Tennis ball on a sunny court

The Basic Rules of Tennis for Beginners

As with most sports, tennis is a game of immense skill and comes with a whole host of rules that must be abided by for scoring to count and a win to be a real win.

If you want to learn how to play the game, it’s essential you understand the rules of the tennis and adhere to them strictly.

Here, we share the rules of tennis for beginners so that you can get involved.

What is Tennis?

Tennis dates to the 12th-century and was originally a game played by kings.

The principle idea behind tennis is that two (singles) or four (doubles) players take to the court, standing on opposite sides of a large net. They use a stringed racket to hit the ball back and forth to one another. The aim of tennis is to win enough points to win a game, enough games to win a set, and enough sets to win a match. Every set is a race to six. The first person to win six games wins the set.

The Basic Rules of the Game

The basic rules of scoring tennis are relatively simple.

When you’re receiving the ball, it can only bounce once on your side of the court. If it hits the ground twice before you return it over the net, you lose the point. All the while, you and the ball must stay within the boundaries of the court.

You don’t only lose the point if the ball bounces twice within the boundaries of the court. You also lose the point if you leave the boundaries of the court during play, if the ball you’re serving lands outside the boundaries of the court, or if you fail to return the ball to the other player.

Generally, tennis matches are played to the best of three or the best of five sets.

Difference Between Singles and Doubles Tennis

While the differences between singles and doubles tennis are not too extensive, there are some.

The main difference is that singles tennis is a two-player game, with one player on either side of the court whereas doubles is a four-player game, with two players on either side of the court.

Also, the boundaries of the court are wider for doubles tennis, allowing each player more room.

Rules of Singles Tennis

Two men playing singles tennis

As mentioned, singles tennis is played between two players, one of each side of the court, and is played on the narrower tennis court.

When the game begins, the person that plays the ball is the server and the player that returns it is the receiver. To determine who serves first and what ends of the court each player will begin at it’s traditional to toss a coin or spin a racket. As well as using the coin toss, for example, to choose ends and who serves first, the winner of the toss can also choose to ask the other player to decide.

Every game, the player’s swap and the other will serve. The players swap ends of the court every game, too.

Players are not penalized for serving when it’s not their turn; however, as soon as the mistake is realized, the correct server must take over.

At the beginning of the game, the players or another authority should decide whether they are playing to the best of three or the best of five as this will determine the length of the game.

Throughout the game, players must adhere to the four dominant rules: the receiver must return the ball, the ball must not bounce more than once, the ball must not land outside of the court boundaries, and all players must stay inside the court boundaries.

The first to win six games wins the set. And the first to three or five sets, the game.

Rules of Doubles Tennis

Women playing doubles tennis

The rules of tennis for doubles games is virtually the same as singles tennis; however, a doubles game is played on a wider court.

When playing as a pair, many wrongly believe that the players must hit alternate shots. However, both players can hit the ball as much or little as they like.

Technically, both players can stand wherever they like on the court when a serve is taking place, but it’s traditional for each player to take a side of the court.

How is Tennis Scored?

The way tennis is scored is a peculiar one as the numbers do not rise as you’d imagine:

  • The points in a game of tennis are called ‘love’.
  • If you’re at zero, you’re referred to as having ‘love’, without a number in front of it.
  • The first point in a game is 15-love and the second 30-love. However, the third point is 40-love rather than 45.
  • When a player gets to 40-love, if the other player is below 40, they need to score once more to win the game.
  • However, if both players are at 40, which is called ‘deuce’, the winner of the next point will get the “advantage”. If the same player goes on to win the point after that they will win the game. If the opposing player wins the next point the score will drop back down to duece.
  • Essentially when duece is reached the winner is the first player to get two points in a row.

Serving the Ball

In both singles and doubles tennis, the players alternate between whose turn it is to serve, which can be confusing when there’s four of you (doubles), in which case player should serve once every fourth game.

In doubles tennis, the server starts behind the baseline to the right-hand side of the court and must send the ball into the service box diagonally opposite, on the left. After each point, the server should swap sides.

If on a first serve the ball lands outside the service box, the server can try again. However, if the ball lands outside the service box twice, they are at fault and forfeit the point to their opponent.

When serving, players must throw the ball up in the air using their arm rather than the racket and hit the ball before it hits the ground. Generally, the higher the ball is, the more power a player can get on their strike, which creates a faster serve.

It is against the rules for players to run or walk while serving; however, they can move on the spot.

If you think you need to warm up before a tennis match, try these pre-match exercises.

Breaking Between End Changes

If you are playing tennis for leisure, it’s not essential that you adhere to the general rules around breaks between end changes and sets; however, it’s something you can do if you want to play professionally.

Typically, in professional tennis, players can break for a minute and a half (90 seconds) between end changes and up to two minutes between sets. This break is designed to allow players to go to the toilet or request on-court treatment.

That’s all there is to it!

The best games of tennis are fair games of tennis. Whether you’re playing for leisure or professionally, follow the rules and you can rest assured knowing that when you win a game, it’s a real win.

If you are looking for a racquet to get started check out our guide to the best rackets for beginners here.