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The GIST's Guide to Tennis

The modern game of tennis originated in England in the 1890s, but the history of the game dates all the way back to 12th century France when players used the palm of their hand instead of a racket! Oh tennis, you’ve come so far.

The GIST

Today, tennis is a racquet sport that is played individually or in doubles. Tennis is played on a court — grass, clay or hard surface court. The point of the game is to hit the tennis ball over the net so that the opponent can’t return the ball back. Points are awarded when one player isn’t able to get the ball back over.

Scoring tennis is a bit weird and wacky. Each match is made up of sets made up of games. That’s where the phrase ‘Game, Set, Match’ comes from! The score of each game goes from zero (called love), to 15, 30 and finally 40. If the game is tied 40-40, that’s called deuce, and players have to win two straight points (the first is called advantage) in order to win the game.

How is it organized?

Men play under the ATP (Association of Tennis Professional) and women play under the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). Each hosts tournaments throughout the world throughout the year, but the most important are the ‘Grand Slam’ events, also called majors, which are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open. These events get the most media attention, have the highest payouts, attract the best players and offer the most ranking points (i.e. are the most important to becoming No. 1 in the world).

The most prominent of the majors is Wimbledon which is played in London, England every July. Wimbledon started over 125 years ago and is played on a grass surface, which makes the game move a lot faster. Wimbledon also has a strict dress code where players must also wear only white, a tradition dating back to the 1800s when players were concerned with inappropriate sweat stains showing on clothing.

The best of the best

Although tennis might be old school at heart, starting in 2007, it is the only mainstream sport that pays out women and men the same prizes in tournaments and, for the most part, gives males and females the same airtime on TV. 

Some of the best in the world on the women’s circuit include Romania’s Simona Halep, Japan’s Naomi Osaka and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. However, the number one in our hearts is superstar American Serena Williams, who has blown us away by climbing back into the Top 10 of the WTA rankings after being OOO while she was pregnant with her first baby, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Prior to giving birth, Serena dominated the courts as the world record holder for the most Grand Slam wins across female singles and doubles play! You may also recall Serena absolutely slaying in Beyonce’s “Sorry” music video. And did we mention that she was pregnant when she won the Australian Open in 2017? Like WHAT!? We can’t even run 2km when we have a food baby. 

On the men’s side, being the best in the world continues to be a three-way battle between Switzerland’s Roger Federer, Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (pronounced JOKE-OH-VITCH). Federer has been touted as the best male tennis player of all time with 20 Grand Slam titles. Off the court, he’s a total gentlemen and remarkably has two sets of twins!

What about Canadians?

Canada has produced some decent tennis talent over the years, but never a No. 1 world ranked star. Our best men’s competitor is Milos Raonic (pronounced RAU-NITCH), who’s highest career ranking was No. 3 in the world. Recently, he’s found himself in injury trouble and hasn’t been in top form. Also look out for young stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime who continue to impress. On the women’s side, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu has broken out as a HUGE Canadian star, recently becoming the first Canadian to win the Rogers Cup tournament (held in Toronto and Montreal) since 1969. Keep your eye on this one.

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Glossary

Game:

Tennis is played in a game, set, match format. First is the game. A games scoring is from 0, 15, 30 to 40 until there is a game winner. Wacky, we know!

Set:

Second is the set. A set is made up of a certain number of games. In grand slams, they are best 2 out of 3 sets for women, and 3 out of 5 sets for men. In most other tournaments, it’s best 2 of 3 sets for both.To win a set, you have to be the first player to win 6 games and you also have to win by 2. If you don’t win by two, it goes into a 7th game tie break.

Match:

The match is the one worth all the marbles. To win a match, you have to win the majority of the sets. For example, when you see that Player A beat Player B in 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 it means they won six games in the first set, four games in the second (and lost that set) and then six games in the third set to win the match!

Singles:

One-on-one action. Bring it on.

Doubles:

Two players on each side of the court face off against each other. Normally one teammate is in charge of the front court (closest to the net) and one teammate is in charge of the backcourt (closest to the baseline at the back). The court’s boundaries are also larger than in singles allow more room for the two players.

Serve:

Is used to start a point. Players toss the ball decently high up in the air and try to overhand hit it at the highest point of the toss so they can get as much force behind it as possible. The ball must go over the net and onto the opposite side of the court. Then the other player tries to return it. If the ball touches the net during the serve you get a “let” and get to redo BUT you’re only allowed two tries so you better focus!

The first serve of a game is decided with a coin toss, and then the serve alternates for every game.

Fault:

The server doesn’t get their serve in the service box (serves must land in the box drawn on the court opposite from the server) OR their foot moves beyond the baseline. That’s a no-no.

Double fault:

The server doesn’t get their serve in twice. Womp womp. Opponent wins the point.

Ace:

A serve that the opponent simply cannot even touch because of it’s sheer speed. STOP - can’t touch this.

Rally:

Sequence of back and forth shots between two players. Starts with a serve and players rally until someone scores (the other player can’t return the ball) ending the rally.

No mans’ land:

The area between the service line and base line. It’s not a great place to chill because the ball is going to bounce in at your feet and not give you enough space to return it.

Doubles alley:

The two strips on the far left and right of the court that is only counted as in if you’re playing doubles. In singles, the court is smaller.

Challenge:

When the ref calls it out but you’re like “um, that most certainly was in” (or vice versa). Each player gets three challenges per set.

Forehand:

Hitting the ball with your dominant hand on your dominant side. The racquet is open-faced once you hit it.

Backhand:

Hitting the ball with your dominant hand (or two hands!) on your non-dominant side. Similar to a backhanded compliments, this type of stroke can be sneaky.

Love:

Love stands for zero. Pretty depressing take on love, no?!

Deuce:

Deuce occurs when it’s tied 40-40 and you have to play additional points because again, you have to WIN BY TWO!

Advantage:

When it’s 40-40, and then you win next point, it’s called “advantage” because you only have to win one more point to win the game. If you have advantage and your opponent wins the next point, it goes back to 40-40. The suspense!

Breakpoint:

In general, the person who is serving wins the game because having a serve is an advantage to start the rally. Breaking someone means that you win the game when your opponent is serving. Breakpoint is the last point of the game when you can win and break your opponent.

Unforced error:

Sometimes you win a point because you did something right (high five!), but sometimes you win a point because your opponent does something wrong. This is called an unforced error. It normally consists of hitting the ball into the net, or my personal fave, a swing and a miss.

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FAQs

Do the better players play singles or doubles? 

The quick and dirty answer is that the better players play singles. The difference between singles and doubles is that in singles, you don’t play with the “doubles alley” section of the court, which are the thin rectangular strips on the right and left side of the court. It’s not too much more surface area so having two people covering a court is much easier. That said, a lot of the best singles players still play doubles, like the sister duo, Venus and Serena Williams. 

What’s the difference between major tournaments and minor tournaments?

There are four major tennis tournaments on the tennis tournament circuit: the Australian Open, French Open (aka Roland Garros), US Open and Wimbledon. These major tournaments are also called Grand Slams. All other tournaments aren’t considered “minor”; they’re just divided into different tiers. For example, the ATP has four tiers of events: Grand Slams, Masters 1000, ATP 500 and ATP 250. The farther you go in a tournament and the higher the tier, the more available rankings points AND prize money. At a Grand Slam, the a winner receives 2,000 points.

Why is serving so important? 

Generally, the server has the advantage in a game That’s why it’s a HUGE DEAL when the returning player (person without a serve) “breaks” (see above) the person with a serve.  The serve is important because:

  • You’re the first one to hit the ball which is so important. This is like talking first over a dating app. Such a power play.

  • With a serve, in comparison to any other stroke, you’re hitting the ball with a racquet when you have the most control and power. BOOM BABY.

Why is tennis so mental?

Tennis players have some of the best mental toughness of any sport. Why?! A couple of reasons. First, tennis (outside of doubles) is a one-on-one game. The players are on the court all by themselves, with no teammates to talk to, no one to talk strategy with, no one to joke around with and no one to pick them up when they could be feeling down. Next, tennis matches are SO FREAKIN’ LONG. The average length of a women’s game is just over two hours and for men’s it’s about three and a half hours. As Madonna would say, * time goes by, so slowly *

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 The GIST's Guide to Wimbledon

Chip, chip cheerio gov’na, it’s the time to get to know the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world: Wimbledon.

The GIST

Wimbledon is the third (out of four) Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year and is always held at the beginning of July at the All England Tennis Club just outside of downtown London, England. It’s the only Grand Slam event to be played on grass. Grass courts can be a little bit slippery and balls tend to take some odd/low bounces. So, in relation to other courts (hardcourt, clay court etc.) rallies tend to be a bit shorter meaning that serves and returns are even more important than normal.

Wimbledon is also the only tennis tournament that requires all players to wear ONLY white, not even “off-white” is allowed. SMDH at whoever thought the combination of a grass court and white clothing was a good idea. We’re legit feeling anxious just thinking about all of the grass stains.

Why is Wimbledon such a bloody big deal?

Wimbledon is not your average tennis tournament. Similar to Harry Potter, there’s just something magical about it. Here are a few reasons why Wimbledon is such a bloody big deal: 

  • Wimbledon’s history: Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world dating back to 1877. Because of how old it is, a lot of tennis traditions, rituals, rules and formats actually started with Wimbledon.

  • The Royals are ALWAYS in attendance: Princess Kate Middleton is the official “royal patron” of the tennis club. Get this, up until 2003, players had to bow/curtsy to any of the Royals watching. Since then, however, players only have to bow/curtsy to Lizzie (yes we’re on a nickname basis with Queen Elizabeth) and Prince Charles (not quick on that nicknames basis yet).

  • Wimbledon is very much for the people: Anyone can purchase Wimbledon tickets through a lottery system before the tournament starts. There are also tickets held for same-day matches, meaning that you can line up just like you do at movie theatres. The tickets are also not that expensive. The average ticket price is about the equivalent of $100 CAD. And, surprisingly, Wimbledon isn’t too uppity or stuffy like other tennis tournaments — they encourage people to take pics, wear outrageous outfits and drink reasonably priced beers. We like the sound of that!

How’s it organized?

Like all tennis tournaments, Wimbledon is set up as a bracket: winner moves on, loser gets sent home. The bracket is initially organized based on a player’s seed which is determined by their world ranking. But, in Grand Slam tournaments, the organizers have some ability to change seeds based on a player’s recent performance. Generally, only 32 players are given a “seed” ranking in the tournament. For most tournaments, the top seeded players are “protected” meaning they square off against lower ranked players first.

In Grand Slam events, the women’s tournament is best of three sets, while the men’s is best of five meaning that you have to win two or three sets respectively to win the match. Why is it different for the women and men? The true reason can’t really be pinned down, but many guess that it’s routed in history and sexism. An unfortunate classic. 

But, what is important to note, is that thanks to tennis heroes like Billie Jean King and Serena and Venus Williams, in 2007 tennis became one of the only professional sports to award women equal prize money to the men for all four major tournaments. It was a long battle to achieve pay equity, but thank goodness it finally happened. Speaking of pay, the Wimbledon 2019 champions walked away with $3.985M CAD, a 4.44% increase from last year. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Trivia

  • Speaking of pay, the Wimbledon 2019 champions Novak Djokovic (Serbia) and Simona Halep (Romania) walked away with $3.985M CAD each, a 4.44% increase from last year. Wouldn’t that be nice.

  • The signature dish at Wimbledon is strawberries and cream. This dish has been served since the inception of the tournament in 1877 and something tells us that in the middle of a hot summer, this “treat” ends up being downright gross. Maybe time for an upgrade, Wimbledon?

  • Being selected as a ball girl or boy (the kids who collect the balls on the court) is a huge deal for Wimbledon. They go through a v. intense selection process and then months of training. Learn more about the gruelling process here.

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