Tennis Terminology - Everything You Need to Know
It is one of the world’s most popular sports and is played by players of all ages.
Besides, it is also a popular spectator sport that sees big-name players like Federer win prestigious tournaments on TV by millions of fans worldwide.
Contrary to most other sports, there is no disparity in interest between men’s and women’s matches. Tennis is one of the few professional sports in which women are paid equally with men.
If you’re interested in playing tennis or simply looking to understand better what’s going on while watching it, you should know about the tennis terminology.
In this article, you will discover a glossary of tennis terms just for you.
We’ll make sure to cover all the tennis terms you’ll need to know, so let’s get started!
Tennis Court Layout
We will begin by looking at the tennis court and some terms associated with it.
The tennis court is a rectangle shape on a flat surface that measures 78 feet (23.78 meters) in length for single matches and 27 feet (8.23 meters) in width.
The court is 36 feet (10.1 meters) in width for double matches.
It has a net at the middle that divides the court, suspended between two net posts at the height of 3.5 feet (1.07 meters), dipping to a height of 3 feet (0.91 meters) at the center.
When hit, the ball must pass over the net, but it is also legal to hit the ball around the net posts.
Lines define the court boundaries that show where one can legally hit the ball and where players can stand when serving the ball or receiving a serve.
Balls that land over the boundaries of the court on the first bounce past the net are regarded as ‘out’. While balls bouncing on or inside the line are regarded as ‘in’.
The lines on the court have their unique names and purposes:
- Alley: This is the area between the singles and doubles sideline on each side of the court.
- Baseline: This marks a court’s long boundaries. The server must stand behind the baseline between the center mark and sideline when serving.
- Singles Sideline: This marks the wide boundaries of a court when two singles are playing.
- Doubles Sideline: This marks a court’s wide boundaries when doubles are playing.
- Double Alley: This refers to the 4.5 feet (1.38 meters) gap between the singles and the doubles sideline.
- Service Lines: This is located 21 feet (6.4 meters) from either side of the net parallel with the net.
- Center Service Line: This refers to the line parallel to the single sidelines and halfway between them, creating two service boxes. When a player serves the ball, it must cross the net and land in the service box diagonally opposite to start a point.
- Back Court: this is the area that exists around the baseline.
- Deuce Court: This is the half of the court, just right of the center mark and center service line, from the server and returner’s perspective.
- Ad Court: the half of the court is located to the left of the center mark and center service line from the server and returner’s perspective.
- Center Mark: This is located in the middle of the baseline and is a mark that indicates the central boundary of the deuce court and ad court for the server.
There are many kinds of shots in tennis. Here are the fundamental shots:
- Serve: Also known as the serve or service, this is the first shot played in each game. The player serving the ball tosses it in the air and hits it to land in the service box on the opposite end of the court. On each point, if a player misses their first serve, they may play a second serve.
- Groundstroke: This is the shot played after the ball has hit the ground. Groundstrokes are often played close to the baseline but usually happen anywhere on the court.
- Volley: This is when the player hits the ball just before it hits the ground. While volleys can happen anywhere on the court, they are often played close to the net.
- Forehand: this is a groundstroke played with the palm of the racket’s hand facing a shot’s direction. Forehand groundstrokes are also known as ‘forehands.’
- Backhand: This is a shot played with the back of the racket hand facing the shot’s direction shot. Backhand groundstrokes are also known as ‘backhands.’
Here is a non-exhaustive list of terms that are used to describe shots:
- Ace: This is a serve that bounces in the correct service box that the returner (or receiver) fails to touch before the second bounce.
- Approach Shot: This is a shot played as the player approaches or moves towards the direction of the net.
- Backspin: this involves hitting the ball at an angle that causes it to spin backwards.
- Chip and Charge: A player hits a sliced approach shot, and moves quickly towards the net to volley the opponent’s return.
- Crosscourt: This refers to hitting the ball, such that it travels diagonally to the opponent’s side of the court (this can be deuce court to deuce court or ad court to ad court). Here’s a tutorial on how to do this.
- Deep: hitting the ball that bounces near the opponent’s baseline, rather than near or mid-court.
- Down the line: this is a shot hit near, and about parallel to the sideline.
- Down the middle: a shot hit close to and roughly parallel to the center service line.
- Drop Shot: This is a softly hit shot that lands close to the net, typically played with backspin. Here’s how to perform a drop shot.
- Flat: This involves hitting the ball with little or no spin, which is used often used in fast serves and groundstrokes.
- Half Volley: when the ball is hit immediately after it has bounced.
- Kick Serve: This involves hitting the serve with heavy topspin, which causes the ball to bounce high on the opponent’s side.
- Lob: Lob is a shot designed to pass over an opponent’s head before landing on the court. Here is how to hit a lob.
- Passing Shot: This is a shot played close to the baseline and passes by the opponent positioned near the net.
- Slice: This is a shot that creates a backspin on the ball, which usually has a flat trajectory and a lower bounce.
- Smash: a strongly hit overhead with a downward trajectory towards the opponent, making it difficult to return.
- Topspin: This is a spin on the ball that makes the ball rotate towards the spin of the travel. This causes the ball to dip and give a higher bounce.
- Tweener: also known as hotdog or sabatweenie, this is a difficult trick shot where a player hits the ball between their legs. It is usually performed when chasing a lob. Hitting a tweener can be difficult, but here’s how to do it.
Like the many other terminologies of tennis, tennis scoring also has a language of its own.
There are 3 sets in a match (although some men’s Grand Slams have 5); a set consists of games, and a game consists of points.
For each game, the serving player or pair score is announced first. A player or pair must win four points to win a game, with a margin of at least two points.
The following point system is used in scoring games:
- Love: This is a score of zero
- 15: This is one point
- 30: This is two points
- 40: This is three points
- Deuce: This means both players scored three points each and therefore level, i.e score of 40-40 in a game. A player must win two consecutive points to win the game when the score is deuce.
- Advantage: at deuce score, the following point won is an advantage. And when the player or pair with the advantage wins the next point, they win the game. However, the score returns to deuce if the opponent wins the next point.
To win a set, a player or pair must win six games, with a margin of at least two games:
When both players or pairs have won five games each, two more standard games will not be played, with two possible outcomes:
- One player or pair eventually wins the next two games, thus winning the set 7-5
- The players or pairs each win a game, and the set goes to a ‘tiebreak’. The first player to win 7 points in a tiebreak wins the set.
However, this still requires a margin of two points. That means if the score in the tiebreak reaches 6-6, the tiebreak will continue until one player (or the pair – in doubles) has won by up to two points. The tiebreak winner wins the set by a 7-6 score.
Most standard tennis matches are played as best-of-three sets (first player or pair to win two sets, also known as three-set matches), but some men’s matches are played as best of five sets.
When referring to specific points in a match, the following terms are used:
- Point: A point is the smallest unit of scoring.
- Game Point: This is when a player needs one point to win the game.
- Break Point: This occurs when the returner requires one point to win the game.
- Set Point: This is when a player requires only one point to win a game, and with it the set.
- Match Point: A player needs to win a game by one point, and with it their second/third set to win the match.
The following terms best describe the most common ways a point ends or should be restarted:
- Out: If during a rally, the ball lands outside the sidelines or baseline, the point goes to the other player.
- Fault: A fault is an unsuccessful serve. The server has only two chances to execute a legal serve for each point. A player gets a second serve after a fault on the first serve.
- Double Fault: This is when a server’s second serve is also a fault, and the returner gets awarded the point.
- Foot Fault: During the service motion, the server must stand behind the baseline and between the correct side of the center mark and sideline to serve. A foot fault is called when the foot touches the court’s baseline or crosses the center mark or sideline.
- Service Let: This is when the serve hits the net, but still lands in the right service box, or if the ball is served before the receiver is ready. Instead of being called a fault, the serve is retaken.
- Let: A let may be called if a point has been interrupted suddenly. In such a case, the point is replayed, which begins with a first serve.
Tennis Court Surfaces
Tennis can be played on various court surfaces, whether indoors or outdoors. Each with its distinct characteristics. There are three court surfaces featured at the Grand Slams, and they are:
- Clay Courts: The slowest surface in tennis is known as clay, and often leads to longer rallies. The courts are typically made of limestone base (or something similar) and are covered in shale or brick dust.
There are two variants, which are red clay and green clay.
Roland Garros in Paris, home to the French Open, is where you will find the most famous clay courts in the world.
A common feature of clay courts is the need to slide on the loose surface. The European clay-court season is typically played between April and June.
- Grass Courts: Grass is well-known for being the fastest court surface, while its bounce can be unpredictable and low.
Grass is best known internationally in the Championships, held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, London, annually. The grass-court season is played in June and July.
- Hard Courts: The most common type of tennis court are hard courts, although the specifications and speed are not always the same.
Both the Australian Open and the US Open are played on hard courts.
Many other surfaces exist worldwide, including carpet, green clay, AstroTurf, and parquet.
And that completes our list of tennis terminologies you should know.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it should give you a head start in understanding the variety of terminology used in tennis.
You can check the list from time to time as you begin to get more involved in the game or come across terms you are not familiar with.