The U.S. Open is a prestigious Grand Slam tournament.
Tennis is a sport played between either two players (“Singles”) or two teams of two players (“doubles”). Players use a stringed racquet to strike a ball, a hollow rubber ball covered in felt, over a net into the opponent’s court. In some places tennis is still called lawn tennis to distinguish it from real tennis (also known as royal tennis or court tennis), an older form of the game that is played indoors on a very different kind of a court. Originating in England in the late 19th Century, the game spread first throughout the English-speaking world, particularly among the upper classes. Tennis is now an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society, by all ages, and in many countries around the world. Except for the adoption of the tie-breaker in the 1970s, its rules have remained remarkably unchanged since the 1890s. Along with its millions of players, millions of people follow tennis as a spectator sport, especially the four Grand Slam tournaments.
Manner of play
The dimensions of a tennis court, in metric units.
Tennis is played on a rectangular, flat surface, usually of grass, clay, or concrete. The court is 78 feet (23.77 m) long, and its width is 27 feet (8.23 m) for singles matches and 36 feet (10.97 m) for doubles matches. Additional clear space around the court is required in order for players to reach overrun balls. A net is stretched across the full width of the court, parallel with the baselines, dividing it into two equal ends. The net is 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m) high at the posts, and 3 feet (914 mm) high in the center.
Types of Courts
There are three main types of courts. Depending on the materials used for the court surfaces, each surface provides a difference in the speed and bounce of the ball, which in turn can affect the level of play of the individual players. The three most common types of courts that are used for play are:
Some players are clearly more successful on certain surfaces than on others and become known as, for instance, a “grass-court” or “Clay-court specialist”.
Hardcourt encompasses many different surfaces ranging from old-fashioned concrete courts, to coated asphalt, to wooden gymnasium surfaces, to artificial grass similar to AstroTurf.
Clay courts are considered “slow”, meaning that balls first lose speed as they hit the court and then bounce relatively high, making it more difficult for a player to hit an unreturnable shot, called a winner. On clay courts, line calls are easily reviewable because the ball leaves a visible mark.
Hardcourts and grass are “fast” surfaces, where fast, low bounces keep rallies short and where hard-serving and hard-hitting players have an advantage. Grass courts add an additional variable, with bounces depending on how healthy the grass is and how recently it has been mowed.
For the Grand Slam tournaments, different kinds of courts are used: The U.S. Open and Australian Open use hardcourts, the French Open is played on clay, and Wimbledon is played on grass.
Two players before a serve.
Play of a single point
The players (or teams) start on opposite sides of the net. One player is designated the server, and the opposing player, or in doubles one of the opposing players, is the receiver. Service alternates between the two halves of the court.
For each point, the server starts behind his baseline, between the center mark and the sideline. The receiver may start anywhere on his side of the net, usually behind the service box. When the receiver is ready, the server will serve.
In a legal service, the ball travels over the net (without touching it) and into the diagonally opposite service court. If the ball hits the net but lands in the service court, this is a let service, which is void and the server gets two more serves. If the first service is otherwise faulty in any way, wide, long or not over the net, the serving player has a second attempt at service. If the second service is also faulty, this is a double fault and the receiver wins the point. However if the serve is in then it is considered a legal service.
A legal service starts a rally, in which the players alternate hitting the ball across the net. A legal return consists of the player or team hitting the ball exactly once before it has bounced twice or hit any fixtures. It then travels back over the net and bounces in the court on the opposite side. The first player or team to fail to make a legal return loses the point.
A tennis match usually comprises one to five sets. A set consists of a number of games, and games, in turn, consist of points.
Matches consist of an odd number of multiple sets, the match winner being the player who wins more than half of the sets. The match ends as soon as this winning condition is met. Some matches may consist of five sets (the winner being the first to win three sets), while most matches are three sets (the winner being the first to win two sets).
A set consists of a sequence of games played with service alternating between games, ending when the count of games won meets certain criteria. Typically, a player wins a set when he wins at least six games and at least two games more than his opponent. It has become common, however, to play a “twelve-point tiebreak” or “tiebreaker” when each player has won six games. A tiebreaker, played under a separate set of rules, allows one player to win one more game and thus the set, to give a final set score of 7-6.
A game consists of a sequence of points played with the same player serving, and is won by the first player to have won at least four points and at least two points more than his opponent. The running score of each game is described in a manner particular to tennis: scores of zero to three points are described as “love” or “zero”, “fifteen”, “thirty”, and “forty” respectively. When at least three points have been scored by each side and the players have the same number of points, the score is “deuce”. When at least three points have been scored by each side and a player has one more point than his opponent, the score of the game is “advantage” for the winning player. During informal games, “advantage” can also be called “ad in” or “ad out”, depending on whether the serving player or receiving player, respectively, is ahead.
A game point occurs in tennis whenever the player who is in the lead in the game (the smallest unit of play) needs only one more point to win the game. The terminology is extended to sets (set point), matches (match point), and even championships (championship point). For example, if the player who is serving has a score of 40-love, he has a triple game point (triple set point, etc.).
A break point occurs if the receiver, not the server, has a game point. It is of importance in professional tennis, since service breaks happen less frequently with professional players. It may happen that the player who is in the lead in the game has more than one chance to score the winning point, even if his opponent should take the next point(s). For example, if the player who is serving has a score of 15-40, the receiver has a double break point. Should the player in the lead take any one of the next two points, he wins the game.
For two years before the Open Era, in 1955 and 1956, the United States Pro Championship in Cleveland, Ohio was played by the Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System (VASSS) rules, created by James Van Alen, who later invented the tie-breaker. The scoring was the same as that in table tennis, with sets played to 21 points and players alternating 5 services, with no second service. The rules were partially created in order to limit the effectiveness of the powerful service of the reigning professional champion, Pancho Gonzales. Even with the new rules, however, Gonzales beat Pancho Segura in the finals of both tournaments. Even though the 1955 match went to 5 sets, with Gonzales barely holding on to win the last one 21-19, apparently it took only 47 minutes to play. The fans attending the matches preferred the traditional rules, however, and in 1957 the tournament reverted to the old method of scoring.
In serious play there is an officiating chair umpire (usually referred to as the umpire), who sits in a raised chair to one side of the court. The umpire has absolute authority to determine matters of fact. The chair umpire may be assisted by line umpires, who determine whether the ball has landed within the required part of the court and who also call foot faults. There may also be a net umpire who determines whether the ball has touched the net during service. In some open-tournament matches, players are allowed to challenge a limited number of close calls by means of instant replay in order to have the call overturned. In clay-court matches, a call may be questioned by reference to the mark left by the ball’s impact on the court surface.
Ball boys or girls (who are usually children) may be employed to retrieve balls, pass them to the players, and hand players their towels. They have no adjudicative role. The referee, who is usually located off the court, is the final authority on the rules.
In some leagues players will make their own calls based upon the honor code. This is the case for many high school and college level matches.
Convention dictates that two players shake hands at the end of a match.
A tennis match is intended to be continuous. Stamina is a relevant factor, so arbitrary delays are not permitted. In most cases, service is required to occur no more than 20 seconds after the end of the previous point. This is increased to 90 seconds when the players change ends (every two games), and a 120 second break is permitted between sets. Other than this, breaks are permitted only when forced by events beyond the players’ control, such as rain, damaged footwear, or the need to chase an errant ball.
Balls wear out quickly in serious play, and therefore are changed after every nine games. The first such change occurs after only seven games, because the first set of balls is also used for the pre-match warm-up. Continuity of the balls’ condition is considered part of the game, so if a re-warm-up is required after an extended break in play (usually due to rain) then the re-warm-up is done using a separate set of balls, and use of the match balls is resumed only when play resumes.
Wheelchair tennis can be played by able-bodied players as well as people who require a wheelchair for mobility. The use of legs or feet is then prohibited, and the player is required to remain seated in the wheelchair. There is an exception for those who are only able to propel themselves using a foot. In wheelchair tennis, in which the players move in wheelchairs instead of using legs, an extra bounce is permitted. This rule makes it possible to have mixed wheelchair and legs matches. It is possible for a doubles team to consist of a wheelchair user and a legs user, or for a wheelchair user to play against a legs user. In such cases, the extra bounce is permitted for the wheelchair users only.
Another, informal, tennis format is called “Canadian doubles” (also referred to as “American Doubles” in Australia, and “Australian Doubles” in Canada). This involves three players, with one person playing against a doubles team. For the single player, singles-court rules apply (such that the ball must be within the singles-court lines) but on the side of the doubles team, doubles-court rules apply (the alleys are considered in). The scoring is the same as a regular game. This format is not sanctioned by any official body and is only played when a fourth player is not available for normal doubles.
Lastly, there is a tennis formation called “Australian doubles” in which both players on the same team line up on the same side of the court, with one player at the net and one in the backcourt. The one in back will generally move to the vacant side of the court after the point begins, which forces the opposing player to hit the ball down the line. This formation also allows the player at the net to poach more easily.
Other Rules of Play Used in American College Tennis
As of 1999, in Division I tennis at the college level, a let service is considered playable. This rule change was made to prevent receivers from falsely claiming a valid service to be a let, which is a call that cannot be overruled. Thus, a service that hits the net before landing in the service box is a playable shot, and must be returned by the receiver. Otherwise, the receiver loses the point.
Other Rules of Play Used in American High School Tennis
During high school tennis team matches players may have to follow a few different rules:
Pro set: Instead of playing best out of three sets, players may play one pro set. A pro set is first to 8 games instead of 6. All other rules apply.
Super tie-break: This is played sometimes after players split sets (Each wins one set). It decides who wins instead of a third set. This is played like a regular tie-break but you go to ten instead of seven.
No-ad: You play through the match without any ads. When the game is at deuce the receiving player has the option to choose what side of court (either the deuce side or the ad side) they want to receive the serve for the final game-deciding point. The first player or team to four points wins the game.
Tournaments are often organized by gender and number of players. Common tournament configurations include men’s singles, women’s singles, doubles (where two players of the same sex play on each side), and mixed doubles (with a member of each sex per side). Tournaments may be arranged for specific age groups, with upper age limits for youth and lower age limits for senior players. There are also tournaments for handicapped players. In the four grand slams, the draw (the maximum number of players allowed in a particular category of the tournament) is 128 people.
Players may also be matched by their skill level. According to how well a person does in sanctioned play, he or she is given a rating (examples from the U.S. system called the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP): 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, etc.) which is adjusted periodically to maintain competitive matches.