Tennis Rules

Understanding the “Tennis Rules” is key to enjoying the game as a player or spectator. Tennis is a popular racket sport played between two players (singles) or two teams of two players each (doubles). The game is played on a rectangular, flat surface called a tennis court. The dimensions and markings on a tennis court are standard across all levels, from recreational play to professional tournaments.

Tennis evolved from the French game “jeu de paume” (game of the palm) in the late 19th century and became popular in England and the United States. Over the years, tennis has developed into a global sport with millions of fans and prestigious tournaments like Wimbledon, French Open, US Open and Australian Open.

Field and Equipment

The Tennis Court

A tennis court is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles matches. For doubles matches, the width is increased to 36 feet. The court is divided into two equal halves by the net. There are no standard dimensions for recreational or club tennis courts, but they adhere closely to the official dimensions.

The baseline is the backline parallel to the net at each end. The service lines are 21 feet from the net on each side. The center service line divides the service areas diagonally. The net is 3 feet 6 inches high at the center strap. The lines on each side of the net are the singles sideline and extend to the baselines.


Tennis is played with strung rackets no longer than 29 inches and no wider than 12.5 inches across. Rackets weigh between 9 to 12.6 oz and have different head sizes and string patterns. Composite frames made of graphite and carbon fiber are common today.

Tennis Balls

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) approves all tennis balls used in competitions. The balls have a uniform surface and bounce consistency. Balls are felt-covered hollow rubber pressurized with air. Balls wear out quickly and new ones are used every 7-9 games in professional matches.


Tennis clothes are designed for comfort and unrestricted movement. Typical tennis attire includes shorts, sleeveless shirts, skirts, compressed garments, hats/headbands and specialty tennis shoes. White clothing was historically customary but any colors are permitted today.

Gameplay  Tennis Rules


A game starts with the server standing behind the baseline. The ball must be tossed in the air and hit into the diagonally opposite service box without bouncing. The serve must cross over the net and land in the service box. If the first serve misses, the server gets a second attempt.

Service Sequence

The server’s first serve is from the right side of the court and alternates in subsequent turns. At the start of a new game, the first serving rotation is chosen randomly by a coin toss. In doubles, each team has one turn to serve per game.

Let Serve

If the served ball touches the net but lands in the correct service box, it is called a let. A let serve is retaken without counting as a fault.

Foot Fault

Stepping on or across the baseline before contacting the serve is called a foot fault and results in a second serve.

Double Fault

Missing two consecutive serves results in a double fault. It counts as a point for the receiver.

Ball in Play

After a legal serve, the players alternate hitting the ball across the net. The ball must bounce once on the opposite side before being returned. The exchanges continue until one player fails to make a legal return.

Legal Return

The ball must be hit into the opponent’s court before it bounces twice. Players can hit the ball in the air before it bounces. The ball can bounce once or not at all.

Scoring a Point

A player scores a point if:

  • The opponent fails to return the ball before it bounces twice
  • The opponent hits a return that fails to cross the net
  • The opponent hits the ball outside the court
  • The opponent hits the ball into the net
  • The opponent is unable to play a shot due to obstruction or injury

Winning a Game

A standard game is won by the first player to win 4 points with a margin of 2 or more points over the opponent. If the players are tied at deuce (3 points each), the game continues until one player establishes a 2 point lead.

Winning a Set

A match is divided into sets, which are typically first to 6 games. However, a 6-game margin is required in professional matches so sets often exceed 6 games. A tie-break is played if the set reaches 6-6. The tie-break winner is awarded the set 7-6.

Winning a Match

A match can be decided in 3 sets (best of 3) or 5 sets (best of 5). The first player to win the majority of sets takes the match. If a match reaches one set all, a deciding final set is played.

Scoring and Match Procedures

Tennis Scoring System

Tennis has a unique scoring system that differs from most other sports. Instead of numeric scoring, tennis uses specific terminology:

  • Love – Starting score of a game, zero points
  • 15 – First point won
  • 30 – Two points won
  • 40 – Three points won
  • Deuce – Tied at 40-40
  • Advantage – One player needs one more point to win the game after deuce

Calling Out the Score

The score is announced with the server’s score first. For example, if the server has won two points and opponent none, the score is “30-Love”. Other examples:

  • 15-15: One point each
  • 30-40: Server has 3, receiver has 4 points
  • Deuce: Tied at 40-40
  • Advantage Server: Server has advantage after deuce

Game, Set and Match

The player who wins the game says “Game” and states their name. The umpire announces “Game Smith” to confirm. When a set is won, “Set” is called instead of “Game”. For match point, “Game, Set and Match” is announced by the umpire.

Serving Order

At the end of each standard game, the receiver becomes the new server and serves the first point of the next game. In a tie-break, players take turns serving two points in a row starting from 0-0.

Change of Ends

After every odd numbered game, players switch sides. This ensures equal advantage to cope with environmental factors like sunlight and wind direction.

Rest Periods

Professional matches have defined rest periods between sets. Players are allowed toilet breaks and change of attire breaks. There are also 90 second breaks allowed after odd numbered games in some tournaments.

Advanced Tennis Rules and Strategies

Shot Selection

Mastering groundstrokes like forehands, backhands, volleys and lobs is essential. Drop shots, half volleys and swing volleys are also useful. The serve and return of serve are critical skills. Vary pace and placement and move the opponent around.

Net Play

Approaching the net after a deep shot puts pressure on the opponent. The key is good timing, agility and ability to hit sharp angles. Use swing volleys, drop volleys and sinking volleys to finish points.

Defense vs Offense

Counter-punchers rely on consistency and defense from the baseline until they get a weak ball to attack. Big servers aim for aces and service winners. All-court aggressive players create opportunities by moving forward.

Singles Strategy

Attacking a weak serve, dominating your service game, and targeting opponent weaknesses like a weak backhand are common singles tactics. Moving opponents side-to-side creates openings.

Doubles Tactics

Communication, poaching serves, controlling the net, volleying quickly, and hitting angled shots are doubles keys. The serve and return formations are the Australian or V with receiver crossed or down the line.

Physical Training

Tennis requires a mix of anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Speed, agility, power, flexibility and balance training are incorporated along with interval running, sprints and multi-directional moves. Core strength prevents injury.


The basic rules of tennis revolve around the court, equipment, serving protocol, legal shots, scoring system and winning procedures. Mastering techniques like groundstrokes, volleys, serves and returns enable tactical play. Physical training improves on-court speed, agility and stamina. While tennis seems simple at a recreational level, it requires comprehensive skill, strategy and athleticism at an elite level. Understanding tennis rules and gameplay provides a strong foundation to excel as a competitive player or engaged spectator.

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