What Is An Unforced Error In Tennis? (Definition & Rules)

The term unforced error often causes confusion, especially among beginners or people who do not play tennis. I once struggled with it myself. So what is an unforced error in tennis? You find out in this article!

An unforced error in tennis is when a player commits an error entirely due to themselves. The fault is counted as an unforced error only if the player does not make the fault because the opposition forces it. This is because, in that case, the error is only attributable to the player committing the fault.

In this article, I will give you an in-depth explanation of what exactly an unforced error is, why they occur, and what faults count as an unforced error. So read on to find out!

What is The Definition of an Unforced Error in Tennis?

If you have ever looked at the statistics of a tennis match, you will have seen the term “unforced error.” But what exactly is an unforced error in tennis?

Suppose a player is in a comfortable position before hitting the ball but still misses the shot. In that case, that means they have committed an unforced error. In other words, if you miss an “easy” shot, then it’s an unforced error.

If you commit a fault when you run as you hit the ball, the ball comes at you with lots of speed, or you are in a difficult and uncomfortable position as you hit the ball, this fault is considered a forced error.

In this case, the opponent has ‘forced’ you into a difficult shot, so it isn’t an unforced error. That’s what the difference is between a forced and unforced error.

What Are Unforced Errors in Tennis?

An unforced error in tennis is any missed shot that isn’t because of the opponent but rather for another reason.

For example, a double fault is considered an unforced error:

The serving player misses a shot purely because of themselves and not the opponent’s actions. (a missed first serve is not considered an unforced error, as it does not lose the player the point)

If one player is slowly gaining an advantage throughout the point and the opponent is forced to hit more and more defensive shots, and then the attacking player misses their shot, the missed shot would be considered an unforced error.

However, if the opponent had missed one of their defensive shots, that would not be considered an unforced error because they had been pushed into that situation by their opponent.

If a player moves to the net and misses an easy smash, this would be considered an unforced error. On the other hand, if the opponent hits a good lob, and the player tries to smash it but doesn’t manage, then this wouldn’t be considered an unforced error.

Overall, there is no hard rule for what an unforced error is, and it is subjective.

Therefore, there may be differences depending on who records the unforced errors. Most of the time, it is pretty obvious, but sometimes it is very difficult to tell.

At the end of the day, it is up to whoever is doing the statistics for the match.

What Causes Unforced Errors in Tennis?

As tennis players have not yet achieved perfection, unforced errors are very common. There can be a wide variety of reasons, so we will look at some of the most common.


Sometimes, players simply mishit the ball. Even on an easy shot, the ball can hit the racket’s frame and fly out, or the player can swing slightly too early and send the ball in the wrong direction.

It happens to everyone, even the very best.


A big reason for unforced errors is fatigue and tiredness. As your body gets more and more tired, it becomes more and more difficult to hit good shots, even if they are easy.

Therefore, the longer a match goes, the more unforced errors occur.

More than just physical, fatigue also brings along mental difficulties. As you are more tired, it is far more likely that you may lose your focus or take your eye off the ball, which almost always leads to an unforced error.

Pressure and nerves:

In tennis, the mental aspect of the sport is massive, and things like pressure and nerves have a significant impact. Playing with your friend with no one watching is not the same as playing an official match in a tournament in front of a crowd.

Pressure and nerves do have a positive side to them and can help make you much more focused and concentrated on the match. It is, therefore, a question of controlling and mastering your nerves and pressure.

You might play better than you usually would if you manage your nerves. However, if you let the pressure and nerves get to you, you will hit more unforced errors.

Changing your mind:

Changing your mind just before hitting your shot is often a recipe for committing an unforced error.

There are lots of reasons for changing your mind: you go to hit a drop shot but suddenly remember that you missed your last few. You’re going for a winner but see your opponent preemptively moving in the direction you were aiming.

It will often cause you to get confused and miss an easy shot, which will be counted as an unforced error.

Loss of concentration:

Tennis matches are very long. Matches usually take an hour at the very least, and players can expect to hit the ball about 500 times during a match.

Whether playing an amateur match with your dad or competing in the final of Wimbledon, playing a tennis match is tiring, and some loss of concentration is to be expected.

Lose your concentration during a point, and you are likely to hit an unforced error.

Loss of concentration can sometimes occur just before very easy shots when a player is confident they will win the point.

This leads to overconfidence and concentration loss, and they miss a smash, for example. This happens to even the very best players like Djokovic and Federer.

That this happens to even the very best, you can see below:

Lack of confidence:

This is especially a big problem for amateurs and beginners. Confidence is very important in tennis, and believing in yourself is crucial.

Sometimes, players think they’ll miss their next shot before they even hit it. When this is the case, it is extremely unlikely to go well.

For example, when a player lacks confidence in their second serve, it is very likely they will hit a lot of double faults during a match.

The same goes for smashes or volleys, for example. When a player doesn’t feel comfortable hitting these strikes, there is a high chance they will hit an unforced error because of their lack of confidence.


As we have seen, an unforced error in tennis is when a player misses a comfortable shot. An exact, precise definition does not exist, and deciding whether something is an unforced error or not is subjective.

However, generally speaking, it is an unforced error when a player should easily make a shot but misses. But it is not an unforced error when the opponent forces them into a difficult position when missing the shot.

In this case, the missed shot will be counted as a forced error.

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 18, 2022
Published: September 18, 2022