Melbourne, Paris, London & New York?
What do all these four cities have in common? They are all venues of the most important tournaments in one of the most popular sports category. If grass, carpet, clay, or hardcourt: Everywhere it’s serve, topspin, longline, lob, overhead smash – game, set and match! The tennis ball bounces everywhere! Tennis is not just one of the most played mass sports of the world since Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
In the one on one game, the players, only armed with a racket, try to bat the mostly covered in yellow felt ball into the opposing half of the rectangular pitch in a way that the opponent is not able to return the bat. This is aggravated through the net placed in the middle of the pitch, which has to be surmounted as well. The court is defined in (half and full) English foot (1 ft = 0.3048). The court is 78 feet (23.77 m) long, and 27 feet (8.23 m) wide for singles matches and 36 ft (10.97 m) for doubles matches. The baseline and the sidelines delineate the court on its various sides. The lines count as the court. This means if a ball falls on one of these lines (even if only partially), it is playable and regularly in play. The ball has to be returned before it has bounced twice and can be played as inconveniently as possible through the various stroke techniques. Besides the basic shots like the forehand and backhand (single- or two-handed), the players can influence the pace, spin and placement of the shot using various grips. Players can apply a backspin on the ball to produce a low trajectory bounce or topspin in order for the ball to fall earlier and faster than normal; depending on the skills the players are spoilt for choice. If baseline player (like Nadal) or more serve and volley specialist (Boris Becker), tennis offers the possibility for everyone to find his or her own way of playing.
Tennis has been developing rapidly during the past decades as the game has become faster and the players more athletic. The beginning of the “open era” in the late 1960ies and the concomitant commercialization has revolutionised tennis in many areas and leveraged the by then rather exclusive sport into the mass market.
Before the Open Era (open tournaments), only amateurs were allowed to participate in tournaments. Ever since the beginning of tennis, only “amateurs” were allowed to participate in tournaments and apply for a membership in tennis clubs. This regulation was later used at the Olympic games and was valid until 1968 in general. An amateur was defined as ideal-typical player, who does not practice the sport due to financially reasons but only for the love of the game. In reality, the lower ranks of the society were excluded from tournaments, as only a “gentleman” from the higher ranks of the society could afford the membership and tournaments fees.
Since then, the tennis year has been oriented towards the four big tournaments, the Grand Slam tournaments. Starting with the Australian Open in Melbourne in January, the French Open in Paris follows in the spring and shortly after that, the balls fall in the All England Club of Wimbledon in London, where all players traditionally wear white and play on grass courts. The last Grand Slam of each year is the tournament in the Big Apple, the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. Up to now, there have only been seven players in the history of tennis that have won each of these tournaments. Fred Perry (1935), Donald Budge (1938), Rod Laver (1962 & 1969), Roy Emerson (1964), Andre Agassi (1999), Roger Federer (2009) and Rafael Nadal (2010). One of them, a certain Roger Federer, has won the most Grand Slams of all times so far. The Swiss Gentleman won 17 Grand Slam tournaments in number. However, Federer has not yet been able to win the so-called “Grand Slam”, which means that one player wins all four tournaments within one year. Only Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) and Donald Budge (1938) were able to achieve that.
The patron of all tennis tournaments, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), was founded in 1972 during the US Open by active players. Due to reoccurring problems and disputes between the predecessor organizations ILTF (International Lawn Tennis Federation) and WCT (World Championship Tennis), the ATP was able to gain more influence and could set a milestone in the new modern tennis era by releasing the ATP-world rankings. At the same time, active female players founded the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) during Wimbledon 1973, which still regulates the female category of tennis until now. Billie Jean King (member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame) was one of the founders and the first president of the WTA.
Due to the increasing excitement for doubles, it becomes clearer everyday that tennis is not only a single sport. Here, two couples face each other (male, female or mixed doubles). Doubles are also a deciding competition with regards to the comparison between countries, which are called Davis cup in the men’s category and Fed-Cup in the female category. Here, a competition, where one nation can call itself Davis cup- or Fed cup champion at the end of the year, takes place as well. Every country fields its best players and the host nation is allowed to chose the surface, in order for them to have a little bit of an advantage. Besides all these big tournaments, various other, smaller but as much as important for gaining points for the world rankings in course of the year as the previously mentioned ones, take place. In 2014, Novak Djokovic was standing on top of the rankings and was followed by the A-list of tennis Roger Federer (SUI), Rafeal Nadal (ESP), Stan Wawrinka (SUI), Kei Nishikori (JPN) and Andy Murray (SCO). After the current rule change, where the players have to defend their points of the last tournaments, it is not possible to focus on the Big Four only, but the players have to fight for every single points in every tournament.