Tennis Rules Explained – An Essential Guide

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

tennis rules

Do you want to learn to play tennis, or do you just want to know what’s happening 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. First, let’s go over some general tennis rules and regulations that apply to all of tennis before we learn how to play singles matches and doubles matches.


QUICK NAVIGATION

  1. Equipment
  2. Court
  3. Match
  4. Scoring
  5. Serving
  6. Violations
  7. Final Thoughts
  8. FAQs

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 in long, including the handle, or 12.5 in wide. The hitting surface must have crisscrossing strings on a flat surface. Lastly, it should not be longer than 15.5 in or wider than 11.5 in.

Ball:

The diameter of the tennis 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 tennis 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.


tennis equipment

COURT

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 tennis player should stand before serving.

Center Line: 

The centerline separates the two service boxes on either side of the court into a distinct left and right service box. 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 comparison, if a ball 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 court sideline is the most inner 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.


tennis court lines

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 tennis 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.


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. During a tennis match, there are a few important resting periods to be aware of.

  • Warm-Up: 5 minutes
  • 25 sec between points
  • 90 sec for changing ends of the court
  • 120 sec at the end of each set

On the pro circuit, the chair umpire strictly enforces these periods. However, recreational tennis players are usually not as strict with these rules.


SCORING

The tennis scoring system uses 3 main measurement units to track a match’s progress. These include Points Sets & Games.

Points:

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

Sets & Games:

The first player to win 6 games wins the set. However, as with “deuce,” you must win at least 2 games in a row. A tiebreaker is usually played if the score is 6-6. The rules for handling ties vary depending on the type of tournament.

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.

tennis line call

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 begins when a set is split at six games apiece, and the player who scores seven points wins the tiebreak. The first player to win by a two-point advantage wins.


SERVING

A tennis match begins with a coin toss or a racket spin. The player who chooses to serve first serves first.

Where To Stand:

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.

Alternating Sides:

Following the first point, the server moves to the ad side of the court to serve and then switches back and forth between each point until the end of the game.

Where To Hit The Ball?

The server hits the ball diagonally over the net into the correct service box.

How Many Serves Do You Need To Make?

At each point, the player serving has two tries, also known as first and second serve.

Faults:

In tennis, a “fault” is when a player fails to serve the ball properly. The server either stepped on or over the baseline or center mark (referred to as a “foot fault,”) or could not correctly hit the ball diagonally into the service box.

After the first fault, the server will get another chance to serve. However, a second fault (double fault) leads to the opponent being awarded 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. Any let must be called immediately if the serve is an obvious or near ace.


tennis umpire chair on a clay court

VIOLATIONS

Ball Abuse: 

According to this rule, ball abuse is defined as when a player hits a ball deliberately or carelessly outside of the court’s boundaries, inside the court dangerously or carelessly, or carelessly hitting a ball with no regard for the repercussions.

Racket or Equipment Abuse: 

When a player throws his racket due to anger or frustration during a tennis match.

Physical Abuse: 

Players cannot physically abuse any official, opponent, viewer or another person within the boundaries of a tournament site.

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 offense 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 instruct a player during a game of tennis.

Timing Violation: 

If players break the time rule or take too long to return from the bathroom, they violate the basic rules regarding the match’s rhythm.


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 the United States Tennis Association (USTA) site here.


FAQS

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RULES FOR DOUBLES AND SINGLES?

The number of players is a key distinction between singles and doubles. In singles tennis, two players on the court competing against one another. Four players are on the court at once while playing doubles tennis in a 2v2 style.

Apart from using a larger court that includes doubles alleys on both sides, most doubles tennis rules are the same as singles rules. There is no requirement for players in a pair to hit alternate shots. Each player serves once every fourth game, although the serve rotates.

WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF TENNIS?

The objective of tennis is to win enough points to win a game, enough games to win a set, and enough sets to win a match. The game is played on a rectangular court with a net strung across the center. The aim is to hit the ball over the net, landing the ball within the boundaries of the court and in a way that results in the opposing player failing to return the ball.

IS COACHING ALLOWED DURING A TENNIS MATCH?

According to the ITF rulebook, coaching is not permitted during matches, singles or doubles. Any verbal or nonverbal exchanges between players and coaches can be interpreted as coaching. Therefore, coaches cannot coach players on the court or from the stands.

The only time coaches may speak to their players is when they are on the same side of the court, with hand signals being acceptable. Hand gestures are allowed only if they do not obstruct play or hinder the opposition.

CAN YOU TOUCH THE NET IN TENNIS?

When in play, the player cannot touch the net or net post with anything they wear or hold or cross over onto the opposing player’s side of the court until a point is over. If they do, the opponent is awarded the point.

CAN YOU HIT YOUR OPPONENT WITH A BODY SHOT IN TENNIS?

The truth is, there is nothing written in the rules of tennis about deliberately aiming for or hitting your opponent. So this is certainly a valid strategy from a “legal” perspective. If a ball in play touches a player or anything they are wearing or carrying, they lose the point, according to the rulebook (excluding the racket).

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DROP YOUR RACKET IN TENNIS?

To return the ball to the opposing player, a player cannot throw or let go of the racket. While hitting the ball, the player must maintain absolute control of the racket. Even if the player unintentionally drops the racket after striking the ball, the ball is still in play.