Want to play tennis, but don't know the rules, or aren't sure of something? Don't worry! Below, we round up the rules of tennis, so that you can go out and enjoy the game for yourself.
A tennis court has common dimensions, which are the same regardless of where the game is played. This is to ensure, literally, a level playing field for tennis players regardless of skill level or tournament. As the ITF Rules of Tennis say:
"The court shall be a rectangle, 78 feet (23.77 m) long and, for singles matches, 27 feet (8.23 m) wide. For doubles matches, the court shall be 36 feet (10.97 m) wide."
The court is wider for doubles matches than for singles matches - in singles matches, only the inside of the court is used in doubles, the tramlines are also in use, and players are not penalised for playing shots using these lines - except, of course, when serving.
The ball must apply to the dimensions and weight in the ITF rulebook. The ball is usually, these days, high-visibility green, although it does not have to be - the general convention, though, is for a tennis ball to be easy to see at all times. In terms of materials that must be used, the ITF has this to say:
"The ball shall have a uniform outer surface consisting of a fabric cover except for the Stage 3 (Red) foam ball. If there are any seams they shall be stitchless."
Every tennis player must play with a racket, or raquet (both spellings are correct). The racket is an elliptical instrument, usually these days made from graphite or carbon-fibre, but prior to the 1980s was usually made from wood. The newer materials are preferred by players because of the increased power and reduced weight of rackets, but any materials must be approved by the ITF before they are permitted for match-play.
All rackets must be strung in a cross formation, with any vibration-dampening devices (for example a rubber vibration absorber) placed away from the cross-formation of strings. If a string breaks, players can continue, unless prohibited by the match official (umpire) - however players are not allowed to play with any more than one racket at any time. However, players are permitted to carry replacement rackets in case of a string breakage during a match.
Game, Set and Match
Game, set and match are the ways we measure a tennis match. A match is the whole of an encounter between tennis players.
What is a game in tennis?
A game is the smallest measure of a tennis match.
What is a set in tennis?
Depending on the rules being used, matches are either best of one, three or five sets. Most tournaments have matches taking place over three sets (for women, and for men on the ATP Tour), and five sets (for men at Grand Slam tournaments). Lots of tennis clubs play only one-set matches.
There are two types of set - the Tie-Break Set, and the Advantage Set. The former is a set that, if it gets to a score of 6-6, must be decided by a tie-break, where the first player to get to seven points, and/or a margin of two, wins. An advantage set requires players to play on until there is a margin of two games, provided that one player has won more than six in the set. The ITF Rules say the following about this:
"There are different methods of scoring in a set. The two main methods are the 'Advantage Set' and the 'Tie-break Set'. Either method may be used provided that the one to be used is announced in advance of the event. If the 'Tie-break Set' method is to be used, it must also be announced whether the final set will be played as a 'Tie-break Set' or an 'Advantage Set'."
Tennis Scoring Rules
The scoring system in tennis is as follows:
Regarding tennis game rules, the ITF says:
"A standard game is scored as follows with the server’s score being called first:
No point - 'Love'
First point - '15'
Second point - '30'
Third point - '40'
Fourth point - 'Game' "
If the score is 40-40, we call that "deuce". This score requires a player to win "advantage" before he or she can win the game.
Sets: Sets are won by the first player either to reach six won games in a set, or to win by a clear margin of two games. So for example if the scores were at 6-3 for the set, the player with six games would win the set. But if scores were level at 5-5, that player would need to get to 7-5 to win.
Tennis Serve Rules
The tennis serve is the only shot for which the player cannot use the whole of the singles or doubles court - and for this reason, it is worth covering in detail. The serve starts every point in tennis, and the serving player, or the serving pair's score is read out first when a game is scored. The server alternates, and after both players have served, they change ends - this happens every two games after the first. This ensures both players have equality when it comes to the court surface.
The player not serving is called the receiver. This player must attempt to return the serve. When the coin is tossed at the start of a tennis match, the player who wins the toss can decide to serve or receive, or can choose an end.
For each point, a player gets two attempts at serving into the service box over the net and diagonally opposite. If the ball does not go in the box, this is a "fault" - two in a row is a "double-fault" and results in loss of the point. If the ball hits a net cord and bounces into the correct service box, this is called a "let" and means the player can play his first or second serve again.
An ace in tennis is when the player wins a point without the receiver successfully returning the ball.