We know that compared to other sports, especially contact sports, tennis is known to be very safe as it relates to injuries. (Well, except for knee, shoulder, and elbow problems as a result of overuse.) This article explores the safety of our sport as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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By Rich Neher

A chart released last month by the Texas Medical Association that rates the risk of various activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic has gone viral. The risks listed cover pretty much most of what we do many days of the week, from grocery shopping to going to a bar to opening the mail. Although some items in the chart are a little questionable, such as the act of grocery shopping deemed safer than going to a beach, one thing stands out when it comes to sports activities: TENNIS is listed as the safest sport.


Golf is a close second in that list, for the obvious reasons, but other sports like basketball, football, and swimming rank way further down. Why is that? In an interview with USA Today, USTA CEO Michael Dowse explained, "Our sport is conducive to social distancing. Health and safety is paramount and tennis comes second, but once that first box is checked and it's deemed safe, it's the perfect sport for all of us to participate in coming out of this pandemic." Here are tips and recommendations the USTA released for playing tennis safely based on guidance from the USTA Medical Advisory Group under the leadership of Dr. Brian Hainline.


What are the reasons tennis is the safest sport during a pandemic?

Reason 1 – Tennis is an outdoor sport

The majority of tennis matches are being played outdoors. Indoor courts are usually in well-ventilated dome structures so big, they could almost be counted as outdoor venues.

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Photo of Warner Tennis Center in Woodland Hills, CA: kourts.com

The Mayo Clinic posts on their website, “The COVID-19 virus is primarily spread from person to person through respiratory droplets released into the air when talking, coughing, or sneezing. When you're indoors, you're more likely to inhale these droplets from an infected person, especially if you're in close contact, because you're sharing more air than you do outdoors. Poor building ventilation can cause droplets to hang in the air for a longer period of time, adding to the potential for infection. When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So, you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.”

Tennis poses minimal risks because players are easily able to adhere to social distancing rules.


Reason 2 – Tennis is not a contact sport

Contact sports are sports that emphasize or require physical contact between players. “Bringing many people together in close contact for a longer period of time poses the highest risk of COVID-19 spread” states the Mayo Clinic. Typical contact sports like basketball, football, and soccer are in the highest risk group for Covid-19.


Photo: David Mark/Pixabay

As quoted from Sportsrec: Racquet sports are all mostly non-contact. Badminton, tennis, table tennis racquetball and squash are all good examples. Any contact is limited to accidentally running into your partner if you are playing doubles or games like squash and racquetball where both competitors play side-by-side.

Reason 3 – Tennis is not a team sport

Wellness contributor Matt Fuchs writes in the Washington Post, “While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations  limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people rule out team sports such as basketball, softball, and volleyball, even smaller versions of these sports (pickup basketball) are to be avoided because they entail contact or proximity closer than six feet.”

Now, for the most part, tennis is not a team sport per se. In singles, both players share a space of 2,808 ft² (78x36 ft), separated by a 3 ft. net. That’s a no-brainer.


Photo: Ben Kerckx/Pixabay

In doubles, the maximum number of players within an area of 1,404 ft² (39x36ft. on either side) is two. That’s it. Two players sharing a space of 1,404 ft² and they don’t have to invade each other’s space. They don’t have to high five or fist bump, they can bump their racquets. And chest-bumping is only recommended when your last names are Bryan. Otherwise, this habit can become quite painful for amateurs.


Reason 4 – No need to touch someone else’s tennis balls

The United States Tennis Association recommends in their PLAYING TENNIS SAFE guidelines during the pandemic:  Although unlikely, it’s possible that a tennis ball can transmit the COVID-19 virus, as virtually any hard surface can transmit the disease. So here is an extra precaution you can take to keep safe when playing tennis:

  • Open two cans of tennis balls that do not share the same number on the ball. 

  • Take one set of numbered balls, and have your playing partner take a set of balls from the other can.

  • Proceed with play, making sure to pick up your set of numbered balls only. Should a ball with the other number wind up on your side of the court, do not touch the ball with your hands. Use your racquet head or feet to advance the ball to the other side of the court.


Photo: Pixabay

Reason 5 – Tennis is a physical exercise that can be practiced alone

The advantages of playing tennis as a physical exercise are well documented. Even senior players age 80-90 are often able to enjoy the sport. Tennis is not only good for your heart but it also controls your body fat, improves balance and flexibility, tones your muscles, and stimulates your brain.

WebMD calls it: TENNIS – AN ACE OF A WORKOUT and Giammalva.com posted, “There are countless new workout programs and gimmicks popping up left and right. You can spend a lot of money trying to find the best workout regimen. Few of them, however, can match the full-body workout of tennis. Take a look at these incredible health benefits of this fast-paced game.”


Photo: skeeze/Pixabay

Mentalfloss.com writes, As The New York Times reports, another new study is highlighting the surprising health benefits associated with certain sports in particular. Researchers say tennis is linked to a 9.7-year increase in life span, compared to 6.2 years for badminton, five years for soccer, 3.7 years for cycling, and 3.2 years for running. Even when the researchers controlled for different factors such as education, socioeconomic status, and age, tennis still came out on top as the best sport for longevity. These findings seem to support those of a 2017 study of more than 80,000 British people, which found that players of racket sports tended to live longer than joggers.

The country is thirsty for tennis

In his interview with USA Today, USTA CEO Dowse adds, “Ultimately, it’s up to each individuals’ decision-making whether it’s proper to come back in the communities they live in,” Dowse said. “But if the local guidelines have approved outdoor recreation, go for it. Tennis is the perfect sport to start playing in this phase. It’s social, it’s physical and it’s intellectual and that’s what we’re starved for.”


Footnote: Regarding Pickleball, Ken Budd writes June 29 in AARP, “Social distancing is trickier for pickleball than for tennis. Pickleball is like a mix of badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. So why is social distancing an issue? The court is 20 by 44 feet — much smaller than a tennis court. And many picklers prefer playing doubles.”