tennis rules

The sport of tennis is one of the racket sports which can be played either individually against a single opponent in a match known as the singles match or it can be played between two teams where each team has two players each in a match known as the doubles match. With tennis rules, Each player in each of the team plays with a tennis racket which is strung with a cord to give make contact with a hollow rubber with which it is covered. The tennis racket used to feel the ball over and around a net and straight into the opponent’s court.

Tennis is known worldwide as an Olympics sport which is played at all levels of the society and for all people of all ages. Even old people play tennis. What I am saying in essence is that the sport can be played by practically anyone as long as they can hold a racket. People sitting in a wheelchair are not left out either. As long as their hands are working and they can hold a racket, they can play.

The modern sport of tennis started in Birmingham in England in the late 19th century as the lawn tennis. It was close in similarities to many lawn games like the bowls and croquet and other racket sport today which are referred to as the real tennis games.

The rules of this game today has taken many turns since the 1890s with two exceptions of 1908 to 1961 where the server is expected to keep one foot on the ground no matter what he is doing and also the adoption of the tiebreak sometime in the 1970s.

The Game’s Objective

The main objective of the game is to maneuver the ball such that the opponent player is unable to give a valid response by playing a valid return of the ball. In this case of the player being unable to the return the ball, the player loses that point and the opponent does.


The rules of tennis cover every area of the game from the equipment to the method and mode of serving the ball. Let us look at them one after the other.

The Equipment

One of the things that contributed to the fun of the tennis games is the fact that the equipment needed to play is simple and without complication. For a beginner just learning how to play, he only needs a racket and balls and he can start playing already.

The equipment and the rules governing them are as follows:


The racket is made of the handle also known as the grip which is connected to a neck that joins the frame holding a matrix of tightly pulled strings. Back in the days, rackets were made of wood of standard size and the strings were made from animal gut. As the years rolled by, technology improved and, now, synthesized strings are used. The materials are much stronger now and, hence, they cause the equipment to generate more power. The rules governing the rackets are that:

  • The area which would hit the ball is composed of strings and must be flat and of general uniformity.
  • The frame of the area that would hit the ball should not be more than 74cm in length and 32cm in width.
  • The whole racket should be of a fixed shape, size, weight, and the weight should be evenly distributed. No energy source should be built into the rackets
  • The rackets should not provide any form of communication, instruction or advice to the player when the match is going on.

Over time, the rules governing rackets have changes but these are the most recent rules governing the rackets using in playing the game of tennis.

The Balls

The balls played in the tennis game used to made of cloth strips which are stitched together with thread and then stuffed with feathers. However, the modern tennis balls are made using hollow vulcanized rubber with a felt coating. They used to be white although the predominant color gradually became optic yellow in the later part of the 20th century so that there can be room for improvement. The rules governing the balls state that:

  • Tennis balls must conform in the size, weight, deformation, and bounce before they can be ruled as fit to serve.
  • The official diameter of the ball should be 65.41 mm to 68.58 mm.
  • The weight should not be more than 59.4 grams i.e. it should be in between 56.0 and 59.4 grams or it would not be allowed.
  • White or yellow colored balls are used for tournaments.

The Court

The tennis game is typically played on a rectangular and flat surface. The rules are that:

  • The court should be 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for the singles match and 36 feet wide for the doubles match.
  • There should be an additional clear space around the court for players to reach balls played out of bounds.
  • A net must be stretched completely across the full width of the court, should be parallel with the baselines, and should divide the baseline into two equal ends.
  • The net is held up either by a cord or by a metal cable. The metal cable should not be more than 0.8cm in diameter.
  • The net of the court should not be more than 3 feet 6 inches outside the doubles court on each side and, for the singles, 3 feet on each side of the singles court.

Lines on the Court

The court has lines on its floor delineating. There are about six lines on the court: the baseline, the service line, the center mark, the center line, the singles sideline, and the doubles sideling. Each line has its function which it serves.

  • The baseline is the farthest back and is used to delineate the width of the court. They are drawn from one end of the court to the other determining the boundaries of the play. The player stands behind the baseline to serve.
  • The service line is directly at the center of the court. It separates the forecourt from the backcourt. It also serves the purpose of marking the length of the service box.
  • The center mark is used to determine the two halves of any tennis court. The lines are put there for the main purpose of helping with service in that they determine where the player should serve when he wants to serve.
  • The center line is used to divide the two service boxes located on the court. The two service boxes are divided, by the center line, into a distinct left service box and the right service box on both sides of the court. If a player is able to land a serve on the land, the serve is said to be a good one.
  • The singles sideline is that line which is the located at the innermost part of the court. It runs from one length of the court to another determining the boundary of play when the singles match is being played. It also determines how wide the service box is.
  • The doubles sideline is the opposite of the singles sideline in that it is the outermost line on the court. It also runs from one end of the court to the other lengthwise. It is used only in doubles matches.
  • All lines are not to be more than 1 and 2 inches or 25 to 51 mm in width except for the base line which can be up to 4 inches in width. However, during tennis practice, the base line is usually the same measurement in width like the other lines.


When serving, a coin is tossed to decide who would serve first. In tennis, to determine the first server, either a coin is flipped or it is the racket that is flipped. Unlike other sports where this is termed ‘coin toss’, it is simply termed ‘toss’ in tennis. If it is done correctly, the team or player who did the flipping or tossing will serve first. And, the other player or team who did not call correctly will decide on which sides of the court they want to play first.

Choosing serving sides

Serving sides are of 7 areas namely: foot fault, proper serve, first service, second service, let, order of service, and switching sides.

Foot fault: this happens when a player steps into the court or he crosses the center mark before he had the opportunity to come in contact with the ball. If and when this happens, he loses the serve.

Proper serve: this is used to classify when a player serves at the right side of the court each time the game starts. His main aim is to serve the ball into the diagonal box of which if he succeeds, then the play continues. However, player or server can switch to serve the left side for the next point if he so desires. This he can do until the game is over.

First service: in the first service, the server is given two chances with which he can land the ball into the service box. It is the first attempt at serving the ball into the service box that is termed ‘first service’. If he fails, he has another chance which is the second service.

Second service: this is the second chance of the two chances given a server to serve the ball. It is the second attempt of the server to try and serve the ball into the service box. If he fails the second point, he loses the point entirely since he has used up all his chances.

Let: this is a re-serve give to a player who has served the ball but, instead of going into the box directly, it hits the net before it does so. The player is allowed to serve the ball again. If it hits the net again, he re-serves. A player is typically given an infinite amount of lets. However, lets don’t happen all the time.

Order of service: the order of service refers to the player who wins the toss and gets to serve first. If it is a singles match, the players take turns between serving and receiving in every game. In doubles matches, the teams are the ones who alternate between serving and receiving the ball in every play. Each player on the team gets one chance to serve before turns are taken.

Switching sides: this happens when players switch sides or teams switch sides when the game points are odd numbered i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, etc.


Rally in tennis sport consists of the many exchange of shots that happens after a serve is made by the server. This is done until the player or team commits a fault or makes a mistake that causes him or her to lose a point. If the shot is hit within bounds, that shot is considered to be a good short. Therefore, the rally continues.

Scoring Goal Points

The Game – each game consists of a series of points which are played with the service of the same player. The first player to win at least four points in total and at least two points more than the rival player is said to have won the game. The word ‘love’ is used to describe the score of each game from zero to three points. The score of a tennis game is always read, during the game play, with the player’s score first. In tournaments, the chair umpire is the one saddled with the responsibility of calling the point count after each point has been gained. When the game ends, it is still the same chair umpire that would announce the winner of the game declaring the total scores of the game.

The Set – a set is used to classify a sequence of games which are played with servers alternating positions between the games. It ends when the count of the games won has met with the stipulated criteria for which the set can end. Generally, when a player has won at least six games and at least two more than thee opponent, the player is declared the winner. The final scores are always in sets and read with the winning player’s score first i.e. 6 – 2 or 7 – 5. The chair umpire is the one to announce the winner and the overall scores gotten in the game by both sides.

The Match – this is a sequence of sets whose outcome is determined through the best of three or five set systems. In the professional level of tennis game, there is usually a play of best of five set matches. In a set of three, the first player to win two sets or, in a best of five, to win three is declared the winner of the match. The chair umpire announces the score of the players at the end of the match with the phrase ‘game, set, match’ which is then followed by the name of the person or team that wins the match.

Other rules

The no-ad rule – meaning there is no advantage. This means the first doubles team or player to win four points wins the game. And this is done regardless of whether the team is leading by two points or not. As soon as the score reaches three points each, the receiver of the ball has to choose which side of the court he wants to deliver the service.

The Pro-set rule – a situation where players are allowed to play one pro set instead of multiple single sets. A pro set is usually the first 8 or 10 games with a margin of two games and not the first 6 games. When the score is a tie, for example 8 – 8, a 12-point tie break is called for and played. Usually, these points are played with a no-add scored.

The Match tie-break rule – sometimes played instead of a third set. This is also called a super tie-break and is played just like the regular tie-break although, here, the winner has to win 10 points instead of 7.

Fast 4 – the fast 4 rule is a fast alternative goal scored with four points, four games and four rules. No advantage scoring is employed here. Most often, lets are played and ties breakers are applied at the three games. The first to four games are usually the ones to win the set.

The Officials of the game

There is an officiating head judge usually referred to as the chair umpire or just umpire in a lot of professional plays and some other amateur competitions. The chair umpire sits in a raised chair to one side of the court and has the absolute authority over everything going on in the court. He is responsible for making factual determinations. The chair umpire may or may not have assistants. His assistants are usually referred to as the line judges and their main responsibility is to help determine whether the ball landed right where it is supposed to land on the court. They also call the foot faults that have been committed.

In some professional matches, line judges calling the serve also get assistance from the electronic sensors that beep to indicate when a service is out. This method and system is called ‘cyclops’. The system has been replayed though by the Hawk-Eye system where players are allowed just three unsuccessful appeals per set with one additional appeal in the tie break or challenge close line calls which are made possible by the electronic review.

Another official involved in the tennis game is the referee. He is typically located at off the court. He is the final authority when it comes to the tennis rules. If and when the referee is called to the court either by a player or by the captain of the team, the referee is awarded the power to overrule the umpire’s rule if it happens that the rules of the game were infringed. However, he doesn’t change the umpire’s decision based on a question of fact. Although, if the referee is on the court during the game play, he is allowed to overrule the umpire’s decision.

The Tie-break service

When there’s a tie in the score at the end of the game, the tie-break rules are used. A tie break game is then played in order to decide which of the players will be the overall winner of the set. The player who serves first is normally the player to serve after the tie.

For a singles match tie break, the serving order is as follows:

The first point will be for player A;

The second point for player B;

The third point goes to player B also;

The fourth point is awarded to the player A again;

The fifth point to player A;

The sixth point goes to player B;

The seventh point for player B;

The eight point for player A; and

The ninth point for player A;

The cycle continues like that until a winner emerges.

For the doubles, the serving order goes thus:

Point 1 for player A;

Point 2 for player X;

Point 3 goes to player X again;

Point 4 for player B;

Point 5 for player B;

Point 6 is awarded to player Y;

Point 7 for player Y also;

Point 8 is given to player A;

Point 9 also goes to player A;

As in the singles match, the cycle continues until the tie is broke and a winner emerges.

The singles match and doubles match in tennis are a bit different in their rules. However, they only just slightly different in that the doubles match is only just adjusted to accommodate an extra player on both sides of the court. In general, the rules for both singles and doubles match are similar.

These sums up our tennis rules by which the game of tennis is run.