Tennis Rules Explained – The Essential Guide

Learn All The Tennis Rules And Find Out More About The Basic Rules And Regulations Necessary For Playing A Singles Or Doubles Match.

tennis rules

Do you want to learn to play tennis, or do you just want to know what’s going on when you’re watching tennis on TV or at a tournament? To understand the sport, you’ll obviously need to know the rules of tennis. However, they can be difficult to remember at first. Still, we’ll walk you through every detail as thoroughly and simply as possible. So, if you want to learn more about the official tennis rules recognized by the majority of tennis organizations, keep reading. First, let’s go over some general tennis rules and regulations that apply to all of tennis before we learn how to play singles and doubles.

Quick Navigation

  1. Equipment
  2. Court
  3. The Match
  4. Scoring
  5. Serving
  6. Changeover Procedures
  7. Clock Rule
  8. Violations
  9. Final Thoughts

 1. Equipment

Although few players will violate any tennis equipment rules, it is beneficial to have rudimentary knowledge to avoid any penalties.

Racket

Mainly, the biggest limitation of the racquet is its size. It cannot be more than 29 inches long, including the handle, or 12.5 inches wide. The hitting surface must have crisscrossing strings on a flat surface. Lastly, it should not be longer than 15.5 inches or wider than 11.5 inches.

Ball

The diameter of the ball must be between 2.5 and 2.63 inches, and it must weigh at least 56 grams but no more than 59.4 grams. Tennis rules state that the ball must bounce between 53 and 58 inches after being dropped from 100 inches onto concrete.

Shoe

Current tennis rules allow players to wear whichever colour of tennis shoes they desire as long as they do not damage the court’s surface. Only players competing in Wimbledon must wear white tennis shoes.

2. Court

If you want to play tennis, the court must have precise dimensions. As a result, understanding the layout and naming conventions of the various parts is worthwhile.

Dimensions & Layout

  • 78 ft in length
  • Singles Width: 27 ft
  • Doubles Width: 36 ft
  • Net at the Sides: 3.5 ft
  • Net at the Middle: 3 ft

Most Common Court Naming Conventions

  • Baseline: The baselines are the lines on either end of the court that define the lengthwise boundaries of play. They are also the area from which a player serves.
  • Center Mark: The center mark divides the tennis court into two halves. It primarily aids in service by determining where a player should stand before serving.
  • Center Line: The centerline separates the two service boxes on either side of the court into distinct left and right service boxes. It is considered good to land a serve on the line.
  • Net: The net is 3 feet and 6 inches tall where the posts are, 3 feet tall in the middle, and 3 feet tall on either side of the court. Hitting a ball into the net is considered an out. In contrast, any ball that hits the net cord and falls on the other side is considered good, except for a serve, which allows for a re-do.
  • Service Line: The service line divides the forecourt from the backcourt and defines the length of the service box.
  • Singles Sideline: The singles sideline is the innermost line that runs lengthwise and establishes the border of play for singles games and the width of the service box.
  • Doubles Sideline: The doubles sideline is the longest and exclusively used in a doubles match.

Surface

Tennis can be played on a variety of different surfaces. Each surface has unique playing features that influence a player’s style of play and natural playing ability. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) categorizes each court based on its pace, which ranges from slow (level 1) to fast (level 5). Tennis courts have four different types of surfaces: grass, clay, hard, and artificial grass.

3. The Match

Before playing out the first point of the match with your opponent, either player or team will spin their racket, and the winner will have some options to choose from. They can pick one of three options:

  • Either to serve or to receive first 
  • or what side of the court to start the match from
  • Or they can defer their decision to their opponent – but the opponent cannot defer back.
  • Once the toss winner has chosen one of the options mentioned above, the opponent has the remaining choice.

During The Match

As a general rule, play should be continuous from the start of the match (when the first serve of the match is put in play) until the end of the match. There are a few crucial periods to be aware of during a tennis match, each of which is the maximum that players should not exceed:

  • Warm-Up: 5 minutes
  • 25 seconds between points
  • 90 seconds for changing ends of the court (unless during a tiebreak and after the first game of each set)
  • 120 seconds at the end of each set

In a professional tennis match, the chair umpire strictly enforces these times. However, you can be as flexible as possible with these rules in recreational tennis.

4. Scoring

Tennis’ scoring system uses three primary units of measurement to track progress throughout a match. These include Points Sets & Games.

Points

When a player scores four (or more) points: 15, 30, 40, and the game-winning point, the game is won. If both players reach 40, the score is known as “deuce.” After deuce, a player must win two points in a row: the first, known as “advantage,” and the game-winning point. If the opponent scores the next point, the game returns to deuce.

0 pointsLove
1 point15
2 points30
3 points40
Tied scoreAll
40-40Deuce
Server wins deuce pointAd-In
Receiver wins deuce pointAd-Out

Sets & Games

The score in sets is announced before the first serve in each new game by whoever is serving. First, state your score, followed by your opponent’s. For example, if you won the first set, you would say “1-0.” Someone must win six games to finish a set; the first person to win six games wins the set. However, as with “deuce,” you must win at least two games in a row. Play will continue if the score is 6-5. A tiebreaker is usually played if the score is tied at 6-6. (However, some tournaments have slightly different regulations for dealing with ties.

Line Calling

  • A player promptly makes calls on his or her side of the net.
  • A ball landing on the line is good.
  • Opponents get the benefit of the doubt.
  • A ball is good if it cannot be called out with confidence.
  • If a player and their partner disagree on whether the ball was out, they shall call it “in.”
  • Regardless of how clear it is to a player that his or her opponent’s ball is out, the opponent is entitled to an audible or visible call.
  • Spectators should never make decisions.
  • A let should be called when balls roll on the court. The server receives two serves.

Challenges

  • Each player is given two challenges to review line calls per set.
  • The player keeps the same number of challenges if a challenge is successful.
  • If the player gets a challenge wrong, one of the challenges is lost.
  • Each player will receive one additional challenge during a tie-break game in any set.
  • Challenges cannot be transferred from one set to another.
  • Only on the final shot of a rally may a challenge be made.

Tiebreak

A tiebreak is a special game used to determine the winner of a tie between two tennis players. When a set is split at six games apiece, the tiebreak begins, and the first player to score seven points wins the tiebreak and the set. If two players are tied at six points apiece, the first to win by a two-point margin wins.

5. Serving

When a tennis match is started by flipping a coin or spinning a racquet, the player who chooses to serve first serves first.

Where to Stand

Tennis serve rules state that the ball must be served diagonally into the service box across the net. When serving, the server must stay behind the baseline and has two chances to hit a good serve per point. You must stand behind the baseline with your non-playing hand holding a ball when preparing to serve. A little mark in the center of the baseline is called the ‘center mark.’ If a game has an even number of points, you must stand to the right of this mark when serving. Otherwise, you must position yourself to the left of the center mark.

Switching Sides

Following the first point, the server moves to the left side of the court (ad side) to serve and then rotates back and forth each point until the game is over.

Where To Hit the Ball?

The server throws the ball with their non-dominant hand and diagonally hits it over the net into the opposite service box. The server has the option of hitting the ball overhead or underarm.

How Many Serves Do You Need to Make?

Each point, the server receives two attempts, also known as a player’s first and second serve.

Faults

If the server hits into the net or their serve lands outside the service box. Assume that any part of the server’s foot comes into contact with the baseline during their service motion. In that case, they have committed a foot fault equivalent to a missed serve. A double fault occurs when a player faults twice in a row, and the player automatically loses the point.

Service Let

A service let can be called by any player. The call must be made before the return of serve is hit by the server or the server’s partner. If the serve is an obvious or near ace, any let must be called immediately.

Alternating Servers and Switching Sides

In singles, one player serves for an entire game, then the other serves, rotating back and forth. Every odd game, players switch sides of the court so that each player has the opportunity to compete from both sides of the court, which may or may not present certain challenges, such as serving into the sun.

6. Changeover Procedures

If you’ve ever watched a tennis match, you’ve probably noticed that players alternate between one side of the net and the other. This is not done at random because the players must adhere to the changeover rules. All players must follow these rules for the tennis game to be fair. For example, if one side of the court is exposed to more wind or is facing the sun, players will switch sides to ensure equal exposure to the conditions.

When a match begins, players switch sides after the first game is completed. They will then switch sides whenever the sum of the game scores is odd (2:1, 3:0, 4:3, 6:5). Except for the first changeover of each set (1:0), players are allowed to sit down and take a timed break before switching sides. During the first changeover of the set, players are not permitted to sit down, but they may drink a sip of water or quickly grab something from their bag. Every time a set ends, the players are given a set break. They can sit in their chairs and even use the restroom if necessary. They will only switch sides if the final set has an odd number of games (61, 63, 76). Even after sitting down, the players would return to the same side of the game.

7. Clock Rule

The clock rule, designed to make tennis matches faster, is one of the most recently developed rules. For example, some players used to take too long between points when serving, and the clock rule was able to stop that. The clock rule states that players have 25 seconds between the end of one point and the start of the next. When a player exceeds the 25-second limit for the first time, he or she receives a warning. After that, if the player takes more than 25 seconds to begin a point, they will lose a serve. Following that, the receiver must play at the server’s pace.

8. Violations

Another set of rules to consider is the one regarding violations. The major professional tennis organizations (Association of Tennis Professionals, International Tennis Federation, and United States Tennis Association) have similar codes of conduct. Therefore, a player has violated the rules if he acts in violation of such a code of conduct. A violation can result in fines, the loss of points, games, matches, and suspension from tournaments. The following are the most common tennis violations:

  • Ball Abuse: When a player hits a ball between points aggressively and purposely, regardless of whether the ball remains on the court or is struck outside the court.
  • Racket or Equipment Abuse: A player aggressively hits or throws his tennis racket or other equipment.
  • Physical Abuse: When a player physically assaults another player, umpire, spectator, or member of the coaching staff.
  • Verbal Abuse: When a player insults another player, an official, a fan, or a member of the coaching staff verbally.
  • Audible Obscenity: It is deemed an offence if a player expresses any audible profanity, regardless of language, loud and clear enough for others to hear.
  • Visible Obscenity: If a player makes an inappropriate gesture visible to others.
  • Best Efforts: When a player does not give her or his all, it is clear that he or she is not trying to win the match.
  • Coaching: It is not permitted for a tennis coach to give instruction to a player during a game of tennis.
  • Timing Violation: If a player breaks the time rule or takes too long to return from the bathroom, they violate the basic rules regarding the match’s rhythm.

While the violations listed above are the most common, there are others. Tennis is regarded as an elegant sport, and players should act accordingly. If a player commits the violations mentioned above, the punishments typically follow the pattern outlined below:

  • 1st Offense = Warning
  • 2nd Offense = Penalty of One Point
  • 3rd Offense & Any Subsequent Ones = Game penalty
  • after the third offense, the chair umpire or tournament director decides whether to call a default/disqualification.

9. Final Thoughts

Even though it was a lot, you made it to the end. If you understand the rules mentioned above, you know more about tennis than the majority of the population. Although we meant this article to be a complete examination of tennis rules, we did not cover every last detail, but you can look up all current rules and regulations on the official International Tennis Federation (ITF) site here or on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) site here.