Tennis is followed with passion across the globe. It has grown throughout the decades into a stalwart global sport dominated for the last decade by the rivalries of Roger Feder, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. It has everything you want for sports cards including global appeal, big tournaments and matches, and superstar players.
Yet, tennis cards have lagged for decades. If you look on eBay, there are thousands of results for tennis cards, but most of them are being sold for under $10. Even the best Roger Federer RC (2003 Netpro with the volley) can sell for less than $10 (ungraded and no auto).
Unlike baseball cards, tennis and its fans have not intertwined the cards into their hobby. There have not been many sets produced at all surrounding tennis.
Speculators are unsure of why this is. Some believe it is the lack of media coverage. Others say that the hobby lags because Americans love trading cards, and the Americans are not the stars. Still others contend that since the lack of a union for tennis players necessitates individual negotiations, it is too difficult to produce mass sets.
Though the reason is unknown, tennis cards do not share a strong connection to tennis, few sets are produced, most of the sets are limited releases, and the secondary market has struggled to take off.
On the one hand, tennis cards have a low entry level for investment. This is exciting because it would not be hard to cheaply build a collection of legends like Andre Agassi with an autograph.
On the other hand, this article would be speculating far too wildly with any guarantees. Maybe fans of tennis start wildly collecting cards like baseball, or perhaps tennis cards never create the relationship between the sport and the sports card hobby like baseball. It’s impossible to tell, but if you were collecting Topps in the early 50’s, you would never have imagined that that Mickey Mantle would ever become so valuable.
Regardless, this article will offer some basic information about the tennis card trading hobby. There have numerous releases from multiple brands.
There are a few early and multi sport sets, but the valuable tennis cards revolve around the accompanying players from bigger sports, such Tilden near Ruth in the Goudey Sports Kings.
NetPro produced cards starting in 1991, but they stopped in the early 2000s, except for one set in 2011. Ace Authentic was producing cards from 2005, and they were bought out by Leaf in the early 2010s. It is worthy of note that Leaf was founded in 2010, and it has no affiliation with the Leaf of the 1940s and 50s, nor as the secondary brand in the 80s and 90s, as the rights were bought out and a new company was formed. Topps has recently explored the market in 2019.
Early Tennis Sets
Tennis greats Lengin, Mallory, and Tilden were featured alongside Babe Ruth and other baseball greats in the hand cut 1921 W551. These are some of the oldest cards.
The 1928 W.A. & A.C Churman Lawn Tennis Series has eight Hall of Famers in the twelve card set. Each card goes for a few hundred at a PSA 9. The 50 card version of the series will sell for about 50 dollars per card at the same grade.
Multi Sport Sets
The 1930s featured many different multi sport sets that included tennis. This includes the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings, Sweetacre Sports Champions, and several tobacco cards.
The tennis cards of Hall of Famers William Tilden, Vincent Richards, and Ellsworth Vines are some of the most expensive tennis cards because they are in the 1933 Goudey. The Tilden goes for $6,000 at a PSA 9. Most of the other sets will have a Tilden at the same grade for $50-100. Goudey is an all around famous set for a number of sports.
The last major multi sport set was the 1977-1979 Sportscaster. Subscriber paid $1.89 for 24 cards a month. There are 2,000 cards in the set, and they measure at 4 ¾” x 6 ¼”. Sports, athletes, teams, and other themes are shown on the cards. The tennis cards can be bought for under $50 in high grades.
2013 Ace Authentic Signature Series
This set is the first set for Ace Authentic after being bought out by Leaf. There are six autographs per box. Big names from the past and present are featured in this release.
The inserts include Top 40 which includes the top ranked players, Perfect Partner which shows 60 pairings, Grand Slam Champs features champions of the biggest tournaments, and Hall of Fame Autographs includes the likes of Jim Courier and Billie Jean King.
2013 Ace Authentic Grand Slam Tennis
This is the last Ace Authentic brand release. Like the Signature Series, it was produced under Leaf. It contains only autographs. Separated into Base Autographs, Grand Slam Heroes Autographs, and National Pride Autographs the cards have a variety of excellent players.
2015 Leaf Ultimate Tennis Cards
Featuring the likes of Federer, Murray, and past and other present greats, there are a plethora of autographs per box. There are also licensed rookies of Petra Kvitova, Murray, and Sloane Stephens. It was a limited release with only 195 cases.
There are several inserts that use a horizontal display. They include World Class Signatures, Queens of the Court Autographs which is exclusively women, and Big Finish autographs that have a gold foil crest. Match Worn Autographs includes signed memorabilia.
2016 Epoch International Premier Tennis League IPTL
This set debuted in 2015, and the following year made for a great set. It followed eight teams split into two sets of men and women for the named season in Asia. The champions for the year were the Singapore Slammers. Each team featured players from across the world. Some top players competed, but Roger Federer and Serena Williams withdrew at the last moment.
It made a reputation for its inserts in 2016. There are three per box, and one of the inserts is guaranteed to be an autograph. There were also match used strings, signed match worn shirts, signature booklets, and camera signings for inserts. The camera signings offered the illusion of the player signing the card from behind the card.
2017 Leaf Signature Series Cards
Legends such as Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, and Roger Federer are featured in this set. Each case contains ten autographs. There are several inserts like National Pride, Career Wins, and Peak Performance.
Important to note, there were only 150 cases released (each case had 12 boxes, 1 pack per box, 10 cards per pack).
2018 Leaf Grand Slam Tennis Cards
This set is very similar to the previous year. It has autographs from legendary players, active and retired. There are 8 autographs per box, and there were 1,150 boxes produced. There are Green, Red, and Gold parallels.
2019 Topps Tennis Hall of Fame Cards
Topps entered with this licensed set featuring Tennis Hall of Fame players. There are 50 players in the set. 48 are current inductees. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were included as guaranteed inductees. Topps has neither confirmed nor denied as to whether this is a jumping off point.
Roger Federer Cards
Widely considered the greatest tennis player of all time, Roger Federer has three rookie cards from 2003. The most important is the 2003 Net Pro where he is shown returning a volley. Even though it is such an important card, it is very affordable.
Ace Authentic released the 2011 Roger Federer Grand Slam Box Set. It has 32 cards. Two cards are dedicated a piece to each of his 16 Grand Slams at the time. Also, a piece of a match worn shirt is included in every set.
The most popular memorabilia of Roger Federer are match used and worn items from Grand Slam Championships.
Tennis sets are in their infancy. Tennis cards themselves do not have the history of other major sports, nor do they have the thriving secondary market. Though it is unclear as to why tennis cards have not grabbed the attention of tennis fans, there are significant reasons to be interested in tennis cards because of the respectable reputation of the sport, the presence of big stars, and the international appeal. For now, interest in tennis cards is at a tertiary level.