The Right Way to Play: Tennis Rules Explained

Do you struggle to understand all the rules of tennis? You’re not alone! Tennis has a unique set of rules that may seem confusing at first. But once you understand them, the game becomes much more enjoyable.

From scoring to serving to the finer points of play, learning the ins and outs of tennis rules is essential. It’s important for anyone looking to improve their game.

In this article, we’ll break down the key rules of tennis in a clear and understandable way. So you can step onto the court with confidence.

two cool kids in tennis apparel

Get Ready to Play Tennis: What You Need

The Basic Stuff: Rackets and Balls

When playing tennis, you need a racket and a tennis ball. Singles matches have one player on each side, while doubles matches have two players on each side.

Consider the racket’s material, tension, and grip size. Make sure the tennis ball suits the playing surface. The weight, balance, and string pattern of the racket are also important.

Choose balls that fit specific court surfaces like grass, clay, hard surface, or carpet. The game’s dynamics depend heavily on the quality of tennis balls. For example, serving the ball with pace and spin helps determine game results.

A good racket can provide power, control, and accuracy in striking the ball. Choosing the right equipment is crucial for a player’s performance on the court.

Dressing for the Court: Tennis Clothes

When getting ready to play tennis, it’s important to choose the right attire. The clothes should let players move easily and comfortably, so they can swing their racket and run without any problems. It’s best to wear lightweight, breathable outfits that can wick away sweat, keeping players cool and dry during the match. The right clothing can help improve focus and mobility on the court.

For example, clothes that are too tight might restrict movement, making it uncomfortable to play. On the other hand, loose or baggy clothes could cause distractions and get in the way during the match. So, it’s important to pick tennis clothes that balance comfort, functionality, and a professional look, to make sure players are well-prepared for the game.

Do I Need Special Shoes?

Special tennis shoes are important for playing tennis. They help improve performance and prevent injuries. These shoes offer specific support and cushioning that can enhance movement and stability on the court.

For example, they have lateral support to prevent ankle injuries and are designed to prevent slipping caused by quick changes in direction while playing.

When choosing special tennis shoes, players should look for durable outsoles, cushioning, and ankle support to ensure stability and prevent injuries. For example, running shoes are made for one direction which is forward. They generally do not have the lateral support needed for tennis. 

Players should also consider the court surface when selecting their shoes. Different surfaces such as clay, grass, and hard courts require specific shoe designs to optimize performance and minimize the risk of injury.

Understanding Tennis Scoring

The Points: Love, 15, 30, 40

The point values in tennis are Love, 15, 30, and 40. Players start at Love and progress as they score points. When at 40, a player wins the game with another point. If both reach 40, it’s deuce, and they must win by two clear points. This keeps the game exciting.

Additionally, players must win a certain number of sets to win the game. Generally the best two out of three sets win a match. In professional tennis, women’s matches are typically best of three sets, while men’s matches are best of five sets. This combination adds complexity and strategy to tennis, making it an engaging and competitive sport for players and spectators.

Winning a Game: How to Score More

Strategies like quickly identifying an opponent’s weaknesses and acting on them can help a player earn more points.

For example, targeting a left-handed opponent’s difficulty with backhand slices can lead to them making errors and the player gaining more points. Landing a high percentage of first serves and focusing on placement can also pressure and frustrate the opponent, resulting in more points. Improving strong, fast serves and having a reliable first serve percentage can increase point gains. Mastering different shots, including volleys, drop shots, lobs, overheads, and angles, enhances a player’s chances of scoring points by offering more opportunities to place the ball out of the opponent’s reach.

Tie-Break: When the Game is Even

When a tennis game is tied at 6-6, a tiebreak is played. The first player or team to reach seven points, with a lead of at least two points, wins the tiebreak.

In a tiebreak, the serving order changes with the next person due to serve starting and serving the first point to the deuce side of the court. The following two points are then served by the opponent starting on the ad side. In doubles, the player on the opposing team due to serve will serve these points.

Players or teams switch ends of the court every six points, and the point numbering system is used to keep track of the score in the tiebreak game. The Coman tiebreak procedure has the players change ends after the first point and then after every four points. 

The winner of the tiebreak game takes the set by a score of 7-6. Specific rules and regulations dictate how a tiebreak is conducted, including serving points and counting tiebreak points towards the overall game.

tennis net close up

How to Hit Tennis Shots

Forehands and Backhands: Swinging the Racket

The forehand and backhand swings in tennis have key differences.

For a forehand, the player swings the racket across their body toward the opposite side, making contact on the dominant side.

In a backhand, the player swings the racket toward the same side, with the non-dominant hand closer to the base of the racket.

The technique for swinging the racket varies between forehands and backhands because each stroke requires different body movements and hand positioning.

To achieve a powerful and accurate forehand, players are advised to step into the shot, rotate their core, and extend the hitting arm through the ball.

For an effective backhand, players should focus on keeping their non-dominant hand steady, using the shoulders to rotate, and shifting weight from the back foot to the front foot.

These tips can help improve the power and accuracy of forehand and backhand swings in tennis.

Serving Right: Starting the Game

Before starting a tennis game, a player should prepare to serve by choosing the right spot on the baseline and deciding where to serve the ball. The key techniques to focus on include the racket grip, baseline position, and serve execution.

Specific rules must be followed when serving in tennis, such as ensuring both feet are behind the baseline and striking the ball directly above the server’s head. The serve must be performed underarm or overarm, and the ball must be contacted before it touches the ground. Additionally, the server must alternate sides of the court for each point and serve within a specified time frame.

Volleys: Hitting on the Fly

Hitting volleys on the fly in tennis needs quick footwork and good hand-eye coordination.

Unlike groundstrokes, volleys are hit while the ball is in the air.To get better at this, it’s important to have the right foot positioning and timing. Practicing controlled racquet movements and reflexes can also help improve volley skills.

Lobs and Drops: Overheads and Soft Shots

In tennis, successful lobs and drops require different techniques and strategies. For lobs, players need to focus on footwork, timing, and racquet positioning. This helps them return shots effectively. Proper positioning and the right swing can improve overhead shots for successful lobs.

Soft shots, in contrast, rely on backspin and a delicate touch to surprise opponents with shots near the net. Players use soft shots to change the game’s pace or force opponents to the net. Mastering soft drop shots involves controlling the racquet face and the amount of spin on the ball.

By mastering these techniques, players can add versatility to their game, giving them a competitive edge on the court.

The Main Goal in Tennis

Points, Games, Sets: The Path to Winning

The tennis scoring system consists of points, games, and sets. A player wins a game by scoring four points, which are referred to as 15, 30, and 40. When the score reaches 40-40, it’s called deuce, and one player must win by two clear points.

To win a game, a player needs to win a minimum of six games and be ahead by at least two games to win the set. If both players reach 6-6, a tiebreak is played, and the first player to reach 7 points with a two-point lead wins the set.

The main goal in tennis is to win a certain number of sets, usually best of three for women’s matches and best of five for men’s matches. This involves winning a significant number of sets by accumulating points and games, ultimately leading to victory in the match.

Tie-breaks are important in neutralizing the game and deciding a winner when set scores are tied, ensuring that each match has a definitive winner.

Match Play: Best of Sets

In match play tennis, the “best of sets” format means the player or team needs to win a certain number of sets to win the match.

Women’s matches are usually best of three sets, while men’s matches are best of five sets.

This format affects the strategy and pace of a tennis match. It allows players to adjust their approach and tactics since they must win multiple sets, rather than just based on the total number of games.

The advantage of the “best of sets” format is it gives players the opportunity to recover from a poor start or overcome a slow opponent by winning more sets.

However, a disadvantage of this format is that it can lead to longer matches, which may be physically demanding for players and require more stamina and endurance.

tennis balls on a clay court

Playing By the Rules: Fair Tennis

Service Rules: Serving Without Faults

In tennis, there are specific rules for serving without faults. To comply with the service rules, a player must:

  • Serve within the service area
  • Serve the ball over the net
  • Keep the serve within the margins of the court

Serving without faults is important because it allows the player to effectively start the point and have a better chance of scoring. It also prevents the opponent from gaining an advantage and puts the serving player in a good position to win the game.

Line Calls: In or Out?

Determining whether a shot is in or out in a tennis match requires precision and accuracy. Players must accept an opponent’s line call decision. Their judgment is final.

Fair and accurate line calls can be ensured by maintaining good sportsmanship, honesty, and respect for the game. Umpires and line judges are used to resolve line calls when players cannot mutually agree.

Honesty is critical in the game as there are no technological means for line calls. Pros often show a ball mark on clay courts or the worn fuzz on hard courts during close calls. This gives their opponent a chance to agree to the ‘out’ call and accept the point or potentially agree to replay the point, determining that it was indeed in.

Net Play: Rules for Crossing Over

A player must concede the point when that player or the players racket touches the net or the opponents court, while the ball is in play. 

It’s important to note that stepping into the opponent’s court and touching any part of it, even with a racket, is a violation of the rules. If a player does any of these things, they lose the point.

Crossing over the net in tennis is directly related to the outcome of a point or game. By carefully maneuvering the ball to the opponent’s side without any violations, a player can secure points, while infractions may lead to a loss of points or the entire game. Therefore, following the rules of crossing over the net is essential for ensuring fair play and maintaining the integrity of the game.


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