What Is a Double Fault in Tennis? How to Stop Double Faulting

The tennis serve is a vital to the strength of a player’s ability to win a match. Without a strong serve, they will give up free points which could lead to the loss of games and the entire tennis match. In this article, we will discuss what is a double fault in tennis, common mistakes that lead to them, and strategies for how to avoid them.

A tennis player who committed a fault serves to avoid a double fault

What is a double fault in tennis?

A double fault in tennis is an error made during a serve when a player misses both the 1st and 2nd serves. Double faults occur often when players are nervous or under pressure, or have bad technique. However, some strategies can help to minimize the risk of double faults while playing.

The Rules and Regulations Around Double Faults

The rules and regulations around double faults in tennis are in the Official Rulebook of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). According to the ITF, a player is allowed two consecutive serves, but if he or she misses both the first and the second serve, then a double fault is declared. This means that the player has lost the point and the opponent has won it.

There are a couple of ways a player can “fault” on their serve. Most commonly, a player may hit the ball into the net or outside of the bounds of the service box. If the server has 2 consecutive faults then this is a double fault and the point is lost. 

Another way a “fault” can occur is by foot faulting. Since service faults occur much more often than foot faults, a double fault generally occurs when 2 service faults are committed back to back. However, in a professional match with line judges, it is possible to have a foot fault called while serving the 1st ball, then a service fault on the 2nd serve. This would still be called a double fault and the server would lose the point.

Although having a foot fault called is rare, it can happen and can be a bit “unnerving”. Since the server is looking up at the ball and not down at his / her feet, the foot fault is not seen by the server. In USTA League matches at a Sectionals or Nationals competition a roving or roaming umpire is present and he or she can call a foot fault on a player. If this occurs, it is quite unexpected by the server and can throw his or her focus off. 

Common Mistakes That Can Lead to a Double Fault

Intermediate-level players often make the mistake of attempting to strike the ball too forcefully. They frequently attempt an intense first serve and when they miss it, try a softer second one. The smarter approach is to use controlled speeds for both your initial and secondary serves with ample spin applied on them.

If you are consistently missing your first serve and relying on your second serve to start the point, you have essentially taken the pressure off of your opponent and put it on yourself. If you don’t have much confidence in your second serve, and you have just missed your first serve, then this puts a lot of pressure on you because if you miss it, you have given your opponent a free point. This is particularly true when playing doubles because your partner certainly expects you to hit your serve in.

This gets even worse if your opponent has the advantage on you with a break point. You definitely don’t want to double fault any time, but especially not on a break point!

Tennis player receiving coaching on how to avoid hitting double faults in a match

Strategies for Avoiding Double Faults While Playing a Tennis Match

A good way to practice to avoid double faulting is to take 1 ball and assume that you only get 1 serve instead of 2 serves to get the ball in the correct service box. The common “mindset” is thinking that it doesn’t matter if I miss my 1st serve because I have a 2nd chance to get the ball in. This will lead to a low percentage of 1st serves in the service court.

Practice this strategy and see if you can get at least 70% of the balls in the service court. Once you get your consistency higher, this will give you confidence, that once you enter a match that 1 ball is all you need. But, if you do miss your 1st serve, you have 1 more attempt to get the ball in and start the point.

If You Hit Into the Net a Lot, Try Hitting Up

If you hit a lot of serves into the net, you need to focus on hitting “up” on the ball. A common misconception is that you should try to hit the ball directly into the service square. A better approach is to make sure you get the racket head down your back and make sure you snap your wrist on the upswing which will get spin on the ball. This will get the ball going “up” and the spin will bring it down into the service court.

Consider Your Ball Toss

If you consistently hit the ball long, the cause could be a low ball toss. A low ball toss does not give your racket time or room to extend up at your full reach. This results in a low ball hit with a bent elbow, angling the racket head too far up. 

Similarly, if the ball toss is too far behind you, the serve will go out. If the toss is too far in front, the ball will go into the net. The ball toss should be slightly in front of you, but not too far.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Even if you have multiple double faults in a match, its best to think in the future not in the past. Dwelling on the loss of points may cause negative emotions such as anger which can only lead to more double faults. Tennis is a game that is very often won or lost by a mindset. Often when players double fault simply because of losing focus or thinking about past points.

What should I do if I miss my first serve?

Missing an initial serve is never the desired outcome, but bear in mind that no one hits a perfect 100% of their first serves. If this happens to you, take a deep breath and practice some relaxation techniques such as inhaling through your nose while exhaling out of your mouth two or three times. This simple exercise will help lower tension and stress levels so you can stay focused on getting back into the game!

tennis player commits a double fault

Pressure can cause us to grip the racket too tightly, making our hands, wrists and arms tense. Therefore it’s important not to get stressed if you fault your first serve: To let go of any tension just take a few steps from side-to-side or shake out your arm; many professional players also do this in times of pressure! The most crucial part is keeping calm – remind yourself that “I’ve got this,” practice some relaxation methods and stay confident.

If you are playing doubles, talk to your partner about who is the more consistent server. Generally, this person should start serving first. If you are playing outside, unless it’s a cloudy day, the sun can be a big factor. Discuss with your partner and establish who is the better person to serve facing the sun.

Examples of Professional Players Who Had a Series of Double Faults During Matches

Anna Kournikova holds the record for the most double faults in a match, with 31 against Miho Saeki. 

On the men’s side, Alexander Bublik served 26 double faults in his match against Thomas Fabiano in the 2019 US Open. Bublik went on to win the match. 

Alexander Zverev from Germany holds the highest average number of double faults per match which stands at 13.1.

Conclusions About How to Best Avoid Committing a Double Fault While Playing Tennis

If you are the server and have “double faulted”, you have given your opponent a big gift – you have given him a free point. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. This may seem elementary but practice your serve. How often do you go out to the court, with the sole intention of only hitting serves? Probably not often enough! Like anything, to be a good server requires a great deal of practice. 
  2. If your technique may be incorrect and you can’t fix it, then contact a good tennis instructor. Having the proper form, particularly when it comes to producing a good consistent serve is critical. The serve requires a good smooth rhythm to be effective. It could be that you are using the wrong grip and are hitting the ball too flat, or your toss is too low. You also need the proper form when tossing the ball. Be sure and keep your tossing arm straight.
  3. Practice relaxing techniques. If you are facing a second serve – don’t freak out!
  4. Practice hitting second serves only. This will allow you to develop confidence. 
  5. When playing doubles, discuss with your partner who has the most consistent serve. This person should serve first.

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