Success continued to elude Chris Rea on his third album, Tennis, on which he began to experiment with slightly longer songs and more free-form jamming, the songs "Every Time I See You Smile," "Stick It," and the title track all being over five minutes long. For Tennis, he enlisted the assistance of Raphael Ravenscroft on saxophone fresh from his crowning moment on the Gerry Rafferty "Baker Street" single and Pete Wingfield on keyboards, among many other musicians to contribute to this album, but Chris Rea himself stamped his personal mark on the album, writing all the songs, providing vocals, guitar, and keyboards, and he even dispensed with the need for an outside producer. Hence the Elton John feel of his Gus Dudgeon-produced previous album, Deltics was gone, aside from on the ballad "Every Time I See You Smile," and it was replaced by a variety of styles including the horn-driven "Forever and Ever," the gospel song "Stick It" that closed the album, and the reggae-tinged, guitar-led instrumental "Friends Across the Water." The title track and album opener began with a riff that was reminiscent of Ace's "How Long," and the song structure itself was not dissimilar to 10cc's "Dreadlock Holiday" although far less commercial with its chorus repeating "Do you like tennis?....yes I do." The intro of "Sweet Kiss" was a brooding bassline and Rea used this style to build many of the tracks from a quiet start to a soulful crescendo. Several of the songs on Tennis had excellent melodies including "Since I Don't See You Anymore," "Dancing Girls," and the final track "Stick It" which, had it been recorded by Billy Joel at this time, would no doubt have been a hit. With hindsight, knowing how big Chris Rea became, it was amazing that this album failed to find its niche in the very early '80s and climbed no higher than number 60 in the charts, although there were no killer commercial singles on it, indeed no hit singles at all, and albums appeared to need this prerequisite at that time. A few years earlier during the era of prog rock, singles were totally superfluous to a rock album's degree of success. Even the cover was interesting with hundreds of tennis courts fading into the distant sunset.
AllMusic Review by Sharon Mawer