Tennis is a pretty simple game, based on hitting a ball over a net with a specially-designed racket into a standard sized court. You and your opponent(s) keep doing this until one of you either fails to hit the ball over the net or into the marked court area.
Each point you win in this way counts towards your total, and the rather quirky scoring system sets a target for you to achieve in order to win the match.
In this article, I will give a slightly more detailed summary of the rules of tennis for beginners.
Rules Of Tennis Singles
Singles is the simplest form of tennis. It is just you and a lone opponent on court, competing until one of you accrues enough points to win. Despite this apparent simplicity, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have set down detailed rules to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
The rules of tennis extend to 35 pages, so I can only give a flavour of them here, but some of the main ones are described below.
This will be marked out to a standard size. There will be a net across the middle which should be 3 feet high at the centre.
On either side of the net there will be a pair of boxes, known as the service boxes.
The horizontal line marking the back of the court at each end is called the ‘baseline’.
At each side of the court there will normally be a pair of parallel lines known as the ‘tramlines’, marking out an area sometimes called the ‘alley’.
The inner line at the side of the court marks the limit of the singles court. For doubles, the outer line is used instead.
Tennis Rules Serving
In singles, a player will serve until a ‘game’ is won, at which point their opponent will serve for the next game. To serve, you must stand behind the baseline without touching it.
For the first point of a game you will stand to the right of the centre mark and serve into the left-hand service box on the opposite side of the net: after that point is complete, you will stand to the left of the centre mark and serve into the right-hand box for the next one, continuing to alternate thereafter.
The mechanics of the serve are fairly straightforward. You hold the ball in your non-racket hand and release it, hitting it with the racket before it hits the ground. You can hit the ball above your head or close to the ground, as you prefer.
For a serve to be legal, it must travel over the net, and its first bounce must be in the correct service box, or on one of the lines marking it out. If the serve is not legal, you are allowed one more attempt to start the point with a legal serve (a ‘second serve’), without penalty. If your second serve is not legal, you lose the point.
Foot Fault In Tennis
There is another way a serve can be illegal, and that is if you are not standing in the right place (as described above) when you hit it: this is called a ‘foot fault’.
For example, if your foot touches or crosses the baseline before you hit your serve, or it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the centre line, the serve is illegal. It is also a foot fault if you are walking or running as you hit the serve.
Let In Tennis
If the serve hits the net but still lands in the correct service box, the serve is repeated without penalty- this is called a ‘service let’.
Winning A Point
Once a point has been started with a legal serve, the two players will alternately hit the ball into the court marked out by the baseline and the singles tramlines.
The ball can be struck before it bounces (unless it is a serve, and as long as it has passed over the net), or after one bounce.
If your opponent fails to prevent the ball from bouncing twice, or their shot is stopped by the net, they lose the point.
Tennis Rules And Scoring
Nobody is completely sure of the origin of the tennis scoring system, although there are several theories. It is certainly different to those used in most other sports.
A typical singles tennis match consists of a maximum of three ‘sets’. To win a set, a player must normally win six games, and a game requires at least four points to be won. If games or sets are close, extra points or games are played to decide them.
Throughout most of a match, the first point a player wins in a game earns them a score of 15. Subsequent points take them to 30, then 40, and the next point won can clinch the game.
However, if both players reach 40 before either wins a further point, this is called ‘deuce’. After this, a player needs to win the game by two clear points: the next point earns them ‘advantage’, and if they win the next, they win the game- or else the score returns to deuce.
The first player to win six games normally wins the set, as long as they are at least two ahead. If the first player to reach 6 is only one game ahead, they must win the next game to win the set 7-5. If the score instead reaches 6-6, a tie-break will normally be played to decide the set.
Other than in the final set of a Grand Slam match, the tie-break will typically be won by the first player to win 7 points, as long as they are two clear. Points earned are recorded using the standard numbering system, 1, 2, 3, etc., with players serving from the right if an odd (or zero) number of points has been played, or the left if the number of completed points is odd. If the score reaches 6-6 in the tie-break it continues indefinitely until one player gains a two-point lead, at which point that player wins the set.
The first player to win two sets normally wins the match, although in a men’s Grand Slam match three sets are required for victory.
Rules Of Tennis Doubles
The rules of tennis doubles are very similar to those for singles. The only real differences surround serving and returning, as there are are no rules about which member of a team may hit the ball once the serve has been returned.
Once it has been decided which team is going to serve first, one of this pair will serve throughout the first game. The receiving pair will choose a side for each to return from. They must continue returning from that side throughout the set, although they can swap positions at the beginning of the next set.
When the first game is over, the other team serve for the next one: again, they choose which player will do this. The new returning team also have to choose returning sides and stick with them.
For the third game, the first team will serve again, but this time it will be the player who did not serve the first game. The fourth game will be served by the other player who has not yet done so. Following this, everyone serves again for a game, maintaining the original order.
The set concludes in exactly the same way as a set of singles. If the score reaches 6-6 a tie-break is played. Here, the player whose turn it is to serve starts by serving one point from the right. The order of servers is maintained, and subsequent players serve for two points each, from alternate sides.
As in singles, the tie-break must be won by two clear points.
Rules Of Tennis For Beginners SUMMARY
This brief summary of the rules of tennis for beginners tells you most of what you need to know if you want to play matches. If you want the full rules, search the website of the ITF. The most important things to remember are:
– You need to hit the ball over the net into the area marked out by the baseline and the inner tramline for singles, or the outer tramline for doubles.
– A serve must land in the service box diagonally opposite the server, and you cannot allow the ball to bounce before hitting a serve.
– You can hit the ball before it has bounced during a rally, as long as the shot has passed the net and is not a serve, but you cannot allow it to bounce twice.
– The scoring system is quite complex, but you soon get used to it!
– In doubles, you must keep the same order of serving and returning during a set, but these can change at the start of the next one.
You will learn the more subtle rules as you play more, or perhaps by watching the pros.