How to Play Tennis: The Rules

Learn the rules Tennis so that you can play the game with friends or in tournaments.

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Tennis is a racket and ball sport that can be played individually against a single opponent (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles). Each player uses tennis racket that is strung with cord to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over or around a net and into the opponent’s court. The object of the game is to play the ball in such a way that the opponent is not able to play a valid return. The player who is unable to return the ball will not gain a point, while the opposite player will.

An early form Tennis called real tennis or court tennis, was popular in England from the 13th century to the 18th century among the royalty and nobility. Real tennis spread from there to France, where it developed further; Mary, Queen of Scots introduced it to Scotland. The game had most likely reached China by AD 800; according to titiwei’s account in his Important Events duringWanli’s Reign, young Chinese noblemen were playing a game similar to tennis called bao-qiu (暴球 “racket ball”) in Ningbo during this period.

The Basics

In tennis, two opponents (singles) or four opponents (doubles) take turns hitting a ball with a racket into each other’s half of the court. The game starts with a player serving the ball from behind the baseline on one side of the court, over the net, into the other player’s service box. The opponent then hits the ball back over the net, and the rally continues until one opponent is not able to hit the ball back or hits it out of bounds.

The basic rules of tennis scoring are very simple. In singles, players score points based on whether they win or lose a rally. In doubles, players also score points based on whether they win or lose a rally, but they additionally receive points for each time their team wins or loses the point when their opponents are serving.

Players can win games either by winning enough rallies to reach a certain score first (usually four points in singles and six points in doubles), or by winning enough games to reach a certain number of games first (usually six in singles and eight in doubles). Players can also win matches by winning a certain number of sets first (usually two out of three in singles and three out of five in doubles).


In tennis, a player scores points by striking the ball with their racket into the opponent’s half of the court. If the opponent is unable to return the ball, or if the ball goes out of bounds, then the player scores a point. A game is won when a player has scored four points (known as a “point”), and there must be a margin of two points between the players. If both players have scored three points each, then the score is “deuce” and either player can win the game by scoring two consecutive points.

Playing the Game

Tennis is played between two players (singles) or between two teams of two players (doubles). The aim of the game is to hit the ball over the net into your opponent’s court, and to stop your opponent from doing the same.

The game starts with a player serving the ball from behind the baseline into the other player’s service box. The ball must land inside the service box and bounce back over the net. The receiving player then hits the ball back over the net, and the rally continues until one player is unable to return the ball, hits it out of bounds, or fails to make it over the net.

A point is scored when:
-The serving player wins a rally (this is called a “service winner”).
-The receive misses their return.
-The receive fails to make it over the net.
-The ball hits anything other than the net or post on their way over.
-The serving player hits a double fault (this means they hit two consecutive serves out of bounds or into the net).

Players can only score points when they are serving; if they win a rally when their opponent is serving, they do not score a point, but gain control of serve. The first player to score four points (known as a “game”), wins that game. A set is won by winning six games (with a margin of two games). A match is won by winning three sets.

The Serve

The serve is one of the most important strokes in tennis. It is the only time during a point when a player has complete control over where the ball will go. The player who is serving starts the point by standing behind the baseline on one side of the net. The server then hits the ball with a racquet so that it goes over the net and into the other player’s service box. A serve is considered good if it lands inside the service box and is not touched by the other player before it bounces. If the ball hits the net on a serve, it is called a let and play continues.

The Return

If the ball hits within the court before bouncing twice, or if it hits the wall, then it is “in.” The player must then hit it back to the other side. A player can hit the ball in any direction. French Open tennis is played on a clay court, which means that balls bounce higher and slower than on other surfaces such as grass or hard courts.

Volleys and Overheads

Volleys are shots hit before the ball bounces, while overheads are shots hit after the ball bounces. In general, volleys are used to keep the point going and overheads are used to finish the point.

Volleys can be hit with any part of the racket and can be either forehand or backhand. Overheads can also be hit with any part of the racket but are always forehands.

For both volleys and overheads, you want to make contact with the ball at or near its highest point. This will give you more power and control over your shot.


A good footwork is the key to playing a game of tennis. It allows the player to move around the court quickly and easily, to reach the ball in time, and to make the right shots.

There are three basic types of footwork:
-Lateral footwork: This is used to move sideways, to reach the balls that are close to the sidelines.
-Backward footwork: This is used to move backwards, to reach the balls that are behind you.
-Forward footwork: This is used to move forwards, to reach the balls that are in front of you.

When you are starting out, it is important to learn all three types of footwork. As you become more skilled, you will be able to use them in different combinations and create your own style of play.


In tennis, as in any sport, strategy is important. But unlike some sports, tennis offers a unique opportunity to control the placement and spin of the ball, giving players a wide range of options for strategically outmaneuvering their opponents. In order to take advantage of this, you need to understand the basic rules of tennis.

The game of tennis is played between two people (singles) or between two teams of two people each (doubles). The court is divided in half by a net stretched across the center. Players stand on opposite sides of the net and hit the ball back and forth using their racquets. The goal is to hit the ball over the net into your opponent’s court in such a way that they are unable to return it, or to force them to hit it into the net or out of bounds.

Players can only hit the ball one time before it must bounce on the ground in their own court. They can hit it any number of times after it bounces in their own court, but must let it bounce at least once before hitting it over the net. If they hit it over the net before it has bounced, this is called a “fault” and their opponent gets to serve the next point.

The player who hits the ball into their opponent’s court first serves that point. They continue serving as long as they win points (i.e., their opponent is unable to return their shot). When they lose a point, their opponent serves for that point and for as long as they continue winning points. Players alternate serve every time they win a point while serving; this is called “serving by twos.” In doubles play, each team has one player serving at all times during a game, and they take turns serving throughout the match.

Players earn points by winning rallies; that is, by hitting shots that their opponents are unable to return within the boundaries of the court (or if they force their opponents to hit shots out of bounds). The first player or team to reach four points wins a “game”; games are strung together until one player or team wins six games and thus wins what is called a “set” (with players or teams usually having to win by two games). A match consists of best-of-three sets or best-of-five sets depending on tournament rules (with players or teams usually having to win by two sets). To win a best-of-five set match at Wimbledon, for example, a player would have to be winning by two sets before his/her opponent even had a chance to serve!

Tennis Etiquette

Tennis is a game that is enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. While the basic rules of tennis are relatively simple, there is an unwritten code of etiquette that should be followed on the court. Following basic tennis etiquette will not only make your time on the court more enjoyable, but it will also show respect for your opponents and for the game itself.

Here are a few of the most important tennis etiquette rules to keep in mind:

-Arrive at the court on time for your match. If you are more than 10 minutes late, you may forfeit the match.
-Warm up before your match. This not only helps you prevent injury, but it also shows respect for your opponent by giving them a fair chance to win.
-If you need to take a break during the match (for water, etc.), let your opponent know in advance. Pausing during the middle of a point can disrupt their concentration and give you an unfair advantage.
-Keep your emotions in check. Losing your temper on the court not only shows poor sportsmanship, but it can also lead to dangerous situations (throwing racquets, hitting balls at opponents, etc.).
-Be a gracious winner/loser. There is nothing wrong with being competitive, but remember that tennis is just a game. Shaking hands with your opponent after a match – win or lose – is a sign of good sportsmanship.

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