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The International Tennis Federation

The International Tennis Federation is an umbrella organisation responsible for more than 200 member nations, making it one of the sporting world’s largest federations.

It governs many different aspects of the game including developing and enforcing the rules; regulating international competitions; promoting tennis; and managing anti-doping and anti-corruption programmes to preserve the sport’s integrity.

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Role of the ITF

The ITF partners with the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association to govern professional tennis, organising Grand Slams; annual team competitions for men, such as the Davis Cup; women’s competitions including the Fed Cup; and mixed team events, including the Hopman Cup. It also works on behalf of the International Olympic Committee to organise tennis and wheelchair tennis competitions at the Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.

The ITF sanctions tennis circuits that span age ranges including juniors, seniors and professional men and women. It also sanctions different disciplines within the sport, such as beach tennis, and maintains the rankings for seniors, juniors, wheelchair tennis and beach tennis.

History of the ITF

Originally known as the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the organisation was the brainchild of Charles Duane Williams, an American lawyer from Radnor, Pennsylvania, who emigrated to Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1911, he approached Charles Barde, president of the Swiss Lawn Tennis Federation, with his idea of founding an international governing body for the sport. Williams also wrote to Henri Laurent Wallet, who was actively involved in developing tennis in France.

Williams proposed to hold an international tennis tournament in Paris – an idea that he put to Barde and Wallet in October 1911. At the time, the French Championships were open only to players from French clubs.

The Wimbledon tournament in England was seen as the world tennis championship on grass courts, so he wanted to launch a similar event on clay. Williams’ idea led to the launch of the World Hard Court Championships in Paris in 1912.

He planned to return to the US in April 1912 with his son, Richard Norris Williams. Tragically, they boarded the doomed liner, RMS Titanic, at Cherbourg, as first-class passengers. After the ship hit an iceberg, she sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15th April 1912. With no room in the lifeboats, they both jumped into the water. While Richard was picked up and saved, Charles Williams perished in the freezing water.

Richard went on to become the US National Men’s Singles Champion in 1914 and 1916 and three-times Wimbledon doubles champion in 1920, 1925 and 1926. He also played on the winning US Davis Cup team in 1914, alongside fellow Titanic survivor Karl Behr, of New York City.

Sadly, Charles never saw his tennis dream come to fruition. The International Lawn Tennis Federation was founded on 1st March 1913 in Paris, after meetings between delegates from many countries. Wallet became president of the organisation in 1914.

The ILTF was officially recognised as controlling lawn tennis worldwide in 1924, with the ILTF Rules of Tennis being drawn up. By 1939, the body had 59 member nations. Its headquarters moved to London during World War II, where it remains to this day.

In 1977, it became the International Tennis Federation, dropping the word “lawn”. Headquarters were originally at Wimbledon, but it moved to its current operations base, the Bank of England Sports Ground in Roehampton, in 1998.

How does the ITF support tennis?

The ITF supports and governs many different aspects of tennis, including the Men’s World Tennis Tour, which provides entry-level professional tournaments, offering a pathway for competitors to the men’s elite level of professional tennis from the ITF Junior World Tennis Tour. It also organises the Women’s World Tennis Tour, providing entry-level and mid-level professional tournaments that offer a pathway from junior level to the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.

Organised by the ITF, for players aged 18 and under; the Junior World Tennis Tour circuit comprises more than 650 tournaments in 140 countries, providing a launchpad for the most talented youth players to achieve professional success.

Wheelchair tennis is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, with men’s and women’s separate open divisions, plus the mixed quad division. Wheelchair tennis first became a sport in the Paralympic Games in 1992 and has been at the Grand Slams since 2007.

The ITF manages the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, which hosts more than 160 tournaments across 40 different countries, offering more than $3 million prize money.

With more than 300 tournaments, across 37 countries; the ITF Beach Tennis World Tour’s flagship tournaments include the ITF Beach Tennis World Championships. Beach tennis is played using beach tennis paddles rather than rackets, with a low compression tennis ball. The sand courts measure 16 x 8 metres.

The ITF is also responsible for the Davis Cup – one of its flagship events. This year’s finals are due to take place between Thursday 25th November and Sunday 5th December.

What are the innovations in tennis technology?

Over the years, innovations in tennis technology have been developed by the ITF to improve the game. Its Technical Centre, based at the body’s London headquarters, contains more than one million dollars’ worth of equipment to enable advanced research into all technical aspects of tennis.

The focus is on innovations such as Player Analysis Technology and Electronic Line Calling. Detailed player performance data can be gathered and analysed rapidly by the PAT. Equipment can record, store and analyse players’ performance in real-time during the match and includes player tracking systems, heart rate monitors and racket use.

Since Cyclops was introduced at Wimbledon in 1980, electronic aids have helped officials with decision-making. Improvements in computer processing have enabled the development of systems to track and detect balls, contributing to improving line calling.

Guidelines for tennis court sizes

The ITF also provides guidelines for tennis court sizes and specifications. In the UK, the common court measurements for courts at a sports facility are 33.53 metres long x 16.48 metres wide – allowing for a runback area behind the baselines.

It is recommended that the line marking for the sports court (the actual playing area) is 23.77 metres long x 10.97 metres wide, according to the ITF. The playing area should extend 3.66 metres beyond the width and 6.4 metres beyond the length of the court, allowing players to take shots a long way beyond the actual court lines. Painted with anti-slip paint by specialist contractors to ensure the courts measure up correctly to the specifications, the lines are normally yellow or white and 50 mm in width.

Thanks to the ITF, tennis is advancing in every possible way. Aimed at increasing participation for all; the third ITF World Participation Conference is due to take place from Monday 12th July to Wednesday 14th July, from 11 am to 1.30 pm each day. For the first time, the conference will take place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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