Tennis is one of the most popular and well-known sports in the world. Worldwide it’s played by around 87 million people.
At first glance, tennis seems easy to play, as it’s just a matter of hitting a ball back and forth.
However, tennis is a pretty complicated sport, and there are a lot of rules to take into account.
I’m not only talking about the rules of the game, but also about rules that apply to the players.
In this tennis rules guide, I provide a clear overview of all the rules within tennis. I do this per rule type in order to create an overview that is as clear as possible.
Tennis court lines:
One of the basic rules of tennis is about the lines on the court. The lines determine whether a ball is in or out in tennis.
Without these lines, it’s simply impossible to play tennis.
It’s important to know that if the ball even slightly touches the line, meaning that for the most part, it doesn’t, the ball is still in.
In addition, it differs per type of game which lines apply. For example, fewer lines apply in singles compared to doubles.
This makes the playing field larger during doubles, which makes sense as there are more people on the field.
The number of times allowed to hit the ball:
In tennis, it’s allowed to hit the ball just once and only with the racket. When the opponent’s ball is coming your way, it must be returned with one hit.
These rules apply to both singles and doubles.
Only one player may hit the ball back to the other side of the playing field during the doubles game and not pass it to your teammate first.
In addition, it’s not allowed to catch or carry the ball. The ball should touch the racket as short as possible.
Players must not touch the net during play, including the net post. In addition, players can only stay on their own half of the playing field.
When a player wants to return a ball, the ball must first be entirely in his own half.
Therefore, it is not allowed to return the ball if it has not yet completely crossed the net.
Only when a ball bounces back over the net due to spin or wind, for example, may a player reach over the net to hit the ball.
Again, the player may not touch the net in any way.
Number of bounces:
In tennis, the ball is only allowed to bounce just once. The point is awarded to the opponent when the ball is returned after it bounces twice.
However, it is not mandatory that your ball bounces, as a player may also return the ball before it has touched the ground.
However, there is one exception to this rule.
In the case of a serve, the ball must first enter the service box, after which it may be returned. So only in this case, it’s mandatory that the ball has bounced first.
Player touching the ball:
It is not allowed for a player to touch the ball with anything other than the racket. When the body is hit, the point goes to the opponent.
However, it’s allowed to play the ball on the opponent’s body.
Holding and gripping the racket:
It’s not allowed for the racket to touch the ball if the player’s hand is not in contact with the racket.
Throwing your racket at the ball in an attempt to play the ball back is therefore not allowed.
However, the player has of course the choice in which hand the racket is held. You would even be allowed to change between hands in tennis.
It’s also allowed to hold a racket with both hands simultaneously, but this purely depends on the player’s preference.
Unlike many other sports, tennis has no time limit on the duration of a match. In the absence of this rule, a tennis match can be very long in some cases.
In order to keep the duration of a match somewhat contained, there are some other time rules in tennis that a player must keep in mind.
For example, players have a certain amount of time for each serve, changeovers, between sets, medical time outs, and toilet breaks.
In tennis, there are several ways to score a point. One of those ways is to hit an ace.
An ace can only be hit by the serving player. When a serve lands in the service box and the receiving player fails to hit the ball with the racket, it is called an ace.
The scoring in tennis works as follows: 15-30-40 game.
(Click here to find out exactly what a point is in tennis)
In tennis, a game consists of four points (15-30-40 game). When a player wins the fourth point of a game, the game is won.
However, this must be done while being at least two points ahead.
(Click here to find out exactly what a game is in tennis)
A game is played deuce in tennis when the score becomes 40-40, and it’s no longer possible to win the game with a two points difference.
Deuce is, in fact, divided into two points.
When a player wins the first point of deuce, they gain to advantage. If the same player also wins the next point, they have won the game.
But when a player wins the first point of deuce and then loses the next point, it’s back to deuce (40-40), and it starts over.
When points are won alternately, deuce can continue indefinitely.
A set in tennis consists of 6 games. If a player is the first to win the sixth game in a set, they have won the set.
But again, the set must be won with at least two games ahead.
(Click here to find out exactly what a set is in tennis)
When each player wins their own games, both players will eventually have 6 games. However, a set can only be won when there is at least a two games difference.
In that case, a tie-break is played. This is played until a player reaches seven points, again with two points difference.
If there is no two points difference, then the tie-break continues, and so will the scoring.
During a tie-break, players take turns serving. Only the first turn consists of just one full serve, after which each player has two turns.
A tennis match is won when a player has won a certain number of sets.
However, the number of sets needed to win can differ between men and women and per type of tournament.
For example, different rules apply during Grand Slams than at other tournaments.
In all tournaments, except Grand Slams, a best of 3 is played. This means that if a player is the first to win two sets, they have won the match.
Different rules apply to Grand Slams. During these tournaments, a distinction is made between men and women.
Men play a best of 5 format during Grand Slams. The player with three sets wins the match.
During Grand Slams, women play best of 3 instead of best of 5. For them, no difference is made between regular tournaments and Grand Slams.
There are also other opportunities to win a match.
For example, a player can be given a walkover in case the opponent has withdrawn before the start of the match.
As a result, they will advance to the next round without having played a match.
Coaching is not allowed in most cases:
In tennis, it’s allowed to have a coach, of course. However, it’s forbidden for a player to be coached during a match in most cases.
The coach may take a seat in the stands, but any form of communication between player and coach is prohibited.
However, in women’s tennis, coaching is allowed during certain tournaments.
One time during each set, the player has the opportunity to request the coach to come down to the tennis court.
They may then be on the court for a maximum of 90 seconds.
During competitions, it’s allowed to request a medical timeout in case of an injury or illness.
An independent doctor, who is employed by the tournament, is then called on the tennis court.
He has 15 minutes to determine the problem and treat it. Each player is entitled to one medical timeout for each individual injury to be treated.
To prevent players from taking too much rest between points, there are time limits in place for tennis.
For example, there may be a maximum of 20 seconds between the last point and the start of the next service.
During a side change with odd games (i.e., no break), there may be a maximum of 90 seconds in between, and there may be a maximum of 2 minutes rest at the end of each set.
If players do not follow these rules, they can be penalized for doing so. The player will receive an official warning from the umpire on a first offense.
If a player exceeds the time limit for the second time, he will lose a point, and on the third violation, the player loses the game.
If a player continues to violate the time rules, disqualification may follow.
(Click here if you would like to learn more about time violation in tennis)
A double fault in tennis is when a player hits both serves, either out, or into the net while serving.
This means that both the first and second serve were unsuccessful, which is called a double fault in tennis.
While serving, it’s prohibited for the player to touch the line with their foot before the racket has touched the ball. When this happens, it counts as a foot fault.
If a player commits a foot fault during the first serve, the first serve will be forfeited. In this case, the player only has the second serve.
In the event of a foot fault on a second serve, the serving player will lose the point.
Foot faults can be spotted and penalized by both the umpire and linesmen.
Forced & Unforced Error Rules
In tennis, points can be won and lost in different ways. Forced and unforced errors are two examples of this.
An unforced error is a lost point that can be attributed entirely to an error by the player themselves. It was in full control when the mistake was made and completely unrelated to the opponent’s play.
A forced error is an error caused by the opponent. When the opponent hits a sharp ball, which is then hit back but ends up in the net, it’s a forced error.
Due to the tactically good play of the opponent, they force you to make a mistake.
In the event of a long-term injury, a tennis player can request a protected ranking.
This is only possible if a player is unable to participate in tournaments for at least six months.
In addition, the application must be submitted no later than six months after the last tournament played.
When a player receives approval for this, he will receive a protected ranking. This means that the average ranking is taken during the first three months of the injury.
Based on this ranking, a player can meet certain qualification requirements set by tournaments or be immediately admitted to the main tournament.