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FAQ on Tennis

by Nimish Dubey

1.What kind of playing area is needed for tennis?

2.How does play take place in tennis?

3.What are key shots/strokes in tennis?

4.What is the scoring system in tennis?

5.What is a tie-breaker?

6.Which are the most important tournaments in tennis?

7.What is the 'Grand Slam'?

8.What does the term 'Open' in tournaments, e.g.,French Open, US Open, stand for?

9.How many players participate in a tennis tournament?

10.Are there any team tournaments in tennis?

11.What are 'baseliners' and 'serve-and-volleyers'?

12.What is 'doubles' ? Are there separate rules for it?

13.What is the difference between 'rankings' and seedings' in tennis?

14.What is a break of serve?

1.What kind of playing area is needed for tennis?     Go Top

Tennis is played on a rectangular court that is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. The court is divided into two equal halves by a net that is 3 1/2 feet high at the extremes and sags to three feet in the middle. For singles' play (i.e., when only two players are playing against each other), the width of the court is reduced by 9 feet by drawing two lines parallel to the longer sides at a distance of 4 1/2 feet from them on the inside. These parallel lines are called sidelines and mark the outline of the court. The ball cannot bounce outside them in singles' play. Right from the middle of the court (also the middle of the net), a 21-foot long line is drawn into each half of the court. At the point where it ende, a line parallel to the net is drawn to join the two sidelines. The four boxes thus constructed - two on each half of the court - are the service boxes. To be considered legal, a service must bounce within these boxes. At the bottom of each half of the court, a line is drawn parallel to the net. This marks the end of the playing area and is called the baseline. It is marked on the halfway point by a small mark that extends into the playing area. Apart from the service, all shots must cross the net and land within the baseline and sidelines to be legal. Tennis can be played in a variety of surfaces - clay, grass, cement, atificial carpet, etc.

2.How does play take place in tennis?     Go Top

Play in tennis basically involves two players on each side of the net, hitting the ball over the net and into each other's playing area until one of them makes an error. Before play gets under way, the players toss a coin with the winner of the toss getting the option to either serve or choose his/her half of the court. If he/she chooses the latter, his opponent gets to serve first. Actual play begins with a player serving from behind the baseline. The player who is serving should be standing behind the portion of the baseline to the right (also called the deuce court) of the mark that divides the baseline into two equal halves. His opponent generally stands diagonally opposite on the playing area across the net. Unlike the server, the person receiving the serve can even stand inside the baseline if he/she desires. After the first point, the player who serves moves to the area behind the left half of the baseline (also called the ad court). The player has to keep alternating between these areas after each point. Each player gets two chances to make a legal serve. If he/she misses both serves, the point is awarded to the opponent and the next point commences. The serve can be returned only after it has bounced once. However, after the serve, the players can strike the ball even before it bounces, as long as it is in their half of the court. Both players hit the ball until one of them hits it out of the playing area, hits it into the net or is unable to reach the ball before it bounces a second time. It should be remembered that for a shot to be legal, only the first bounce of the ball should be in the opponent's playing area. The second bounce may be anywhere. If the opponent intercepts the ball before it bounces, the shot remains legal. It may be noted that only the racquet may come in contact with the tennis ball during play. If the ball touches the person of any of the players, the point is awarded to his/her opponent.

3.What are key shots/strokes in tennis?     Go Top

Serve or service - This is the stroke that starts a point. Generally, it involves tossing the ball up and striking it into the opponent's playing area across the net. backhand - A backhand stroke is played when a player strikes a ball with the back of the hand gripping the racquet turned towards his opponent. A backhand stroke is generally played when the ball is hit to a player's weaker side. For instance, if an opponent strikes the bal to the left on a right-handed player, the latter will play it with a backhand. Forehand - A forehand stroke is played when a player strikes the ball with the palm of the hand gripping the racquet turned towards the opponent. A forehand is generally played when the ball is played to the stroger side of a player. For instance, if a ball is played to the right of a right-handed player, he will play it with his forehand. Groundstrokes - Groundstrokes refer to the shots played after the ball has bounced within the tennis court. Most of these are played from the rear of the court, near the baseline. Volley - When a player strikes the ball before it has bounced, he/she is said to have made a volley. Lob - A lob is stroke in which the ball is sent at a great height, generally over the opponent. Two-fisted strokes - Some players like to use both hands to grip the racquet while playing a shot. These strokes are aclled two-fisted strokes. In general, two-fisted backhands are more popular than two-fisted forehands.

4. What is the scoring system in tennis?     Go Top

The scoring system of tennis leaves quite a few people stumped. This is because it follows a pattern that at times does seem to verge on the eccentric.A full tennis match is played over three or five sets. In a case of a three-set match, the person who wins two sets is declared the winner while in the case of a five-set match, the person who wins three sets is the winner. Each set comprises a number of games. Each game in turn is made of points. Each game has five scores - 'love', '15', '30', '40' and 'game'. One of the explanations for this wierd system of scoring is that the scores represent the four quarters of a clock. It is believed that the score of '40' was initially '45', but as that took too long to call, it was shortened to '40'. Only one player serves throughout a single game. The score is called from his point of view. So if he wins the first point, the score will be '15-love'. If, on the contrary, he loses the first point, the score will be 'love-15'. The player who wins four points while being at least two points ahead of his opponent wins the game. However, if the score is tied at '40-40' or 'deuce' as it is called, then the game continues until one of the players opens a two-point lead. The player who wins the first point after the call of 'deuce' is said to hold the 'advantage'. If his opponent wins the next point, the score goes ack to 'deuce' until one of the players opens up a two-point lead. If a player manages to win six games while his opponent is at least two games behind, he wins the set. For instance, a playeer might win a set 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 or 6-4. However, if neither player achieves a two-game lead and the score reaches 5-5, the set goes to the player who wins seven games while holding a two-game lead,i.e., 7-5. If both players are tied at 6-6, then a tie-breaker comes into play. To learn more about the tie-breaker, see the next question.

5.What is a tie-breaker?     Go Top

The tie-breaker is a special game that is used to decide the winner of a set that is tied at 6-6. Unlike the conventional games where only one player serves for the duration of the game, in the tie-breaker, the person who commenced serving in the first game of the set, serves for the first point. After the point is decided, the other player serves for the next two points. After this, each player serves for two points apiece. The first playe to reach 7 points with at least a 2-point lead is declared the winner of the set. If the score gets tied at 6-6, play continues until one of the players achieves a 2-point lead.

6. Which are the most important tournaments in tennis?     Go Top

These are the four 'Grand Slam' tournaments - the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. If one had to rank even these in decreasing order of importance, Wimbledon would emerge as the most prestigious tournament, followed by the US Open, the French Open and the Ausralian Open.

7.What is the 'Grand Slam'?     Go Top

The four tournaments mentioned in the previous question are played at different times of the year. If a player manages to win all four of them in the same year, he/she is said to have achieved a 'Grand Slam'. This is perhaps the greatest achievement in tennis and not too many have been able to manage it.

8.What does the term 'Open' in tournaments, e.g.,French Open, US Open, stand for?     Go Top

It quite simply means that the tournament is open for professionals as well as amateurs. In the period prior to 1968, professional tennis players were barred from most Grand Slam tournaments. When the tournaments were opened to the professional players, they became known as 'Open' tournaments. This nomenclature continues to this day although most of the participants of major tournaments are professionals.

9.How many players participate in a tennis tournament?     Go Top

Generally, each major tournament has five events - the men's singles, the ladies' singles, the men's doubles, the ladies' doubles and the mixed doubles (one man and one woman playing together). In the major tournaments - the Grand Slams - a total of 128 players contest each singles' title while the numbers playing the other events varies. The number of players in the smaller tournaments is generally lesser, varying from sixty four to even sixteen in some cases.

10.Are there any team tournaments in tennis?     Go Top

Although tennis is largely an individual sport (except to a certain extent in doubles when two players play on the same side), it does have its tea tournaments. The most important of these is the Davis Cup for men and the Federation Cup for women. Most team tournaments comprise of a series of matches between individual and doubles players of two teams with the team winning the larger number of matches being declared the winner.

11.What are 'baseliners' and 'serve-and-volleyers'?     Go Top

Baseliners are generally players who like to play from near the baseline or the back of the court. They are generally very accurate hitters of the ball and try to wear down their opponents by playing error-free tennis. Baseliners excel on slower surfaces like clay courts where the ball travels slowly after bouncing, allowing them more time to reach it. Serve-and-volleyers are players who depend heavily on their serve and volleys to win matches. They generally play from close to the net and like to win points as quickly as possible. They are powerful players but often lack the stamina to play long points. Serve-and-volleyers are a their best on fast surfaces like grass, rebound ace, etc.

12.What is 'doubles' ? Are there separate rules for it?     Go Top

In doubles, two players play on each side of the net. There is no difference in the rules for doubles, except for the fact that play (apart from the serve) can also take place in the area between the outer line of the court and the sidelines. In doubles, each partner serves for an entire game with his partner serving when the team's next turn to serve comes around.

13.What is the difference between 'rankings' and seedings' in tennis?     Go Top

The tennis ranking system ranks layers according to their performance in tennis tournaments over a period of time (generally one year). However, each tournament also has its own seeding system. Most tournaments 'seed' a certain number of players (16 or 32). This ensures that these players do not play each other in the early phases of the tournament. Under the seeding system, players participating in a tournament can be ranked as per their ability to win the tournament, irrespective of their ranking in the tennis ranking system. This is because different players excel on different playing surfaces. A serve-and-volley player will struggle on a clay court, while a baseliner will not welcome the opportunity of playing on a fast surface like grass or indoor carpetting. As a consequence, a higer-ranked player may be seeded below a player ranked below him for a specific tournament.

14.What is a break of serve?     Go Top

A break of serve is said to have taken place when a game is won by the player receiving service. A player is said to hold serve if he wins the game in which he has been serving. A break of serve is important as without it a player cannot acheive a two-game lead to win a set.

This is not an exhaustive FAQ on Tennis. If you have any questions you would like to have answered, please write to us. Of course, if you spot an error or feel you can answer some of the questions better, do not hesitate to contact us. All contributions – questions, answers and errata – will be credited to the contributor.

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