Basic Rules of Tennis

Tennis is an individual sport. One might argue that even the doubles variation of tennis where the chemistry of partners is a key factor to winning, is essentially an individual challenge.

With its prestigious events and popularity all over the world, it is one of the few sports that sanction gender equality as far as prize money in big event competitions—the Grand Slams. A handful of men and women tennis pros are featured among the highest paid athletes in the world. Even if you are completely new to tennis, you’ve probably heard of Federer, Djokovic, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Some of whose career prize money earnings approaches $100million.

Are you ready to make your millions in tennis? Here’s how to play the game.


The basic object of the game is to use a racquet to hit the ball over a net, bouncing once within the boundaries of the opposite half of the court. Your opponent then tries to hit the ball back to you. Each player attempts to hit the ball back and forth over the net until one player commits an error or is unable to return the ball.

In general, a point is lost when one of the following errors happen:

  1. A player fails to hit the ball before the second bounce,
  2. hits the ball into the net,
  3. hits the ball out of bounds,
  4. touches the net with the racquet,
  5. touches the net with any part of the body,
  6. hits the ball twice,
  7. is hit by the ball, or,
  8. hits the ball before it crosses the net.

Game. Set. Match.

To keep score, a unique system is used. Explaining this backwards might be easier to understand.

A tennis match is usually won by winning the best out of three or the best out of five “sets”. A tennis set (in most cases), is awarded to the player who wins six “games” before the opponent has won more than four. If a set is tied at six “games” apiece, the common method to resolve the winner is through a tie-breaker. A tennis game consists of four points. “Love” indicates no score, “15” indicates one point scored, “30” indicates two points, “40” indicates three points, and “game” indicates winning the game. If a tie of 40-all occurs, the situation is called a “deuce”, and to win the game, one player must score two points more than the opponent. A tennis point is lost by the player who commits any of the errors mentioned in the previous section. Thus, the point is awarded to the other player.

To summarize, the first player to win four points or more wins a game; the first to win six games or more wins a set; the first to win 2 out of 3 sets (or a longer 3 out of 5) wins the match and is declared the winner.


To start a match, and every point thereafter, a player “serves the ball”. The first player to start the match is usually determined by flipping a racquet or tossing a coin. Each player serves for one complete game. When one player wins a game, alternately, the other starts the next game with a serve. The server must stand behind the baseline. Each game is started by a serve executed from the right side of the center court with the feet behind the baseline mark. A foot fault is called if the server’s foot touches or crosses the baseline before the ball is struck. This results in a loss of a point. A legal serve passes over the net into the service court box diagonally opposite the server. The server has two opportunities to make a legal serve. Missing both serves results in a “double fault” and the loss of a point. After scoring the first point of a game, the server then moves to the left side of the center court and serves to the service box diagonally opposite. After each point, this change of service position is repeated.

On a serve, should the ball touch the net and drop on the appropriate service box, the situation is called a “let” and the server gets to try that serve again. You can hit an infinite number of “let” serves in a row.

After every serve, your opponent then tries to hit the ball back to you. This stroke is called a return, or a return of serve. Each player attempts to hit the ball back and forth over the net until one player commits an error or is unable to return the ball.

Learn. Play. Compete.

This whole rules article is easier to follow while at play with someone experienced. It would even go faster if you join one of our tennis programs. Either way, the rules are just there to establish order in a match. The real challenge in tennis is learning all the different strokes while developing your mental and physical strengths. Keep playing. Keep learning. Tennis is fun.

You never know, you (or your child) could be the next Roger Federer or Serena Williams.

Ref. Grolier International Encyclopedia.

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The Tennis School is a member of the Ontario Tennis Association and by extension, Tennis Canada, the national governing body for the sport of tennis.