Tennis 101


Tennis is simple. Hit a ball back and forth over a net and try to remember the odd scoring system.

To players, the rules and vernacular are second nature. To new fans, and even veteran fans, the rules can be blurry and confusing and the terms may as well be in Greek.

Tennis is a structured sport. Once fans understand the structure the rest will come easily. Every tennis match plays out in three parts: game, set, match. To win a game, a player must score four points, but tennis isn’t scored “1-2-3-4.” Game points run 0 (“love”), 15, 30, 40.  A player must win by two points. In a tie they play to what’s called the advantage and then to one more point ending the game. With this scoring system the advantage can go back and forth between players countless times.

Sets are won by the player who wins six games first and must always be won by at least two games. In a tie in a set at 6-6 the last game is played to seven points, still winning by two points, and alternating the serve every two points.

Each match is decided in three sets. With the amount of games and sets and how ties are broken it’s easy to understand how matches can easily last for hours. Players must have an inordinate amount of mental and physical stamina.

Tennis doubles matches are a slightly different story. All the same rules from singles apply in games. However, the first pair to win eight games wins the set and entire match.

In college matches, whichever team wins the majority of doubles matches wins the doubles point. Then, each singles match victor is given a point to the whole team.

Scoring, while important, is only part of the game. Players also have to follow the rules and know the terms. Spectators can get a lot more enjoyment out of  a match if they know them too.

You don’t have to serve to score a point in tennis. Players take turns serving, independently of who scored the point, but each player serves an entire game and the serve switches at the end of each game. On each serve the server has two attempts to serve the ball over the net and into the service box. Two failed attempts is a double fault and a point goes to the player receiving the serve.

Aces are serves that are not returned by an opponent and are considered “free points.”

When a game is tied at 40-40, it’s called a deuce.

A foot fault is when the server’s foot touches the baseline on the serve and is not allowed.

If the ball hits the line, it’s considered in-bounds and players and officials have to make that call in a split second on a ball that could easily be traveling more than 100 mph.

With these basics anyone can go to a match and know what’s going on. However, the only way to become an expert in all things tennis is to start going to matches and learning all the ins and outs for yourself.

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