What is a foot fault in tennis? 4 Types, the Rules, & How to Stop

A foot fault in tennis is an illegal movement of the server’s feet while conducting a serve. A foot fault may happen on either the first serve or the second serve. If two foot faults happen in a row, it results in a double fault.

a foot fault in tennis

4 Types of Foot Faults in Tennis

There are 4 possible types of foot faults in tennis. By learning how these occur, you will reduce the potential for committing and being called on a foot fault during a match. The 4 types of foot faults are:

  1. The most common type of foot fault occurs when the server touches the baseline or the court area with either foot before the ball is hit. It is acceptable to touch the baseline or the court area after the server’s racket has contacted the ball.
  2. The server changes position by either walking or running. Although, slight movements of the feet are permitted. Running or walking up to the baseline and immediately tossing and hitting the serve is not permitted. 
  3. The imaginary extension of the center mark is touched with either foot. The server must stand to the side of the center mark. 
  4. The server touches the area outside the imaginary extension of the sideline with either foot. For example, in singles, the server cannot stand in the area behind the doubles alley (the space between the singles line and the doubles line).

Why does a foot fault exist?

A foot fault exists to ensure that all players serve from the allowed area. For example, if a server moves into the court area before hitting the ball, the distance to the service court becomes shorter. This shorter distance therefore gives them an unfair advantage. 

Related Content: What is a fault in tennis?

A foot fault is just one type of fault that can occur during a serve in tennis. To learn about the others, read my article on the types of faults in tennis.

Who can call a foot fault?

In professional matches, either the umpire or the line caller (line judge) can declare a foot fault. In USTA (United States Tennis Association) tournaments and league matches, a roving umpire can call a foot fault.

In other matches, the receiver or the receiver’s partner may call foot faults only after all reasonable efforts have failed. These efforts can include warning the server and attempting to get an official to the court. In these circumstances, the foot fault must be so flagrant as to be clearly perceptible from the receiver’s side.

a tennis player standing on the line during a serve as a foot fault

What are some of the causes of a foot fault?

  1. The most common cause of a foot fault is moving your front foot. If you stand very close to the baseline and move this foot slightly, you likely will touch the line before hitting the serve.
  2. Some people move their back foot (the right foot for right-handed players) around while serving. While a small movement of the back foot can be acceptable – you do not want to move the back foot around your body. This opens up your shoulders too quickly and can cause inconsistency in your serves and risk foot faulting. 
  3. When aligning your feet to begin a serve, look down at your feet. Both feet need to be to one side or the other of the center mark or line. 
  4. When playing singles or doubles a foot fault can occur if you are not paying attention to where you are when starting your serve. For example, you cannot stand behind the doubles alley in singles.

Tips to Help Stop a Foot Fault

The most important way to help stop a foot fault is to know the rules. Next, before starting your serve, look down at your feet to make sure you are in the correct position. If you tend to move your front foot before your racket contacts the ball, there are ways to practice keeping your front foot in place.

One way is to practice your serve from the service line. Concentrate on swinging easy and with a nice smooth rhythm. Sometimes players move their front foot trying to hit a hard serve. Immediately after hitting the ball, look down at your front foot and make sure it has not inched forward.

You can also practice by placing a ball in front of your front foot. If the ball moves during your swing you will know that your left foot has moved. Another way to practice keeping your front foot in place is to hit serves against a backboard. Focus on swinging easy with a consistent rhythm. This takes the pressure off hitting the ball in the service court so you can concentrate on your feet and swing motion.

Another way to practice keeping your front foot down is to place a short wooden dowel just underneath the ball of your front foot. During your service motion, you can feel your foot moving forward over the dowel. To be safe, it is best to place your front foot one to two inches behind the baseline.

a tennis player standing too close to the baseline during a serve

Final Thoughts About Tennis Foot Faults

Just like any other game, tennis rules intend to remove any unfair advantage other than skill. The foot fault tennis rule exists exactly for that. There are 4 different ways you can commit a foot fault. If you aren’t careful you can fault not just your first serve, but also your second serve resulting in a double fault.

However, with practice and good habit forming, you can follow the simple tips in this article to help reduce or eliminate your potential for foot faults in tennis.

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