The Rules of Tennis: A Crash Course

Whether you want to get out on the tennis court and play yourself or if you just enjoy watching the game, understanding the rules of tennis can make either experience enjoyable. Tennis is a little quirky in that there are two ways to play: singles or doubles.

Let’s look at the basic rules that apply to either game first.

  • For play to continue, the ball must land within bounds; if the ball is hit out of bounds, then there is a point loss.
  • The net or posts cannot be touched by any of the players, nor can a player cross onto their opponent’s side.
  • No ‘carrying’ the ball or catching it with the racket.
  • One hit per player per turn.
  • Before returning a ball, it must pass the net first.
  • If a player doesn’t return a live ball before it bounces twice, they lose the point.
  • If a ball hits or touches a player it will be counted as a penalty.
  • Penalty will be given if the racket leaves the player’s hand.
  • ANY verbal abuse of a player will result in a penalty.
  • A ball which bounces on boundary lines is still considered good.
  • During a serve, the ball must bounce first before the receiving player can return it.

Basic equipment

Rackets are available from multiple vendors and in a variety of prices to accommodate players with skill levels from beginner to advanced.

Tennis Balls are white (or yellow for tournaments), and measure 2-1/2 to 2-5/8 inches in diameter while weighing from 2 to 2-1/16 ounces. There are also approved specs for elasticity of the ball and uniform outer surface.

Choose clothes and accessories which are comfortable and well-fitting. Too loose will be distracting, too tight will limit movement and affect circulation. Remember to consider the season and weather you are dressing for, as well.

Visit the Elysium Tennis Pro Shop to find the gear you need that is best suited to your skills.


Scoring Terms

Keeping score in tennis can be a bit tricky but you’ll get the hang of it.

Points – Points increment from Love (0)-15-30-40-game.

Games – A game is won when a player reaches four points with at least a two point advantage over the other.

Sets – Consists of six games. A set is won by whomever reaches six games first, but still must have at least a two point lead.

Advantage Set – If a game score of 6-6 is reached and advantage set rules are used, a player/team can only win a set with a two game lead.

Matches – Best out of three or five sets.

Deuce – A score of 40-40. To break the tie and win the game, a player/team must win an additional two consecutive points.

Tie-break game – The player/team must reach seven points with a two point advantage to win. Serve begins with Player 1 scoring one point and then passing serve to Player 2 for the next two points, then back to Player 1 for the next two, etc.


What are the Line Markings on the Court?

Baseline – Are on either end of the court and determine the boundaries of play going lengthwise. Also mark the serving line.

Center Mark – Splits the tennis court.

Center Line – Divides the two service boxes into a distinct left and right service box to either side of the court. Landing a serve on the line is considered good.

Net – Three feet high at the middle; hitting a ball into the net is an out, but a ball which hits the net cord and then falls over to the other side is considered good. The exception is on a serve, which allows for a re-do, or let.

Service Line – Separates the forecourt from the back court; marks the length of the service box.

Singles Sideline – Innermost line running lengthwise; determines the boundary of play for singles matches in addition to the width of the service box.

Doubles Sideline – Outermost line running lengthwise; only used in doubles matches.


Playing the Game

Which player will be serving first is determined by a coin toss or racket spin. Whomever calls it correctly gets to serve first, while the ‘loser’ gets to choose which half of the court they want to play on first.

Once the ball is in play, and being passed back and forth, you have a Rally.


The Ins-and-Outs of Serving

Foot Fault – If the server’s foot enters inside the court or crosses the center mark BEFORE connecting with the ball, they will lose the serve.

Proper Serve – The serve is done from the right side of the court at the beginning of each game. Play can continue if the serve lands in the correct (diagonal) service box. For the next point, the server switches to the left side, and vice versa, until the game ends. The server gets two chances to land their ball.

First Service – Failing the first service leads to the second service.

Second Service – Failing the second service results in the loss of the point.

Let – A “do-over” given to a player who serves if the ball hits the top of the net then falls into the correct service box. There are no limits on many lets you are allowed.

Order of Service – The “toss” winner decides who serves first. For a singles game, players will alternate serving; for a doubles game, teams alternate serving with each player on the team also alternating.

Switching Sides – Courtsides are switched every odd-numbered game.


The Difference between Singles and Doubles

Court Size 27 feet wide by 78 feet long 36 feet wide by 78 feet long
Uses innermost sideline Uses outermost sideline
Serving Order Toss winner serves for duration of 1st game Toss winner determines which team, and which player will serve first
Alternates with opponent each game Team Players take turns each serve
Switch court sides for every odd-numbered game Teams switch sides every odd-numbered game
Tie-Break Point 1: Player APoint 2: Player BPoint 3: Player BPoint 4: Player A

Point 5: Player A

Point 6: Player B

Point 7: Player B

Point 8: Player A

Point 9: Player A

Point 1: Player APoint 2: Player XPoint 3: Player XPoint 4: Player B

Point 5: Player B

Point 6: Player Y

Point 7: Player Y

Point 8: Player A

Point 9: Player A

Match Format Best out of 3 games Best out of 5 games