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Fan's Guide to Tennis: Page 2 of 5: The Essentials

Tennis1- History & Object
2- The Essentials (Scoring, Rules, Etc.)
3- Strokes and Spins
4- Court Diagram and Positions
5- Glossary of Tennis Terms

The Essentials

Game length

There is no clock or set amount of time for a tennis match. Play continues until one player wins the predetermined number of sets required for the match, usually two or three.

Start of the match

Each point starts with a serve. The player serving has two attempts to hit a serve into the service box. If he misses a serve, it is called a fault; if he misses both serves, a double fault occurs and the point goes to the opposing player. When the serve lands in the service box, the opposing player attempts to return the ball over the net and inbounds before the ball bounces twice. The players continue to rally, or hit the ball back and forth, until one player is unable to return the ball and a point is scored.


A point is scored when an opponent cannot return the ball back over the net and into the court. The first player to score four points wins the game. Tennis uses a unique scoring system. Instead of scoring the four points as zero, one, two, three, and four, tennis points are called love, 15, 30, and 40, respectively. For example, a score of two to one would be called “30-15.” The score is announced before each serve and the score of the player serving is called first. If the players tie at four points, the score, and each subsequent tie, is called deuce. Players must win two consecutive points following deuce to win the game. The first player to win six games wins a set. Sets are won when one player wins at least six games, with at least two more than his opponent (for example, 6-0, 6-4 or 7-5). If two players tie at six games apiece, players either continue until one player leads by two games, or play a tiebreak. A match ends when one player wins a predetermined number of sets (three sets in a best-of-five set match, two sets in a best-of-three set match).

Team scoring

Tennis is played as a team sport at the youth, high school, college, and amateur levels. Tournaments are often structured by seedings. At the high school level, all players are seeded, and corresponding seeds play one another. For example, the best player (#1 seed) of Team A plays the best player (#1 seed) on Team B; the #2 seeds play each other, and so on. Typically, each team enters six singles players for individual matches and three doubles teams. Each match is worth one point, for a total of nine possible points. The team with the most points wins.


Doubles tennis

Doubles tennis features the same rules, but with two players on each side. The court is wider in doubles


The rules of tennis have altered little since its inception. The biggest change in the game has been the evolution of equipment, as powerful graphite and composite racquets have become much more widely used than their low-powered wooden counterparts. Other tennis equipment includes: tennis balls; shoes that are specifically designed to provide lateral support, as side-to-side movement is more prevalent in tennis than in other sports; short-sleeved shirts; and shorts or skirts.

Common Referee Signals

In professional tennis, one chair umpire and several linespeople determine whether the balls are hit in or out of the court. Balls that do not land safely in the court are called “out”; balls that are “in” require no call. A ball that strikes any line is considered to be in. On the recreational level, players call their own lines. Calls must be immediate and audible. The rule of thumb for calling lines dictates that all ambiguous calls be made in favor of the opponent. In competitive tournament play, players also call their own lines, but may request a ruling from an official in the case of a dispute.

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