Tennis is generally viewed as an individual sport.
The singles match with two opposing players is the primary image of tennis in many people’s minds.
Therefore, the notion tennis could be a team sport is often overlooked. However, this is a slightly simplistic approach to the sport, and the fact is that tennis is most commonly a team sport in both the amateur and professional fields.
Is Tennis A Team Sport?
Tennis can be looked at as both an individual and a team sport. Doubles competitions and team tournaments are also prevalent across the world, both at the professional and amateur level of the game.
Tennis provides many opportunities for team involvement.
Club level tennis is particularly team orientated, while some of the major pro tennis events are team competitions.
In this article I will take a closer look at the many times when tennis can be considered a team sport.
Doubles As A Team Sport
Doubles matches are the clearest example of when tennis can be a team sport.
Instead of two combatants facing each other across the net we now have four.
Anyone who watches doubles also knows that these games can provide some of the finest, quick-fire sporting entertainment around.
The following video illustrates the reason why doubles are so popular with fans at Grand Slam tournaments like Wimbledon.
However, any successful doubles pair relies on teamwork.
Doubles partners need to complement one another, to offset any weak areas in each other’s game.
They also need to be compatible, with personalities that will not lead to on-court clashes when things go awry.
Having a teammate who will encourage you after a poor shot is a huge mental boost to confidence.
Practice and communication is key in order to know one another’s game inside out, and to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses during a match.
The angles available for shots change when you have two additional players on the court, and therefore court position is another area you have to work on as a team.
Doubles can be highly competitive, but great fun too.
The grand slam events have men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles events, which although they might not have the same status as the singles titles, remain popular with the fans.
Doubles are also the cornerstone of local tennis clubs and are a great way to meet new friends and to expand your social group.
However, just because you do not play doubles does not mean you can not be part of a team.
For all tennis players, whether they play singles, doubles, or both, there is usually a team behind them, a team they are part of which helps improve their game and keeps them motivated.
At some point along the way most people who regularly play tennis will have taken tips and help on how to improve their game.
This could be on how to serve, how to strike the ball on either the forehand and backhand side or regarding positional play.
For the professional tennis player, their coach is essential.
While it might only be the player themselves out on the court, the coach-player relationship can be vital for success.
This requires teamwork and is one of the reasons why tennis is not the individualistic sports people assume. Indeed, the introduction by the WTA of on-court coaching has further increased the team significance between player and coach in the public eye.
The role of the coach does not entirely center around improving the technical elements of a player’s game.
They need to keep the player motivated and confident, to evaluate not just their play but also that of upcoming opponents.
The information fed to a player by a coach can be crucial during preparation and for making adjustments during a match.
Another member of the backroom staff of the top professionals is the hitting partner.
They are primarily employed for practice sessions but actually provide far more to the team. They are required to analyze opponents and assist the coach in preparing their player.
A hitting partner will often look to replicate the playing style of the next opponent, playing the type of shots during the practice session that their player will likely face.
They may look like they are there just like a practice session partner, but they are another key cog in providing information and advice to the professional player.
Physios and Nutritionists
Sports science plays a significant role in modern sport, with huge attention given to finding the right balance in training and nutrition.
Today’s top tennis professionals have a backroom staff that can include fitness coaches, physios, nutritionists, and sports psychologists.
This is increasingly why people view tennis more of a team sport now than perhaps ever before.
Tennis is a demanding sport, with a good deal of stress placed through the hips and shoulders during every swing. A physio is employed to prevent injury as much as treat the inevitable post-match aches and pains.
They will work with a nutritionist to ensure a player’s body is best prepared for the demands of the sport, taking on board the correct level of minerals and nutrients the body requires for recovery (source).
Perhaps the most important team element for any tennis player is the support of their family and friends. Support and continued encouragement from those who are closest to you is the best motivational tool you can possess.
The highs and lows of tennis are part of the sport.
Yet having a good support network of family and friends can make all the difference in how you respond to the lows.
These are the people who will tell you how it is, and these are the people who will re-energize you when you are on a bad run of form.
Your odds of winning a tennis match will always be higher if you step out onto the court with confidence and in a positive frame of mind. Knowing you have support is always a big boost.
The added determination to win for them and not just yourself is also a powerful motivating force.
Club Level Tennis
Amateur players will be very familiar with the concept of tennis as a team sport.
When playing for your school, college, or club your aim is to win the match for your team.
As part of your social development, playing tennis at school or college is an excellent way to help you make friends, as well as providing structure to your week.
College and club tennis offer levels for all abilities, with competitions split into divisions and conferences to reflect these varying levels. While there are regional and national singles titles, there are also plenty of competitions that involve college versus college or club versus club.
These matches will tend to consist of a number of singles matches and doubles matches. The individual win is about notching a win for the team.
Playing tennis at your local club purely for recreation or social reasons is excellent in forging a team environment.
However, it is hard to beat the feeling of winning a match for your team in competition.
The increase in age-graded tournaments provides even more opportunities for club players to experience this. It is a great motivating factor.
Besides, when you win with your club or college teammates you have a lot more people to go out and celebrate with!
The Davis Cup
Team competitions within tennis is nothing new even at the professional level.
The Davis Cup is a highly prestigious men’s tournament that was first competed for in 1900 when the USA played Britain.
The competition was extended over the following years, and by the 1920s over 20 countries were participating.
The format of the competition has changed a number of times over the years, with the most recent being in 2019.
Now over 130 nations take part in the Davis Cup, with 18 countries competing in the final stages held at one host venue. The tournament starts with round-robin groups before moving on to the knock-out phase.
Anyone who has watched the Davis Cup will have seen the passion and desire to win as a team.
The elation of winning and the despair of losing is clearly evident as players come together as a team representing their respective nations.
The Billie Jean King Cup
The Billie Jean King Cup is the women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup and regarded as a highly prestigious event in its own right.
The competition began in 1963 as the Federation Cup and provides the best women players in the world the same opportunity of experiencing a top-class team event as the men.
Having changed its name to the Fed Cup in 1995, the tournament became the Billie Jean King cup in 2020.
The current format sees 12 teams play for the cup over six days at the finals held in one host location.
Just as many of the games greatest male players have competed in the Davis Cup, many of the greats of the women’s game have participated in the recently re-named Billie Jean King Cup.
Billie Jean King is an iconic figure within tennis, and she won this tournament as part of the USA side on seven occasions as a player and on a further four occasions as team captain.
The re-introduction of tennis at the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 has provided another opportunity for players to enjoy a team environment.
Medals are up for grabs in singles and doubles, with mixed doubles also becoming part of the games from 2012.
Tennis had originally been a part of the inaugural Olympic Games in 1896 but was dropped from the program after the 1924 games in Paris.
The Olympics will often see some of the top singles players in the world represent their country, not just in singles but doubles too.
The 2016 Rio Olympics saw Rafael Nadal win gold for Spain in the men’s doubles with his playing partner Marc Lopez.
The previous Olympics in London saw siblings dominate the doubles, with the Williams sisters taking the women’s gold, and the Bryan brothers the men’s title.
You can only imagine the feeling of not only winning for your team and country, but for your family too.
Launched in 1989, the Hopman Cup sees eight mixed-gender teams represent their country in an annual international indoor hard court tournament.
Top players once again jump at the chance to participate in team sport, with 2019 seeing the likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber feature in the event held in Perth.
Indeed Federer took the honors for Switzerland, winning the Hopman Cup with partner Belinda Bencic.
They became the first pair to retain the cup, in the process beating the same opponents, Kerber and Alexander Zverev, in both finals. Federer won his first Hopman Cup way back in 2001 alongside Martina Hingis
World Team Tennis
Of all the tennis competitions this is the one, as the name suggests, which is mostly geared to team tennis.
This innovative tournament involves teams of professional players, each comprising two men and two women players.
Among the many interesting rule amendments, World Team Tennis allows substitutions and was also the first tournament to introduce the super tiebreaker.
World Team Tennis was introduced in 1974, with Billie Jean King as a co-founder.
The tournament has attracted the best players in the world including Pete Sampras, the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors and many more. Singles, doubles, and mixed doubles are played, with both the men and women forming a completely equal part of a team.
The 2020 season saw nine teams compete during the last two weeks of July, with 63 matches played in total.
It is a tournament designed to make every point count and is certainly the one you may hold up for display when anyone questions if tennis can be a team sport.
The USTA league fosters team tennis and is ideal for any player who loves team play.
Sponsored by The United States Tennis Association (USTA) it is the largest recreational league in the USA.
Players from across the country have the opportunity to play against opponents of a similar standard thanks to the rating system used.
Teams play singles and doubles matches, where each point counts towards the team’s success.
There are competitions across different age groups, with winners having the chance to progress on to district and potentially national level competitions. Once you have your rating as a team you can look for a local league in which to register your team.
Benefits of Team Sport
The health benefits of playing sport are already well established, but the further benefits from playing team sports may help encourage more people to play tennis.
Some of the benefits of team sport include:
- Motivation toward continued participation
- Social benefits
- Confidence building
- Improved communication
- Goal setting within a team environment
These are just a sample of the benefits team sport can offer beyond the benefits to physical and mental health (source).
Skills acquired in team sports can also be implemented in other areas of our lives.
Having the encouragement of teammates and a new social outlet are two further major factors why team sports appeal to people.
Tennis is far more than singles matches, a one-on-one battle between two isolated players.
Tennis can provide the team environment that many people look for in a sport, not just on the court but as an off-court team too. From the beginner through to the club player and on to the top pros, tennis needs its teams to help with its success.
The general perception of tennis may still be that of an individual sport.
However, there are many examples which point to tennis being a team sport, even for the singles player on the professional tour circuit.
A pro player needs a team behind them to compete, from their coach through to their physios and fitness trainers. It is a team effort today to operate successfully on the pro tour.
Yet there are plenty of team events available to professional and amateur tennis players to allow them to enjoy team sport.
Whether playing in the Davis Cup or for your tennis club in the local leagues, helping your team to victory can bring extra pleasure to any competition.
Whether tennis is considered a team sport will always cause a debate of some sort, but once you widen your scope of vision away from the single-player isolated on the tennis court, you will begin to see how important teams are to the game.