take, presumably the server's call to his opponent.


views updated May 18 2018

tennis. See lawn tennis.

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