You may be surprised to find that tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world. How popular? We’ll break down just how popular this racket sport is, where it is most popular, and what—if any—sport outmatches tennis in popularity on the global front.
Other sports may get more television coverage, and depending on where you’re located tennis may not be the sport of choice, but when looking at global trends, tennis is one of the most popular sports on earth.
Ready to talk more about tennis and its popularity? Let’s do this!
One of the reasons tennis remains one of the most popular sports on the globe is that it has never wavered in popularity since its inception in 1873.
Since the first Wimbledon championship in London in 1877, and after a resurgence of popularity after World War I, the sport has only grown, leaving behind its regal beginnings to make way for approximately 87 million players worldwide (source).
A quick Google trend search shows that tennis’s popularity among searches on the internet has not wavered over the last two decades either.
In fact, tennis popularity boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic given its spatial distancing between players and access during a historically inaccessible sporting time in our world.
And Google Trends confirms what all the news agencies have to say about its popularity. Here’s a screenshot of a Google Trends search. It’s got a nice uptick since the pandemic. My kids and I contributed to that!
Tennis remains to be one of the most popular sports on the planet. Exactly where it’s most popular may surprise!
Given tennis’s regal roots in the United Kingdom, one may expect that tennis is most popular among our British, Irish, and Scottish neighbors in Europe. You’d be wrong – Bulgaria comes in the first place.
Again using Google search volume, the countries with the highest search volume for tennis are actually Bulgaria, followed by Australia, Austria, France, Romania, and Switzerland (source). The United Kingdom doesn’t even crack the top 25!
Tennis is a global sport with popularity growing in various countries on nearly every continent—not as much tennis enthusiasm in Antarctica…yet.
Though not the most popular sport in America, tennis’s popularity in the U.S. may surprise you. It is one of the most popular sports in America.
In 2020, player participation grew 22% since the previous year. Over 21 million people played tennis in America, making it one of the most played sports in America.
The narrative around American tennis is that it’s becoming less popular as fewer American stars breakthrough on a global scale. However, this has been disproven.
Since 2015, year-over-year searches for tennis have only risen online. Though not the most-watched sport in America, Tennis still ranked sixth in viewership in 2022, beating out golf and motorsports.
Bulgaria remains the per-capita leader in online engagement with tennis. This may come as a surprise to many but those who have closely been following the game have seen more tournaments and players coming from Bulgaria and its neighboring countries.
If we’re just crunching the playing numbers, tennis is played more in China than in any other country. Nearly 22% of global tennis players are from China (source).
Behind China? The United States with nearly 20% of global players comes from America.
What about those television rankings? We didn’t forget about those either! Based on data from 2019, grand slam tennis viewership was up 20% from the previous year and nearly 1 Billion (that’s a billion with a B!) tuned into ATP tour events in 2015, and that number is only getting larger (source).
Determining which country watches the most television is no easy feat. Given that tennis is played and broadcast globally, measuring who is tuning in can be difficult to pinpoint.
Depending on where the tournament is being played, and the size of the tournament (grand slam vs. tour event) skews these numbers heavily. Though the numbers aren’t completely clear, one thing is, people are tuning in.
Soccer, or futbol, is the #1 sport for everyone outside of the United States. Though tennis is immensely popular around the world, it does not take the top spot for the most popular in the world.
Tennis has an astounding following projected at 1 billion followers worldwide. A massive number, but only big enough for fourth in the world rankings. Who takes the number one spot? Soccer (source).
With an almost incomprehensive 4 billion followers worldwide, soccer is far and away from the most popular sport on the planet. Soccer followers account for over half of the entire world’s population!
Amazingly, the United Kingdom is the credited creator of three of the world’s top five most popular sports. The UK claims to have invented soccer (or futbol), cricket, and tennis.
Though these games have likely been adapted from previous sporting events and games from other parts of the world, incredibly, the United Kingdom remains the center of the world’s most popular sports.
Though tennis may not be challenging soccer for world dominance, its reach across the globe is impressive. Once perceived as a sport only meant for the rich and powerful, tennis is now a top sport across the globe.
Most impressive, tennis remains one of the most accessible and playable sports for fans of all backgrounds and ages. Over 87 million people play tennis!
Though more play soccer, the average age of a tennis player is over 40 years old. In fact, people over forty make up 40% of the tennis-playing population. Interestingly, that is the exact same average age and breakdown for soccer as well! (source)
Both sports are more accessible, affordable, and adaptable to the average population than most other sports. These qualities are the reason why both sports are among the most popular in the entire world.
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
No matter the continent you choose to inhabit, tennis is going to be a part of the culture. The sport continues to grow in popularity, and though not the world’s most popular, its reach is officially global, representing interest from approximately 1 in 7 people on this planet.
Tennis is only becoming more popular – pick up a racket and join the revolution! It’s a wonderful and rich community with room for even more tennis enthusiasts. For more great information about tennis and other similar sports, read these great articles:
- Do You Have to Serve Diagonally in Singles Table Tennis?
- What is the Best Age to Start Tennis? (Here Are The Facts)
- Quick Play Tennis Guide: Equipment Needed And Rules To Know
Learning from your own experiences is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.
- Czermak, Chris. “Tennis Popularity Statistics 2021.” Tennis Creative, 21 Jan. 2021, tenniscreative.com/tennis-popularity-statistics/.
- Devano, Sylvester. “Top 10 Most Popular Sports In America In 2022 | Viewership And TV Ratings.” SportsBrowser, 5 Feb. 2022, sportsbrowser.net/most-popular-sports-in-america.
- Hands, Stephen. “How Many People Play Tennis? Global, US, Europe Stats.” Sports Centaur, 23 Sept. 2021, sportscentaur.com/how-many-people-play-tennis-global-us-europe-stats.
- Keady, Martin. “A Brief History of Tennis Before the Open Era.” Last Word On Tennis, 24 Aug. 2018, lastwordonsports.com/tennis/2018/05/04/a-brief-history-of-tennis-before-the-open-era.
- Shvili, Jason. “The Most Popular Sports In The World.” WorldAtlas, 16 Oct. 2020, www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-are-the-most-popular-sports-in-the-world.html.
- “Tennis Player Demographics and Statistics : Number Of Tennis Players In The US.” Zippia.Com, 14 Dec. 2021, www.zippia.com/tennis-player-jobs/demographics.
- “Tennis Viewership Statistics.” Tennis Creative, 3 Dec. 2020, tenniscreative.com/tennis-viewership-statistics.
- “U.S. Tennis Participation Surges in 2020, Physical Activity Council (PAC) Report Finds.” Usta.Com, www.usta.com/en/home/stay-current/national/u-s–tennis-participation-surges-in-2020–pac-report-finds.html
- Wolken, Dan Usa Today. “Tennis Participation Has Skyrocketed during COVID-19 Pandemic. Will It Pay off for Americans down the Road?” USA TODAY, 11 Feb. 2021, eu.usatoday.com/story/sports/tennis/2021/02/11/tennis-participation-usta-covid-19-pandemic/6722739002.