It may seem to many of us that tennis is just an elite sport which is played for a few weeks during a Grand Slam. When many of us are itching to go out and play after watching the Wimbledon final, US Open final or other major event in the tennis calendar, we usually find that the public tennis courts are full, and then perhaps don’t make another effort until the same time the following year.
But you don’t have to wait for the summer to enjoy the delights of tennis. Tennis nowadays is a more accessible and year-round sport than you might think; it’s sociable, exciting and, of course, great for your fitness. More than 75,000,000 people are believed to play the sport worldwide.
Where can I play tennis?
Tennis can be played indoors or outdoors, on a range of surfaces such as grass, concrete, clay and artificial turf. The game can be played as singles (one player versus one player) or doubles (two players versus two players).
These days you don’t need to be overly concerned about the weather. If it is fine, then a good match outdoors can be just what you need, but sports clubs make it easy to play throughout the winter, whatever conditions are blown your way.
The real barrier, perhaps, to starting tennis, is if you have no-one to play with, but there are plenty of clubs who open their doors to players of all standards. You could knock around with other club members, or many of them offer a ‘ladder’ in which players play against others of similar ability and then move up or down the ladder according to their success or failure.
Tennis clubs are generally laid-back and sociable, with a mix of friendly competitiveness for those that choose to play club matches.
Mini Tennis is an excellent game for youngsters under the age of eight. It is played with a scaled down racket, foam balls and a small court. The game is a fun introduction to the full game.
How good is tennis for fitness?
Playing tennis can have a number of positive health and fitness benefits on your body. Here are some of its key exercise advantages:
- Tennis improves aerobic fitness, with more oxygen circulated around the body to better muscular endurance.
- Tennis burns off calories with energy being supplied to the muscles and not forming fat.
- Tennis boosts flexibility and sprint speed, due to the fast-paced nature of the game.
- Tennis improves hand-eye co-ordination with concentration required for serving.
- Tennis develops the strength and power of muscles, notably leg and arm muscles.
- Tennis furthers concentration and mental strength, with matches often lasting for many hours.
- Tennis boosts a player's cardiovascular fitness (the heart and lungs organs), allowing more oxygen to be pumped around the body and help energise muscles.
What gear do I need for tennis?
As with any new sport, it’s important not to get drawn into spending too much money on tennis gear before you’ve decided to commit yourself to playing it. Although you don’t actually need too much equipment to enjoy this fit and active racket sport, the costs can add up if you go for all the top equipment. Buy sensibly at the start of your tennis playing career and you can still enjoy the game without breaking the bank; then if you really get into tennis, you can easily upgrade.
The tennis racket
The tennis racket is the most expensive item, with some costing up to ten times the price of your standard starter racket. Go into a specialist tennis retailer and you’ll be asked about what material you want the racket to be made of, what you’re looking for in terms of hitting area, length, beam width, string pattern and much more.
Don’t worry; for a beginner most of these are not of major importance, you simply need a nicely balanced all-rounder, with good stability, that matches your size.
Lower price range tennis rackets
The principal manufactures all offer good entry level rackets, which are perfect when you’re first starting out. Prince, Yonex, Wilson, Dunlop and Slazenger are some of the names to look out for so if you stick with one of these you won’t go wrong.
Higher priced tennis rackets
At the other end of the scale, rackets used by professionals, and amateurs who take the sport seriously, differ considerably and are made of any number of materials. These include copper, fiberglass, titanium, graphite, kevlar and nickel and you pay accordingly! All the manufacturers mentioned above produce rackets in this top end price range.
The other essential when you’re starting out, of course, is a set of tennis balls and, again, you can spend far more on these than you need to. They can also differ in price considerably depending on the brand and whether or not they are pressurised. Some are faster than others and there are different types for different surfaces. Obviously the more you buy the cheaper they are, but resist the temptation to buy a bucket full, which is an option in some retailers. You’ll be able to get by with five or six.
Clothing for tennis
There are some really fashionable shoes, shorts, skirts and tops available, but unless you always need to be dressed in the latest gear, whatever you’re doing, resist the urge to spend until you feel committed to the sport. At that stage, choose clothing which will have tennis performance benefits, especially your tennis shoes.