A Bluffers Guide To… Tennis

In our first entry into the “A Bluffers Guide To…” series, we covered basketball and prepared you for any water cooler talk you might face about the American sport. In this weeks edition, we cover a much more British sport, in tennis.

It might just remind the less initiated of strawberries, cream and Pimms, but if you don’t know your Sampras from your Sharapova; you’ve come to the right place.

The history of tennis

As with most things dated back centuries ago, the origins of the sport are often debated; although some say it goes as far back as Ancient Egypt.

A more reliable claim is that it was first played in Italy and France by European monks in the 12th century. Played around a closed courtyard meant it was initially for the more well-off, and was soon defined as “Real Tennis” by the aristocracy it had grown popular with. The sport reached it’s earliest peak as the rules and systems of the game was unified in the 16th century.

Some of tennis’ first MVP’s were royalty, as Henry VIII and France I of France were reportedly massive fans of the sport. Henry’s court at the Royal Palace of Hampton Court, is still used to this day.

Lesley Ronaldson, a Real Tennis professional and historian, had this to asy about the origins of the tennis scoring system:

“In lawn tennis it’s 15–30–40 games, abbreviated from 45 in 1800,”
“The game evolved in Italy and moved to France and the scoring system evolved from there where everything was done by 15, so that was the natural thing to do to score points in 15s.
“And love for instance, love was something you did for nothing, you did something for nothing, it comes from there,”

Real Tennis was a sensation across Europe and continued growing, but by the time of the French Revolution, interest in the game had fallen.

In its wake, other racket-based sports emerged. These included games such as rackets, squash rackets, and lawn tennis — which more closely resembles the game we know today (or don’t know if you’re reading this!)

This is largely credit to Major Charles Wingfield, an Englishman that patented the rules and equipment for the sport in London in 1874.

Soon, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club was formed, and they staged their first tournament in, whats now considered the Mecca of tennis, Wimbledon.

The club enforced their own changes to the game, and introduced what was soon to become staples of the sport. For example, they adapted Wingfield’s version to be played on a rectangular court, and introduced the “let”; where a player can be given a second chance if their initial delivery hits the net, for example.

This era is also known for establishing the four main grand slam events of this era:

Wimbledon was established in 1877
U.S. Open was established in 1881
The French Open was established in 1891
The Australian Open was established in 1905

Remarkably, the game has stayed very consistent since these were established, except for the fact that people we’re starting to make a serious living from playing it.

Tennis grew and grew, and soon post-modernism kicking in meant that the stars of the sport soon became public celebrities, and players like Maria Sharapova and Maria Sharapova were launched into the public spotlight; and in doing so, became some of the richest sportspeople in the world.

Tennis phrases explained

“Ace” — when a serve is legal and the opposing tennis player can’t return the ball, winning a fast point.
“Deuce!” — when the score in a game is levelled at 40 to 40.
“Game point!” — when it gets really tense, and the game is only one point away from being won.
“Straight sets” — when a player wins every set in a match. If you don’t know what sets are…
“Match/game/set” —There are 6 games in a set, and there are a minimum of 3 sets in a match. You win ‘best two out of three’ or 3 out of 5 sets to win the match.

MVP’s (Most Valuable Players), featuring quotes from other professionals

Roger Federer

Roger was probably the most complete player we have seen in my years. Great serve, moves really well and was always willing to come in [to net]. His forehand, well, there are so many things he can do with that shot. Just an all-around great player with a phenomenal, all-court game.” — Pete Sampras

Serena Williams

“She doesn’t just have power in her game — she has blow-you-off-the-court power. Serena has the best serve in the history of the game, for power and placement. When she was playing her best, there was an absolutely insatiable appetite for winning.” — Chris Evert

Pete Sampras

“He’s the best, most efficient player in terms of not allowing the pressure of the perceived consequence to impact his ability to achieve his goal. Pressure doesn’t detract from his ability to achieve that goal. Arguably the best second serve I’ve ever seen. Hitting spots, first and second serve, when the most pressure was on. Nobody better.” — Paul Annacone

Present day

Unlike football or basketball, tennis has a ranking system that makes the “worlds best” easily definable. Obviously, there is always room for debate and it isn’t a 100% reliable system, but according to the rankings the best current player is Novak Djokovic, with Andy Murray just behind in second place and then Stan Wawrinka in third.

At this very moment, the Shangai Masters are underway, with Andy Murray very recently knocking Steve Johnson out. January 2017 sees the start of the Australian Open, and tennis fans will be spoilt for content to watch as the build up for Wimbledon continues; climaxing on July 3rd as the tournament begins.

You should check out…

The Inner Game of Tennis is regarded as one of the best books in the tennis field, and is seen as a bible for those practising tennis, with a thorough guide on the mental and physical side of the game.

For fans of fiction, however, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, with a semi-dystopian and sci-fi take on tennis academies.


If this has got you itching to get on the court and play some tennis, we might be able to help you. With our app, you can find games in your local area, connect with other people that want to play, and you can even manage payments — essential if you’re usually left short changed when organising a game.

We’d love to invite you to a private beta test here, and remember you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram too. Until then…

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.