Last week, we looked at the history of tennis. This week, I want to look at the terms you will need to know to play the sport. I know it may seem overwhelming at first, but take it in a little bit at a time and it will be easier. It seems like a lot, but when you break it down, tennis is pretty simple, easy and fun to play.
Racket – Consists of a handle with a grip, a head with strings and a frame, used to hit the tennis ball over the net into the court.
Ball – Made of rubber covered in yellow felt.
Court – The layout of the court can look confusing, but once you know what all the lines are for, it is quite simple. We’ll start with the baselines, the lines at either end of the court. This is where players will stand to serve the ball to start play. If a player hits a shot past the baseline, the ball is out and a point is awarded to the other player. Next we have the doubles and singles lines. These lines determine the boundaries on the side of the tennis court. If you are playing doubles, the ball has to stay within the doubles line. If you are playing singles, the ball has to stay within the singles line. The service line and the center service line form a “T” on either side of the court. When serving, the ball must land in one of the boxes formed by the service line, the center service line, the singles line and the net. Lastly, there is the center mark. When serving, a player must stand on one side of this line and serve the ball into the opposite side of the court.
Forehand – For a right-handed player, the forehand is a stroke that begins on the right side of the body, continues across the body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the left side of the body.
Backhand – For right-handed players, the backhand is a stroke that begins on the left side of their body, continues across their body as contact is made with the ball, and ends on the right side of their body. It can be executed with either one hand or with both and is generally considered more difficult to master than the forehand.
Serve – A serve is the shot that starts each point in tennis. The serve is initiated by tossing the ball into the air and hitting it into the opposite service box without touching the net. The serve may be hit underhand or overhand, though it is usually hit overhand. Each player has two chances to get the serve in, if the player does not get one of the two serves in, it is called a double fault and the other player wins that point.
Volley – A shot that is made in the air before the ball bounces, generally near the net, and is usually made with a stiff-wristed punching motion to hit the ball into an open area of the opponent’s side of the court.
Groundstroke – A shot that is generally made near the baseline using a full swinging motion from low to high.
Point – One player will initiate a point by serving it to the other player, the ball must land inside of the service box on the opposite side of where the server is serving from. A point is awarded if the player allows the ball to bounce twice on his side of the court, returns the ball outside the opponent’s court, intentionally contacts the ball with the racket more than once, touches the ball with anything other than the racket (or with the racket if it has left their hand), hits the ball before it has passed over the net to their side, or touches any part of the net with their person.
Game – A game consists of a sequence of points played with the same player serving. A game is won by the first player to have won at least four points in total and at least two points more than the opponent. If at least three points have been scored by each player, and the scores are equal, the score is “deuce“.
Set – A set is generally won by the first person to reach 6 games, winning by two games. In some instances, one a score reached 6 games each, a tiebreaker is played to determine the winner of the set. A tiebreak is usually won by the player who reaches 6 points first, but the player must win by 2 points. Players will alternate serving every game within the set. The players will switch sides of the court after an odd number of games have been played.
Match – A match generally consists of the best of 3 or 5 sets
What’s with that funny scoring?
Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer to that question. The best guess by most historians is that it has medieval French roots. What seems to be the most likely explanation is that the scoring system is based on the presence of a clock face at the end of the tennis court. Back then, the number 60 was considered to be a clean, round number and a logical choice for the end of a game. A quarter move of the appropriate hand was made after each point, with the score being called as 15, 30, or 45. As the hand was moved to 60, making the complete circuit, the game was over. However, in order to ensure that the game could not be won by a one-point difference in players’ scores, the idea of “deuce” was introduced. To make the score stay within the “60” ticks on the clock face, the 45 was changed to 40. That way if both players have 40, the first player to score receives ten and that moves the clock to 50. If the player scores a second time before the opponent is able to score, they are awarded another ten and the clock moves to 60, keeping that nice, round number. However, if a player fails to score twice in a row, then the clock would move back to 40 to establish another deuce.
The term “deuce” is derived from the French deux meaning “two”, since an advantage of two points has to be earned to win a game.
“Love” is generally taken as being derived from the French l’oeuf, or “egg,” which looks like a zero and symbolizes nothing.
See, it’s a simple sport!
Once you understand the layout of the court, the strange scoring, the complex terms used, and the myriad of shots you can hit with the tennis racket, the actual concept of the game is really quite simple. I am, of course, joking. Tennis can be very complicated and it is easy to get lost in all the details. What I want you to take out of this is hopefully a better understanding of the game when you watch or play it, but mainly I want you to be able to grab a couple rackets, some tennis balls, a friend, and head out to the courts to have some fun. Tennis truly is a wonderful sport. Even if you can’t hit a 155 mile per hour serve like Andy Roddick, you can still have a blast out on the court. So get out there and play. Stay active. Stay healthy.
Until next week,
Today’s Fun Fact: Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards.