Tennis Handicap Rules

A tennis handicap is a numerical or fractional value which describes the ability level of a player. It allows organisations to match players against those of a similar ability or to know when an allowance in point-scoring needs to be made. It is more commonly referred to in tennis as a "rating," and a player's score can change from year to year.

How is a Handicap Calculated?

Until the 1970s, tennis handicapping was a subjective affair, particularly at regional tennis clubs. The committee of a club would convene to rate players based on their collective opinion. Later in the decade, clubs such as the Leamington Tennis Court Club in England began to standardise the system. A player's rating, as of 2010, is computerised and based on his wins and losses. Every time a player wins, his handicap goes up and, similarly, if he loses a match, it goes down. However, only games played at official competitions are recorded. Personal matches do not influence ratings.

How do Ratings Affect Games?

Before the standardised rules came in, tennis club committees decided how allowances were made for differences in abilities in matches. When Moreton Morrel Tennis Court Club's Ted Johnson played "Punch" Fairs at Petworth in 1911, he was awarded 15 points every other game. Things are more statistical in 2010. Because a player with a better rating is more likely to win, although not certain to, clubs will give the lesser-ranked player a point advantage based on the difference in the handicaps. For example, a player rated 4.0 taking on a player rated 4.5 would be awarded five points per set. The player taking the points can take them any time, making them a powerful weapon in the underling's game. Sometimes the points awarded will also take into account how many times the players have previously met on the court and the outcome of those matches. For example, if the lesser-ranked player had consistently beaten his higher-ranked opponent, his handicap allowance would be less.

Do Handicap Rules Differ Between Countries?

Tennis handicap rules can differ between different countries, which have their own rating systems. For example, in the U.S. there is the United States Tennis Association, which has its own National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP). This is the official system for rating American players. In the U.K., the equivalent is the Lawn Tennis Association's rating system. However, the ATP World Tennis tour does rank players internationally. But the ITF International Tennis Number (ITN) was introduced in 1997 as a way of standardising tennis handicaps and offers a rating rather than a ranking. Therefore, the ITN is a standard of a player, not in relation to others, but simply a mark of his own standard.

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About the Author

Jenni Marsh is a features sub-editor for the Daily Mail, with a strong record in copywriting and news reporting. Freelancing, she has been published in national newspapers, including The Sun, The Guardian and the Mail Online. Prior to this, she spent a brief stint news reporting in South Africa - a place she hopes to return to one day.