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All About TENNIS

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Starting/Serving rules Doubles
Points Types of shot
Court markings Equipment
Scoring system Glossary

The tennis court

The tennis court (grass)


History of the game

Objective: Two players (or teams of doubles) hit the ball across the net into each others half of the court without them being able to return it.

Tennis (also known as lawn tennis when played outside on grass) is a popular indoor and outdoor game. The main surfaces it is played on are grass (shown above), clay, and indoor, usually varnish surfaced wood with a springboard effect underneath the floor for safety. The rules and the game itself remains the same no matter what surface it is played upon.


Starting the game and serving rules

After warming up, the players will decide, usually by tossing a coin, who will serve first, and on which end of the court they will begin. To start the game, the serving player throws the ball into the air with the hand that is not holding the racket, and before the ball hits the ground, the racquet is used to hit it across the net.

The first serve is always made from the right hand side of the court. The server will stand with both feet behind the baseline, between the imaginary extensions of the centre line and the singles sideline. The receiver may stand anywhere in their half of the court, although obviously it makes sense to stand in the area where the ball is to go.

A server will be foot-faulted if either foot touches any area other than that behind the baseline and within the imaginary extensions of the centre line and singles sideline. A foot fault counts as a standard fault. It only applies when serving. One or both of the server's feet may be off the ground at the time of service, as long as they do not touch the court, or the baseline.

The ball is served from behind the baseline at the edge of backcourt, so that it lands inside the diagonally opposite service court. The players may move all over the court during play, and may hit the ball from off the court.

The serving player has two chances to serve the ball correctly. If they do not serve correctly the second time, a point goes to the receiver.

If the ball hits the net and goes over into the opposing court, the shot can be replayed without penalty.

If the ball hits the net

This happens when the serving player makes two consecutive mistakes on the serve. The point goes to the opponent.

- If the ball hits the net and goes over on a serve, it is a fault (this counts as one chance).

- If the ball hits the net when it is being volleyed, and it goes over the net to the other half of the court, it counts as a valid ball.


The ball is put into play, and is hit backwards and forwards between the two players until one of them fails to return it properly. The player whose opponent cannot return the ball gets a point.

Points are scored if the opponent:

- Cannot or does not return the ball

- The ball is hit into the net

- The ball is returned, and lands outside the court lines (landing on the line counts as in)

- Allows the ball to bounce more than once before hitting it

- Throws the racket and hits the ball with it

- Touches the net when the ball is in play

- Catches, carries, or holds the ball, either with the racket or the body (touching the ball is also not allowed)

- Hits the ball more than once before it goes across the net

- Hinders or distracts their opponent (the umpire will rule on this)

- The serving player does not serve correctly in two attempts. This is a double fault.

One player serves an entire game, which may last from 4 points to an indefinite number. The server alternates between serving from the left side of the court and the right side. The receiving player also alternates so the players are hitting the ball diagonally.

serving area

Here the serving player is hitting from the opposite side of the court from the receiving player. The ball must bounce once in the service area (see court markings diagram below).

The ball only has to bounce in the service area from the service. During play, it can bounce anywhere behind the net, up to the back line, and between the sidelines at either side of the court.

A set is won when one player has won at least six games and is ahead by two. Thus valid winning scores could be 6-0, 6-1, 6-2, etc, even 7-5, 8-6, although 6-5 and 7-6 are not valid as there must be a gap of two games (see Scoring system section for details).

A player wins a match by winning two of three or three of five sets. Women usually always play to two of three sets. Men play to either two of three or three of five, depending on the specific competition they are in.

A player can win points whether they are serving or receiving.

There is a one and a half minute break between games. Players are allowed thirty seconds to serve at the start of a game.

Changing ends
Players change ends at the completion of the first, third, and every other alternate game in the set. If the set ends with an odd number for the score total (like 6-3), they change ends. They next change ends after the first game of the next set.

If the set ends with an even number for the score total, (like 6-4), they do not change ends at the end of the set. Instead, they change at the end of the first game of the following set.

Tennis court markings

court markings

Scoring system

The scoring system for tennis can be confusing. When a player wins a point, it is not recorded simply as 1 point. The order of scoring is: 0-15-30-40. The serving players score is always put first.

15 - first point 30 - second point 40- third point. The next point is game point, and instead of recording this as a number, the game is simply won.

When the score is 0, it is known as love.

So if a score is read as forty-love, then the player who is serving is leading by 3 points.

If both players are tied at 3 points (40-40, or 40 all), this is called deuce.) At deuce, the next player to win a point has advantage. What this means is that the player with advantage needs to win only one point to win the game, whereas the player without advantage must win a point, simply to get back to deuce. Advantage can switch between players.

In short, if both players are at 40, one player must win two points in a row to win the game.

No advantage scoring

This was introduced, not so much on the professional international circuit, but for inter regional and school / college / university matches as a method of keeping game times down. In this form of tennis, there is no advantage scoring. Points are marked simply as 1-2-3 and game. If both players are on 3 points, the next player to win a point wins the game.


As interest in tennis grew, and televised matches became more common, a way of reducing match times was introduced. Because the no advantage scoring system was not widely used on the professional international circuit, a system of tiebreaks was introduced instead.

If a set reaches a 6-6 stage, a tiebreak is played. Usually a tiebreak consists of 12 points. The player who has at least seven points and is two points ahead wins the tiebreak, and the set. If the score reaches something like 12-11, the tiebreak continues until one player is two points ahead.

The score in a tiebreak is counted as 1,2,3,4, etc.

A final tiebreak score could be 7-5, 8-6, 9-7, but not 8-7 or 9-8.

The player whose turn it is to serve will serve from the right side of the court. The receiving player serves the second and third points, and the players alternate then after every two points until the tiebreak and set has been won. The players will also switch sides on the court between points. The first point is served from the right. The second point is served from the left, and the third point is served from the right. This continues for the entire tiebreak. In this way, each player serves from the left and from the right, and receives from the left and from the right. This is how it works:

Player A serves from the right for point one.

Player B serves from the left for point two.

Player B serves from the right for point three.

Player A serves from the left for point four.

Player A serves from the right for point five.

Player B serves from the left for point six.


Doubles is played on a slightly larger court with two players on each side. The singles alley becomes the sideline, and there is no alley for doubles tennis. There are two types of doubles, standard and mixed. In standard doubles, known simply as doubles, the four players will be of the same sex, with mixed doubles comprising one male and one female on each team.

For doubles, the same rules apply as they do in singles tennis.

The server will stand behind the baseline, between the centre line and the singles sideline. The four players take turns in serving an entire game. The order of serving stays the same through the set.

Playing positions for doubles

In this diagram, imagine that A is to serve to C. C will hit the ball to D, who will hit it back to D.

This is only an example. As with singles, players may move all over the court, and some players may prefer to play close to the net while their team-mate plays further back for the long balls.

If one player serves in game 1, their partner will serve in game 3. The opposing team would serve games 2 and 4 respectively. That order is kept throughout the set. The receiving team decide which player is to receive the first service, and that player receives the first service in every odd-numbered game throughout the set.

Each game is started with a service from the right hand side of the court, and alternately after each point. The receiving players do not change positions. They stay where they are, and receive in turns, as the serving players change position after every point.

Once, the ball is in play, the players to not have to hit the ball alternately. One player on the team may hit several balls in a row if they wish. If the service hits the server's partner, it is a fault. If the service hits the receiver's partner, it is a point to the serving team.

If there is a tie-break, the player who is due to serve next serves the first point. The service then alternates as in the singles game, but following the order already in place for the set. The pair who serve first in the tie-break game will receive the first service of the next set, if applicable.

Types of shot

Approach shot - a shot made before the player moves to the net.

Backhand - played with the reverse side of the racket.

Cross court shot - played diagonally across the court.

Deep volley - a volley that lands close to the opponent's baseline.

Drop shot - a shot that drops just over the net.

Forehand - played with the front side of the racket.

Flat service - a shot hit with the flat racket face, thus having no spin.

Ground stroke - played after the ball has bounced.

Half-volley - a shot made as the ball hits the ground.

Lob - a shot played high into the air, to come down in the opposing half of court.

Passing shot - a shot which passes the opponent while they are at the net.

Smash - a ball hit above the head, hit powerfully into the opposing court.

Stop volley - usually made close to the net, drops over close to the net.

Slice - a shot played with backspin and perhaps sidespin


The playing area, 27 feet (8.22 metres) wide, 78 feet (23.77 metres) long, with a 4 feet 6 inches (1.73 metre) alley on each side. This is extra to the 27 feet width. This makes the total width 36 feet (10.97 metres) which is used for doubles.

The service courts are 21 feet (6.4 metres) long by 13 feet 6 inches (4.11 metres) wide. The service line - the line which divides the service courts from the remainder of the court half is 18 feet (4.87 metres) from the baseline at the back edge of the court.

The tennis ball is made of rubber and covered with wool or any acceptable synthetic substitute, but it must not have stitched seams. Each ball should be pressurised so that if dropped onto a concrete surface from a height of 2.54 metres (100 inches), it should bounce up to a height of between 1.35 to 1.47 metres (53 to 58 inches).

The diameter of the ball is between 6.35 and 6.67 centimetres (2 and a half to just under three inches), and it weighs between 56.7 and 58.5 grams (2 to just over 2 ounces). The balls are usually yellow.

In major tournament play, the balls are kept refrigerated. There will usually be six balls available at courtside, and the balls are changed at the end of the first seven games, and after every nine after that.

Balls are not changed during tie-break games. If the balls are due to be changed at the start of the tie-break, the change is delayed until after the tie-break game.

The net is 0.91 metres (3 feet) high. If singles is being played, there should be 'singles sticks' placed at each end of the net, 0.91 metres (3 feet) outside the singles lines. They are 1.07 metres (3 feet 6 inches) high.

The doubles posts are also the net posts, so they are always up, whether singles or doubles is being played. They are 1.07 metres (3 feet 6 inches) high.


Short Tennis is played on a short tennis court which measures 13.4 metres by by 6.1 metres (44 feet by 20 feet).

Short tennis court

The outdoor game is usually played with the standard tennis ball. The indoor game is usually played with a yellow foam ball.

The racket used can be either a small size tennis racket or a specific short tennis racket, which is smaller than a standard tennis racket and does not have strings, instead it has a hard plastic mesh face, so it looks almost the same as an ordinary tennis racket.

The rules for singles and doubles play are the same as standard tennis, with the exception of the scoring system.

The winning player or pair is the first to 11 points. The points are counted as 1, 2, 3 and so on. If the scores are level at 10 points each, the match continues until one player or pair has a two point lead such as 12-10 or 15-13.


Ace - a serve of the ball that the opponent cannot return - for example, hits the court and then bounces out without the receiving player having a chance to hit it

Break point - when the serving player loses the game.

Break serve - to break serve is to win a game where the winning player received. To have your serve broken is to lose a game where you served

Championship point - (or similar), unofficial term used if only a match point is needed to win a tournament, etc.

Deuce - a tie in the scores

Double fault - two wrong serves in a row

First return - the return of the ball from the first serve. This is often mentioned in relation to points won with the first serve.

First serve - the first of the two serves allowed. This is often mentioned in relation to points won with the first serve, or percentage of first serves 'in' - whether they were faulted or not.

Forced error - the opponent can get their racquet on the ball but is in a difficult position where they cannot play the ball back into the court.

Game - one game of tennis - to 40 points

Grand Slam - the four Open Championships. To win all four in one year is to 'do the Grand Slam'

Let - if a player is interfered with by an outside source, the shot is replayed

Love - no points

Love game - a game in which a player wins without the opponent scoring

Match - the term to describe all the games and sets together

Match point - when a player just needs one point to win the match (like 40-30)

Net game - when a player plays close to the net, they are said to be playing a net game

Points saved - usually in the form of 'break points saved', where the opponent has had a break point (or whichever point applies) and the other player has won the point instead.

Rally - the act of two players hitting the ball back and forth continuously, even briefly.

Receiver - the receiving player is the one who is being served to

Second return - the return of the ball from the second serve. This is often mentioned in relation to points won with the second return.

Second serve - the second of the two serves allowed. This is often mentioned in relation to points won with the second serve, or percentage of second serves 'in' - whether they were faulted or not.

Seeding - a way of rating the players

Set - a set of games, played until one player has won six games and is ahead by two games

Set point - when a player just needs one point to win the set (like 40-30)

Umpire - the official for professional matches who ensure that rules are followed, and gives line calls (for when the ball is in or out, and other rules matters)

Unforced error - if a player does not return the ball to the court, although they could have done so.

Volley - the act of two players hitting the ball back and forth continuously, even briefly.


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