Although having rules within a game, tennis also has a specific set of customs that must be adhered to from the moment you step foot onto the court.
Like most other sports, it isn’t just the game itself that’s important, but the respect demonstrated both on, and off-court are crucial aspects of any match.
The idea of tennis etiquette may sound odd to some, but in reality, it is just a symbol of respect that will ensure a fun, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Based on the simple principle of good manners, these guidelines are easy to adopt and will easily become second nature.
Nobody is exempt from these guidelines; even Kate Middleton herself once forfeited her position in the Royal Box at Wimbledon due to a breach of etiquette.
This guide provides the rule book on tennis etiquette, touching on variousbehaviors that will be sure to eliminate any accidental faux pas.
Divided into sections, this guide will provide player, spectator, public court, and Wimbledon etiquette.
Etiquette for players
Silence your phone
Any form of unexpected noise can serve as a tremendous distraction during a tennis match. If a phone rings during a game, the player whose phone it is will forfeit the point, as the opponent has the ability to claim it as an intentional hindrance.
It’s, therefore, crucial to ensure all mobile phones are switched off, or put on silent at the least, to prevent any avoidable point losses.
Deciding the first serve
Coin tosses and racquet spinning are both ideal ways to select the first server in a fair, unbiased manner.
Whoever wins the toss or spin can choose whether they would like to take the first serve, what side of the court they want to take it from, or they can even allow their opponent to make these all-important decisions.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) states warm-ups should last no more than 5 minutes unless otherwise agreed upon before the game by the organizers.
Respecting this time limit is essential in assuring that both players have received an equal opportunity to stretch and warm-up before the match.
Warm-up periods should not be treated as a time to practice. It is a quick session designed to adjust the players to their surroundings and to make themselves as comfortable as possible, physically and mentally.
Players should use this opportunity to help each other warm up properly, engaging in soft volleying rather than playing winning shots. The following video provides a brief example of an effective warm-up:
A more specific aspect of the warm-up, the serve is usually the last to be practiced. Balls should be caught following a serve rather than hit back at the opponent. This is to establish trust between players.
According to Ultimate Tennis, flagrant bad line calls are considered unsportsmanlike conduct and are prohibited, as they are one of the leading causes of disputes on the court.
With each player having the responsibility of calling the lines on their side of the court, it is crucial to refrain from abusing this advantage due to their favorable vantage point.
When it is unclear what call should be made, the benefit of the doubt must be given to show good faith.
Building trust is a keep aspect to ensuring the efficacy of this system, and calls should be made loud and as soon as possible to avoid confusion.
Calling out the score
Umpires are responsible for calling scores in all professional games, as this gives a better sense of clarity to everyone involved.
However, amateur and recreational tennis matches do not enjoy this benefit, leaving the responsibility solely to the players.Before each game, the server should call out the score of the set, and before each point, call out the score of the game (TennisCompanion.org).
In doing so, disputes are much less likely to occur and symbolize good etiquette.
In singles matches, no unnecessary noises, such as shouting or whooping, should be made during a point. Doing so may cause the offending player to forfeit a point, as distracting noises are considered a hindrance and therefore not allowed.
However, in doubles matches, communication between partners is allowed when the ball’s direction is towards them. Silence should be observed when the ball is traveling towards the opponent, as doing otherwise would reduce concentration.
Distracting movements, including arm waving or dance moves, are similarly not allowed, as they act as a hindrance and can cause point losses.
Intent plays a key role in this situation; if any movements were made with the intention of causing a distraction to opponents, this is considered extremely bad etiquette.
Where umpires are present, visual distractions are almost non-existent, as the presence of an umpire is enough of a disincentive to perform any type of distraction, as it can very easily be noticed by someone not playing.
This is why we don’t see the likes of Roger Federer or Novac Djokovic trying to pull any funny tricks on the courts.
Returning missed serves
Tennis Companion highlights the correct etiquette for missed serves; if your opponent does so, the ball shouldn’t be returned but instead could be used as an opportunity for practicing swings.
In this event, the ball should be blocked either at the side or back of the court. Any other reaction could be a great annoyance to your opponent, so their lives should be made much easier wherever possible, as it is the right, polite thing to do.
Playing out serves
Opponents hitting out is a common occurrence, and when this happens, it is advisable not to hit the serve back to them. Rather, the ball should be hit into the net or be allowed to roll into the fencing. This allows the opponent to hit their second serve without delay.
Tennis balls littering the court isn’t just a safety hazard, it also acts as a visual distraction.
Before a point is played, the court should be free from any tennis balls. It is the server’s responsibility to clear the ball if it lands on their side of the court. Except for when the ball hits the net and stays at the bottom, since this is very much out of the way and doesn’t serve as a distraction.
However, if one player asks for the ball to be cleared, that request must be honored to show good etiquette.
Retrieving Balls from Nearby Courts
Retrieving any tennis balls from nearby courts is permitted, however, must not be done during a point. Not only would this be distracting for both players, but it could lead to you losing out on a point.
Net chords & mishits
There may well be times when luck is on your side, and your hit will cause the ball to clip the net and land on your opponent’s side, or catch them off guard by being spun in an unreturnable way.
If this occurs and results in you winning the point, it’s polite to wave to your opponent in order to signal the part that luck has to play in that instance.
In sports, luck can be a contentious issue that is extremely frustrating for players whose been victim to good luck.
That little wave is a demonstration of good sportsmanship and is a way to make them feel less annoyed about the situation.
Targeting your opponent
Tennis rules technically stipulate that anything goes in terms of hitting the ball to your opponent; you could aim straight for them if you wanted. However, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, and targeting your opponent is poor etiquette.
However, sometimes striking your opponent with the ball could just be an accident, and in this case, it would be favorable to apologize and assure them it wasn’t intentional.
If it was intentional, this is a good signal to change your etiquette on the court.
Drop shots and lobs
It is perfectly legal to hit as many drop shots or lobs in a row as you so desire in professional tennis. Players can even learn a greater skill from this, as it puts the opponent in a very defensive position.
Conversely, in casual tennis matches, where the aim is mainly for pure enjoyment, continuous lobs or drop shots can wind up boring for your opponent and drain the fun from any game.
Good etiquette would be to refrain from constantly doing these types of hits, as it would make for a more enjoyable game for your opponent.
Yes, an underarm serve is legal and therefore allowed, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best hit to make in the world.
In fact, many tennis players would deem it poor etiquette. The main consensus is that underarm serves are a cop-out, proving laziness and a lack of commitment to the game.
That being said, if your opponent keeps using underarm serves, it could show weakness in their play and thus can be taken advantage of.
But, if that’s not the type of tennis you want to play, it would be best to ask them to refrain from hitting underarm serves or find another partner.
In any sport, celebrating wins is both a demonstration of being a humble winner and a gracious loser.
It’s crucial to ensure you possess both if you want to be considered to have good sportsmanship. Winning is always glorious, but keep in mind your win is your opponent’s loss, and empathy can be your friend in this situation.
Whether you’ve won or lost the game, it’s good etiquette to shake your opponent’s hand at the end. Wins should be praised, and losses should also be commended.
We often see professional players to share a hug, especially as they are likely to be friends outside of the game, but this isn’t necessary, so don’t feel that you’re obliged to embrace.
Handshakes should be strong and sincere; any fake or pettiness will be considered poor etiquette.
Most rules on public courts stipulate the need for tennis shoes that don’t mark the courts – this is to keep the ground in good condition for future players.
Not adhering to these rules and turning up in dirty shoes that leave scuff marks is poor manners and could earn you an unfavorable reputation.
In or out?
Questioning your opponent’s line calls can be considered rude.
If you are genuinely unsure about a verdict, you can ask a simple ‘are you sure?’ and move on.
Getting into a scuffle over it will only end up in hard feelings, and on some occasions, it’s best to swallow your ego to demonstrate good manners.
Bad calls happen. If you think your opponent’s call is dubious, you can ask for clarification, but it is advisable to only do this once per point.
It demonstrates insufficient politeness. If you keep questioning your opponent, a sit suggests bad faith. Sometimes you have to let it go.
Etiquette for doubles
It’s good to stay mindful that in a doubles match, both players have the right to call the lines for serves and during points – this is not considered poor etiquette.
Skill level differences
Ideally, players in a doubles match will all be of a similar proficiency in tennis. However, on the odd occasion, there is a difference in skills on the court, it is highly unfair to the stronger players to target weaker ones.
Yes, it can be frustrating to be playing against someone who is much more novel than you, but it’s a demonstration of politeness and good sportsmanship to show compassion on the court.
Etiquette for spectators
Silence during points
As previously mentioned, noise can be very distracting for players, especially if it’s coming from outside the court.
Spectators are expected to remain quiet during a game so as not to distract the players. It therefore, shouldn’t come as a surprise if an umpire or even a fellow spectator asks you to keep it down – this is for everyone’s benefit.
Some players will even pause before they take a serve, and sometimes this is to encourage the crowd to settle down and silence themselves, for example, when Serena Williams did this at the US Open Semi-Final (Atlas Obscura). If this happens, take the hint.
Cheering and clapping
Clapping or even letting out a cheer can be an excellent way to show support for your favorite player.
However, this shouldn’t be done until the point is over so as not to distract the players during their game and to allow for confirmation of the point.
Getting up from your seat
The only time it is acceptable to get up from your seat is when players rotate ends.
This happens end of the first, third, and every subsequent odd game in the set. The exceptions to this rule are after the first game in a set or the first point in a set where players don’t take a break, but rather switch their side.
During these short periods, it is acceptable to get up to stretch your legs or indulge in a comfort break, but it’s important to keep in mind these breaks only last for around 90 seconds, so there really isn’t that long.
Some specific events will have differing rules, but it is a demonstration of good etiquette if you are selective about when you leave your seat, so as not to distract anyone there.
Phones, photography, and videos
Phones must be kept silent during a match, as the last thing anybody wants to hear is a ringtone when an important game is being played.
Taking videos and photos is perfectly allowed, but you must make sure the settings are on silent so as not to make any form of noise in the process. Additionally, flash photograph should never be used, and any repeat offenders risk a good chance of being removed from the stalls.
Some sports accept taunting of the players, but tennis is not one of them. For fellow spectators’ and players’ sakes, taunting is intolerable, and if done, could result in being removed from the game. It’s considered extremely rude and therefore, poor etiquette.
Etiquette on public courts
Many public courts will have their own list of rules and regulations that must be adhered to.
These will be found in signage near the front or center of the courts. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with these rules to avoid being caught off guard and to make sure you’re demonstrating good etiquette.
Teton Gravity have a list of good examples that public courts may use as part of their etiquette: https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php/336016-Public-tennis-court-etiquette.
Entering a court
If entering your court means crossing that of another player’s, you must wait until they switch sides before making the journey.
If the players on that court are just practicing, it’s courtesy to ask them if it’s alright with them for you to cross.
Waiting your turn
Patience is a virtue, and you should always wait until your allotted time before making your way onto a pre-booked court (Tennis.com.au)
Walking with care
Walking across or behind someone else’s court whilst they’re in play shouldn’t be done.
Similarly, retrieving a ball from another court should be done only after they have finished their point. Interruption is poor manners.
Length of play
If someone is waiting for your court, it’s expected that a singles match can go on for 60 minutes and 90 minutes for a double.
Although the outsider will never know how long you’vebeen playing for, it’s good etiquette to honor these timings and be truthful. Many public courts will have their own rules on this, though, so it’s best to check.
Holding a court
‘Bagsying’ a court in an attempt to hold it is poor manners, as it is wasting other people’s time. If your partner is late and you want to hold a court for them, it would be best to wait your turn for another court to become available – it’s the right thing to do.
Ball machines are a nifty apparatus to help practice shots, but if there is no partition to separate your court from another, you should refrain from using a machine, as this can be very distracting.
In an ideal world, ball machines should be used on courts that have fencing all around them.
Being a litterbug anywhere is never cool. Pick up any rubbish you have and dispose of it in the nearest bin.
Not only is it impolite for people using the court after you, but it’s also impolite for staff and is unsustainable behavior.
Respect neighboring courts
Good etiquette never just involves the two people on the court – you should respect your neighbors at all times.
Balls should not be rolled or thrown into other people’s courts during a game, even if you’re returning a stray ball back.
If there is a genuine threat to another player’s safety, for example, a nearby stray ball they could trip over, it is acceptable to earn them, as it is for their own good. Otherwise, let them be.
Etiquette for parents
Understandably, emotions might be at play if you’re watching your child. While there is no issue surrounding this, it’s best to remain tactful and humble, even if your child wins a point.
Cheering and clapping should be kept to a social level, and celebrating an opponent’s loss is considered impolite.
Additionally, it’s never acceptable to take the reins on a game. Leave the coaching to the teacher – it isn’t the parent’s responsibility to intervene.
Although many people believe Wimbledon has a specific dress code for attendees, this is not the case. Formal attire is considered a ‘norm’, but it is by no means required.
With a small capacity of only 15000, silence in the courts is taken to the highest level at Wimbledon, and any offenders will not be tolerated.
Bringing food and drink is allowed, but alcohol is restricted to one bottle of wine/champagne and two bottles of beer/mixed beverages per person. Class and sophistication are key, so be mindful of your alcohol manners.
French Open Etiquette
Like Wimbledon, there is no formal dress code for the French Open, but again, it is very usual to dress up.
Unlike the British, the French don’t allow alcohol to be brought onto the premises, but food and drink under 1.5 liters is allowed.
US Open Etiquette
The US Open is much more casual in comparison to Wimbledon and the French Open, with the hot weather playing a major part in this tradition.
These games tend to be a bit more vivacious and boisterous compared to the silence of Wimbledon, but it is still etiquette to remain quiet during points.
Like the French Open, food and drink may be brought in, but alcohol is not permitted.
Australian Open Etiquette
The Australian Open runs throughout the summer, so the blazing sun warrants a more comfortable, casual attire.
Alcohol is not permitted, but food and drink under 1.5 liters may be consumed like in France.
In Conclusion Etiquette in Tennis
It is quite clear the etiquette in tennis, not just for players but for spectators, is considered crucial.
Not only is it a demonstration of good sportsmanship, it makes for a wholly enjoyable experience that ensures the integrity of all games.
Tennis is a great way to have fun, whether you’re playing or watching, but there are rules and regulations that must be respected.
After reading this, you’ll be experts in how to carry yourself on and around a court, so you can be sure you are equipped with all the necessary knowledge to give you an excellent reputation.