What Is A Forced Error In Tennis? (Definition & Rules)

The terms forced and unforced errors in tennis often lead to some confusion. Especially for beginners, it is often unclear exactly what the difference is. To help you with that, I will explain what a forced error is in tennis.

A forced error in tennis is when you force an error on your opponent as a result of your own good play. By putting pressure on your opponent, making them uncomfortable, and making them run, you can cause them to miss their shot, which will be counted as a forced error.

In this article, you'll get all the answers to what a forced error is in tennis. In addition, I will also explain how to ensure that your opponent makes forced errors.

What Does Forced Error Mean in Tennis?

In tennis, there are three different ways a point can end: with a winner, an unforced error, or a forced error. You will rarely see unforced errors in the statistics for a tennis match; however, it is a very important metric.

In professional tennis, the most common way for a point to end is with a forced error. A forced error is a mistake by a player who was forced to do so by the opponent’s good play.

It is easy to differentiate winners from errors: a winner is a shot to which the opponent does not get their racket. However, the difference between forced and unforced errors can be more difficult to understand.

For example, one player makes a mistake and hits the ball out or into the net.

For an unforced error, the mistake is completely the player’s fault, missing a shot that they should easily get back into the court.

A forced error is a mistake that has been enforced by the opponent, either through placement, power, spin, or anything else. For a forced error, the player is not necessarily expected to get the ball back into the court.

This makes the difference between a forced and unforced error quite subjective. Of course, sometimes it is obvious, but some situations can be difficult to judge. It is up to whoever is recording statistics to decide.

Forced errors are a statistic that isn’t given that much attention in the general world of tennis, yet they are incredibly important.

The more forced errors you force your opponent to make, the better tennis player you will become and the better you will perform.

How to Force an Error in Tennis?

Simply put, a forced error in tennis is a shot that you miss when your opponent is in control of the point rather than you.

There are various ways to force an error in tennis, and we will go through some of them now.

The use of power and speed:

Of course, if you hit the ball hard enough and generate enough speed, you can force your opponents into mistakes.

Sometimes, the speed is just too much for the opponent, who doesn’t have enough time to prepare and react and is, therefore, far more likely to miss their shot.

Note that while power may lead to more forced errors for your opponent, more often than not, it will lead to more unforced errors for yourself.

Generally, you are more likely to miss when you try to hit the ball as hard as you can.

Placement of the ball:

One of the most important things in tennis, placement, can lead to many forced errors for your opponent.

For example, imagine you hit an excellent cross court forehand that sends your opponent running across the court and barely managing to get the ball back.

You can then place it on the other side of the court, sending your opponent running once again.

Either they don’t get their racket to it, in which case it is a winner, or they manage to get a touch but can’t get it back into the court, leading to a forced error.

Take away reaction time:

If a player has no time to react to their opponent’s shot and misses, this will be considered a forced error.

For example, if both players are at the net and the ball is sent straight at one player who misses, this will almost certainly be a forced error.

In this case, the player does not have time to react and cannot be reasonably expected to get the ball back, so the opponent forced the error.

Be consistent:

Consistency is an interesting reason for forced errors and is particularly subjective.

Suppose, during a point, a player consistently hits good shots, slowly gaining an advantage and wearing down the opponent. In that case, if the opponent commits a mistake, it can be considered a forced error.

If the mistake had been made at the beginning of the rally, then it would be an unforced error. However, because the player is being forced into this position repeatedly with no escape, it becomes a forced error.

In this case, the player has forced the opponent into a mistake by being more consistent in the rally the opponent.

The use of spin:

Although you can outpower your opponent and generate lots of speed on your shots, another way to put them into a difficult position is by using spin.

You can either topspin or backspin the ball.

Topspin makes the ball drop faster and bounces higher, giving you more safety in your shots while putting your opponent into an uncomfortable position, who has to hit the ball higher than they would like to.

Backspin slows down the ball, making it bounce a lot lower. It is used for dropshots and backhands most commonly. Backhand backspins are very common at a professional level, as they give the opponent very little to work with.

Alternating between shots and types of spin can destabilize your opponent and break their rhythm. You can also mislead them when they are not expecting the spin, causing the ball to bounce unpredictably.

If you manage to get your opponent on the back foot thanks to your use of spin, this will generally lead to a forced error.

The use of height and depth:

The previous point shows that height and depth can lead to many forced errors.

For most players, the ideal place to strike the ball is somewhere below the shoulders and above the knees (generally higher for forehands and lower for backhands).

If you manage to get them to hit the ball outside of this zone, your opponent will be much more uncomfortable and prone to mistakes.

Topspin is excellent for achieving this.

For example, Nadal would often hit topspin forehands that would bounce very high to Federer’s backhand, making it very tricky for Federer and a great advantage to Nadal.

Similarly, depth can be very difficult for your opponent and force them into a mistake. The further away they are from the court, the more difficult it is for them.

When depth and height are combined, your opponent is really in trouble!

Make us of your serve:

A serve is a free opportunity for a player to start the point, and although it is a smaller target to aim for (only the service box), the player should still have an advantage, especially on their first serve.

This is the most common cause of forced errors, especially at the professional level.

Players can generate a lot of speed, spin, and precision to force their opponents into difficult situations where they have no time to set themselves. This leads to lots of forced errors in tennis.

For some players, even second serves are a great chance to force an error. A handful of players will go for another big serve on their second serve, like Nick Kyrgios.

But it’s the kick serve that can be really tricky.

Some players can generate lots of topspin on their second serve, forcing their opponents off the court with very high balls that are very difficult to get back, leading to lots of forced errors.


So, as we have seen, forced errors are a somewhat underutilized metric in tennis that measures mistakes forced by the opponent rather than the fault of the player who makes them.

Forced errors can be caused by many different things, including speed, power, depth, placement, spin, and height.

Brian Henderson

I am what you might call a true tennis fanatic. When I am not on the tennis court teaching or playing myself, I am probably writing an informative article about tennis. My goal is to get as many people as possible excited and informed about tennis.
September 23, 2022
Published: September 23, 2022