A tennis glossary is an alphabetical list of tennis terminology with definitions.
Tennis can be a daunting sport to learn when you’re just starting, as you must learn how to hit your shots, what everything means, and how it all fits together. But if you’re looking for clarification on some tennis terms, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled a list of all the tennis terms you should be familiar with and their meaning and definition.
A serve that is a winner without the receiving tennis player being able to return the ball.
Action is a synonym for spin and means rotation of the ball as it moves through the air, affecting its trajectory and bounce.
Refers to the left service court from the point of view of the player or team that is receiving service.
A term used when both players have the same number of points from 15-15 (15-all) to 30-30 (30-all). When the score is 40-40, the term is deuce.
All-court players, or all-rounders, have aspects of every tennis style, whether offensive baseliner, defensive counter-puncher or serve-and-volleyer. All-court players use the best bits from each style and mix them to create a truly challenging tennis style to play against.
A hard, forcing shot made deep into the opponent’s court, allowing the player to move in toward the net for an offensive volley.
A player’s position near the net is referred to as “at net.”
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) is the men’s tennis governing body.
The Australian doubles formation is a tactic for varying positions on serve. The net player sets up directly across from the opposing net player, while the server is closer to the middle of the court.
A shot struck by holding the racquet in the dominant hand but swinging the racquet from the non-dominant side of the body with the back of the dominant hand pointing in the direction the ball is being hit.
It refers to the reverse rotation of a ball, in relation to its trajectory, imparted on the ball by a slice or chop shot. Backspin generates an upward force that lifts the ball.
The term bagel in tennis is slang that refers to the score of 6-0. Tennis players use the word bagel to represent the score of zero because it resembles the shape of a bagel.
For this Rule, abuse of balls is defined as intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard for the consequences.
The action of throwing the ball into the air at the start of the service motion.
This is where you’ll hit your groundstrokes and serve. It’s the line that runs parallel to the net at the back of the court, farthest from the net and closest to the back fence or wall.
A baseline judge is an official stationed on a line with the baseline who is responsible for determining whether shots are in or out.
A tennis player whose strategy is to play from the baseline.
Is a serve that, even if not placed well, has so much pace or spin that it overwhelms the returner.
Bounce is the ball’s upward movement after hitting the ground. The trajectory of the bounce can be affected by the surface, weather, amount/type of spin and the power of the shot.
Term for the shape of the 1 in a 6-1 win or loss.
Break or Breakpoint:
Break means to win a game as the receiving player or team, thereby breaking serve.
A colloquial term for tiebreak.
One point away from breaking serve.
The buggy whip is a forehand shot in which the racket is brought up over the head after hitting the ball instead of across the body or over the shoulder.
A bye refers to the automatic advancement of a seeded singles player or doubles team from one round to the next without competing against an opponent.
Winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and the US Opens in the same year.
Is a player or court official’s decision as to whether a ball was in or out.
Career Golden Slam:
A tennis player has completed a career Golden Slam if they also won the Olympic gold medal and won all 4 major titles.
Even though no ATP or Grand Slams are played on it anymore, it is one of the four most common court surfaces.
A carry is when a player hits an illegal shot on which the ball is held and/or carried on the racket rather than struck.
A carve is an act of receiving a groundstroke shot by doing both an underspin and sidespin.
The tennis court venue’s premium seating location.
The Centerline judge is an official responsible for watching the center service line to determine whether a serve has entered the service court.
The center mark divides the baseline in half and runs perpendicular to the net. It defines the point you cannot cross when hitting a serve in either the deuce or ad court.
The chair is the umpire’s seat. Also, the term is used to reference the umpire, as in “The chair ruled that the shot was good.”
Challenge is what happens when a player tries to request an official review on where specifically the ball landed.
Change-over, also called change of the ends, means rest time given after players change ends after an odd-numbered game. The period for rest lasts for 90 seconds.
Method of using underspin to block a shot back into court. Sometimes used as a tactic to counteract a powerful serve.
Chip and Charge:
When a player returns a serve using a slice shot and goes to the net immediately after for a volley.
A stroke that generates large amounts of backspin.
A clay court is one of the types of tennis court on which the sport of tennis, originally known as “lawn tennis,” is played. Clay courts are made of crushed stone, brick, shale, or other unbound mineral aggregate, depending on the tournament.
A clean winner is a shot that the opponent cannot reach.
A closed racket is the hitting surface of the racket aimed downward.
Striking the ball with your back to the opponent and your body parallel to the baseline.
A defensive baseliner, counterpuncher or retriever tries to return every ball and relies on the opponent making mistakes.
Court or Tennis Court:
Is the area where a tennis game is played.
A shot that is hit diagonally across the court.
Cut means to hit the ball with a short, downward slicing motion, often drawing the racket strings across it to give some sideways spin in addition to backspin.
Cyclops is a computer system used on the ATP and WTA professional tennis tours as an electronic line judge to help determine whether a serve is in or out.
A dampener is a small accessory made of rubber you can add to your racket to reduce the vibration when you hit the ball.
A shot that skids or takes a very low bounce.
The annual Davis Cup is the premier international team event in men’s tennis.
This is a term used in tennis to describe a hit that goes deep into the opposite court, nearly hitting the baseline.
A default occurs when a player is removed from a match or tournament for any number of violations spelled out in the official rule book.
Deuce refers to the time during a tennis match in which the score of a game is tied 40-40.
The right side of the court. It is from this side that a player will first serve, and will also serve when the score is deuce.
This is a soft return in tennis with very little power or pace and intends to drop right over and close to the receiver’s side net.
Dirtballer is a term used to describe a specialist on clay courts.
A double bagel describes the outcome of a match where the score is 6-0, 6-0.
A double fault occurs whenever a tennis server fails to get their first and second serve inside the service box.
The act of striking the ball twice in the same stroke. It results in the loss of the point.
A tennis game played by four players, two per side of the court.
The doubles court is the playing area for a doubles match, which includes the two alleys as well as the singles court. The area is 78 feet long by 36 feet wide.
Down the Line:
A shot hit straight down the court, close to one of the sidelines.
Drag volley is a volley hit with backspin
The schedule of a tournament. Seedings and a random selection process determine the draw.
A drop shot made on a volley so softly hit that it falls to the playing surface just after clearing the net.
A missed shot or lost point that is entirely a result of the player’s own blunder and not because of the opponent’s skill or effort.
A match or tournament that is not played for money or ranking points but for entertainment or raising money.
During a serve, when the ball does not land inside the service area on the full. The player loses a point after two consecutive faults.
Fed Cup (or Federation Cup):
The Billie Jean King Cup – formerly known as Federation Cup (1963-1995) and Fed Cup (1995-2020) – was launched in 1963 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). It is now the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with 116 nations entered in 2020.
Fifteen or Five:
The first point of a game for either player or side.
First flight is the flight of the ball after it leaves the racket and before it bounces.
A shot hit with no spin.
The part of the swing after the ball is hit. A good follow through is important for accuracy and power.
A foot fault happens occurs when the server touches the baseline with their foot before or during contact with the ball.
Foot Fault Judge:
A foot fault judge is an official on the baseline who is responsible for calling foot faults.
A tennis shot placed so that the opponent misses it.
Is a stroke made with the front of the dominant hand facing the direction in which the ball is being struck.
Forcing shot is a tactic that puts the opponent on the defensive; often an approach shot.
The forecourt is the section of each side of the court that is nearest to the net.
Racket frame is the oval piece of the racket to which the stringing is attached.
Gallery is the spectator area at the ends and sides of a court.
A game is the second stage of the tennis scoring system. Essentially, it is an accumulation of 4 or more points won by the same player. It is also the building block of a set. Each set must comprise at least six games.
A game point in tennis occurs when a player wins the current game by scoring the next point.
“Game, set, match” is the phrase used by tennis players and officials to indicate that a winner has been determined and the match has concluded.
In tennis, a golden set is a set which is won without losing a single point. This means scoring the 24 minimum points required to win the set 6–0, without conceding any points.
In tennis, a Golden Slam, or a Golden Grand Slam, means an athlete wins four major championships and an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.
In tennis, Grand Slams are the four most prestigious tournaments in the world – in terms of points and prize money. The 4 Grand Slams are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open.
Grass is one of tennis’s three main playing surfaces (clay & hard courts). It is the traditional lawn tennis surface and famously the signature courts of Wimbledon. The grass turf produces a fast surface with a low bounce.
Grinding is when you use consistency and patience against a bigger, flashier player while refusing to give up.
A grommet strip refers to the plastic inserts surrounding the head of the tennis racket. These plastic inserts are stretched out over the string holes of the tennis head. The grommet strip protects the strings from harsh surfaces and edges
Groundstroke or Groundie:
A groundstroke, also known as a groundie, is a forehand or backhand stroke hit after the ball bounces on the court. It is one of the fundamental core shots in tennis and is normally played from the back of the court during a baseline rally.
Grunting in tennis is the very loud noise, sometimes described as “shrieking” or “screaming,” made by some players while and after hitting their shots. Tennis players grunt because it helps them concentrate, breathe, and increase their intensity.
Halfcourt is in the vicinity of the service line midway between the baseline and net, also called mid-court.
A ball-tracking computer system linked to cameras allows players to challenge calls by reviewing line calls.
Tennis lingo for a topspin shot with a lot of pace.
Hit on The Rise:
A ball hit before it reaches the highest point of the bounce.
Hold or Hold Serve:
To win the game when serving, use Hold or Hold serve.
A tennis ball hopper or basket is a practical piece of tennis equipment to store, pickup, and conveniently bring tennis balls to the court.
I-formation is a doubles tennis strategy carefully planned to confuse the opponent returning the serve.
Is call made when a ball falls within the playing area.
When a player runs around their backhand side to hit a forehand crosscourt.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is the world’s governing body of tennis.
To hit the ball straight to the opposing player’s body not allowing them to extend the racquet to hit the ball well.
Jump smash is a smash that is a powerful hit while the player is jumping into the air.
Junkball is a non-spinning ball in tennis to surprise and ruin the opponent’s rhythm.
Kick Serve or Kicker:
A kick serve is a serve where you brush up and over the back of the ball in order to achieve some important results: Good clearance over the net. The ball dipping down into the box. Moving laterally of the court. Bouncing up above the opponent’s shoulders.
A stroke in which a player will aim to win the point using the maximum possible power, so that his opponent has no chance of reaching the ball.
Lawn tennis is the more traditional game form that is played on grass courts.
Let is often called when a point has been interrupted in some way. The most common instance of a let is a service let when the ball clips the net tape but still lands in the service box. This causes a hindrance for the opponent, and the serve is retaken.
A line judge in tennis is an official whose first responsibility is to decide and communicate whether a ball landed in or out of bounds during a match.
A ball hit high in the air attempting to land behind the opposition player.
A Volley shot that aims to lob the ball over the opponent is typically used when the opponent is close to the net.
Alternative call to “out” when a ball lands beyond the baseline.
Since the late 1800s, the word “love” has been used to represent a score of zero in tennis. It’s unclear how this usage of “love” came about, but the most widely accepted argument is that those with zero points were still playing for the “love of the game” despite losing the match.
A love game is a game won without allowing the opponent to score a single point.
MacCAM is a system of slow-motion cameras used during tennis matches to replay close or controversial line calls. The system is named after John McEnroe, infamous for contesting umpire calls.
The Tennis Masters Cup is a tennis tournament played annually at the end of each year, involving the top eight players in the men’s tennis world rankings.
Match is the term used to describe an entire tennis contest.
A point in a match that, if won, brings the match to an end.
In a tiebreak, a point won against the server when ahead.
This happens when the player fails to hit the ball properly with the racket. When a player strikes the ball incorrectly, it is usually because they did not hit the ball in the racket’s ideal or sweet spot.
Mixed doubles is a type doubles tennis match that consists of one male and one female playing on each team.
Is the horizontal netting stretched across the middle of the court and supported by net posts, measuring 36 inches at the center strap and 42 inches at the net posts.
Is a cord that passes along and supports the top of a tennis net.
Net cord judge is an official who is responsible for calling lets on service.
A net point is won or lost by approaching the net, as opposed to a stroke from the baseline.
Net posts are wooden or metal bars that pull a tennis net taught, ensuring adequate use for gameplay.
When the game score hits 40-40 or deuce, no-ad scoring eliminates the necessity that a player needs to win by two points. When a game reaches 40-40 under no-ad scoring, the players play a game-ending point.
In tennis, a Not Up is a situation in which the player fails to hit the ball before it bounces twice.
An offensive volley is a volley that is usually hit from above the net and is intended to score a point.
An offensive volley is a volley that is usually hit from above the net and is intended to score a point.
“On Serve” simply means that neither player has a “break of serve” at the moment.
Tennis radically changed in 1968, when tournaments became open to amateur and professional players. The time since then is known as the ‘Open Era.’
It means to hold the racket so that the strings are facing mostly towards the ceiling, so you’re effectively slicing the ball.
The open stance is a common feature of modern tennis in which the feet are parallel to the net when hitting.
In tennis, “Open” is used to label a certain type of tournament. When the tournament is considered Open, that means there are spots for anyone to qualify.
An overhead is a shot hit over your head on your forehand side with a serve-like action.
An umpire’s decision to overturn a call made by a linesperson
Simply put, the term pace in tennis refers to how fast your shot travels after it leaves your racket. In other words, the ball speed.
Is a doubles tennis team.
The partner refers to one of the two players on a doubles team.
Pass (or Passing Shot)
Is a stroke that drives the ball to one side and beyond the reach of an opponent.
A safety-first strategy entails attempting to keep the ball in play rather than hitting winners. The goal is to push an opponent to make a mistake by staying in the point for long periods.
See the half-volley shot.
Poaching is when, in doubles, the player at the net moves toward the other side of the court to cut off the next shot by your opponents.
The time between the first successful serve and the point at which the ball goes out of play. It is the smallest scoring unit in tennis.
Puddler is a player who hits a lot of chip shots and drop shots.
The punch volley is executed by taking a very short and compact swing. On most volleys, the racquet is never taken back past the shoulders.
A pusher is a type of player that just “pushes” the ball back with no pace but with great control and depth – and they seem to be able to do it forever.
Putaway is a type of offensive shot used to end a point in a favorable position.
Is an abbreviation for qualification rounds or something similar.
Qualification rounds are a which is a pre-tournament qualifying competition that professional tennis players must win in order to compete in prestigious tennis tournaments. Qualifying simply implies that a player competed in one or more qualifying tournament matches and earned a spot by winning, reserving a qualifying slot.
Qualifier or “q”:
A player who qualified for a tournament’s main draw by winning the pre-tournament qualifying round.
The draw for the qualification tournament.
Racket or Racquet:
Is a tennis bat with an oval frame and a taut interlaced network of strings.
A tennis rally is a regular sequence of play in which two players hit the ball back and forth consistently over the net.
All volleys, overheads, and serve returns begin in the ready position. It is also the automatic re-set position after you hit a ball.
The receiver is the player to whom the server serves the ball.
The Referee is the expert on all rules and regulations. Referees oversee all parts of a tournament, from managing the draws and scheduling to enforcing the rules and ensuring everything runs smoothly and fairly.
Is a type of volley in which a player intuitively positions his racket to return the ball without having time to plan the shot.
A retriever tries to return every ball and relies on the opponent making mistakes.
This happens when a receiver returns the ball to the server, who is subsequently unable to hit or make contact with the ball.
A reverse twist is a serve that has spin causing it to bounce high and to the receiver’s right, off a right-handed player’s racket.
In an elimination tournament, a round is a series of matches in which the winners advance to the next round.
In tennis, Round Robin simply refers to a competition in which every player competes against each other.
Means to move aggressively in order to play the ball on the forehand rather than the backhand.
Sandbaggers are players who play at the wrong level in order to benefit from easy wins.
Tennis matches are divided into three phases: a game, a set, and a match. A game is played until a player scores four points. A set is a series of games played until a player wins six games, sometimes 7, in a row. A match is played in best-of-three or best-of-five sets.
A second flight is the flight of the ball after it bounces.
A player has two chances to serve a fair serve, the second known as the second serve.
Seeds are announced shortly before the draws. They are used to separate the top players in a draw so that they do not meet in the tournament’s early rounds.
Is an overhead shot to start each point played from behind the baseline to one side of the center mark.
The player whose turn it is to serve.
Serve and Volley:
To immediately follow a serve into the net with the intention of winning the point with a volley or a forced error by the opponent. This is an increasingly uncommon strategy in modern tennis.
Serve Plus One:
The serve plus one is a tennis strategy in which you consider the serve and the first shot after the serve to be a package and use the serve to set up the shot you want on the second stroke.
Service courts are two rectangles adjacent to the net on each side of the court.
The service line runs parallel the net and marks the midpoint between the net and the baseline.
Service Line Judge:
A service line judge is an official in charge of evaluating whether a serve lands beyond the service line.
A scoring unit in which players attempt to win six games. To win a set, a player must be two games ahead when reaching six games or win a game when leading 6-5. If the score reaches 6-6, a tiebreaker is used to decide the set.
A set point happens in tennis when a player or pair is one point away from winning a set.
In tennis, a shank is an unintentional misdirected shot. This happens when the ball hits the racket frame and lands beyond of the court’s boundaries.
A shot occurs in tennis whenever a player makes contact with the ball.
A line that marks the side boundary of a playing area.
In tennis, a line judge is an official whose primary function is to determine and communicate whether a ball has landed in or out of bounds during a match.
Singles is a play format in which two players compete against each other, usually two men or two women.
This court is used for single matches.
Slice refers to a net-skimming shot with underspin and sidespin.
A snap volley is a volley with added velocity due to wrist motion at impact.
Is a soft shot in tennis intended to carry just over the net and out of the opponent’s reach.
A match in which a player wins without dropping a set.
Strings are the parts of a tennis racket that make contact with the ball.
A way in which a tennis ball is struck.
The tiebreak is played in a best-of-nine format, with the final point as a decisive point to win the set.
Every tennis racket swung has a “sweet spot,” which is a place on the face of the racket between the middle and tip that drives the ball with more power and less vibration to the hands — optimum hitting area.
tanking or tank:
A colloquial term used when a player loses a match on purpose. It can also be used as a match strategy to conserve energy for a later game or set.
Is a tennis term for the canvas material covering the top of the net.
Team tennis is a type of tennis tournament in which several groups of players compete to win the tournament for their team.
A tennis ball consists of a pressurized rubber core covered with high-quality cloth, usually wool, mixed with up to 35 percent nylon. It weighs around 2 ounces, and yellow/white are the only approved colors.
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.
When a player strikes the ball so that it spins from low to high as it moves forward. Topspin allows a player to strike the ball with more power; the increased spin helps bring the ball down and keep it in play.
A tiebreak is a way of deciding a set when the score is 6-6. Players compete in a first-to-seven point game, with the serve changing after the first point and subsequently every two points. To win a tiebreak, a player must be two points ahead of their opponent.
The top seed is the player deemed by current rankings as the strongest player in the field.
Touch refers to a player’s skill and capacity to hit finessed strokes.
A serve hit with a combination of slice and topspin.
A backhand stroke in which the non-dominant hand also supports the racquet handle.
The umpire, often known as the chair umpire, is in charge of enforcing the rules throughout a match.
A ball with spin that allows it to spin backward as it moves forward.
A player whose ranking does not qualify them for a protected (seeded) position in the draw.
An upset occurs when a lower-ranked competitor defeats a high-ranked player.
A shot in which the ball is struck with the player’s racquet before it hits the ground.
Wild Card or “wC”:
If a player is given a wildcard to an event, they are permitted to compete even if their rating was not high enough to secure automatic qualification. Wildcards are frequently offered to young, local players or players who have been sidelined for an extended time due to injury.
To play a shot that is impossible for the receiver to return
Playing the ball in an unexpected direction suddenly forces the opponent to change direction.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is the governing body of women’s tennis.
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.