Simple Tennis Rules

By Shawn Candela
Tennis is fairly simple to learn.

You don't have to be Roger Federer or Serena Williams to have a good time playing tennis. It's an easy sport to pick up. All you need is a tennis racket, an opponent, a tennis ball or two, and a basic understanding of the rules.


A tennis court is 36 feet wide and 78 feet long. A 3-foot-tall net divides the court in half lengthwise. There are boundary lines around the court--the ones on each end are called baselines. Along the sides of the court are two 4-1/2 feet lanes that are used for doubles play only. Singles play uses the inside lines of these lanes as the outer boundaries, so a singles court is 27 feet wide. On each side of the net are two service boxes that are 21 feet long. These are the areas where serves must land to be legal.


A player must stand behind the baseline of his side to serve. He can only step into the court once he has made contact with the ball. His first serve is from his right-hand side of the court. He must toss the ball into the air and hit it into the service box diagonally across the net. If his serve lands in the box, it is legal. Outside of the box is a fault, and he gets a second try. If he again misses, he has doubled-faulted and loses the point. If the ball hits the net and lands in the box, it is known as a "let" and he gets to reserve. If it hits the net and lands out, it is a fault.

For the second point, the player serves on the left-hand side of the court and again gets to try to hit the ball into the service box on the opposite side. He then returns to the right side for the next point. This continues for all of his serves.


Once a serve lands in, a rally has begun. The player who has been served to must return the ball into any area of his opponent's singles court. As with a serve, if the ball hits the net and goes into the singles court, it is good. If not, the point is lost.

A ball may hit the ground no more than one time before being returned, but does not have to be allowed to hit. In other words, it can be returned while still in the air. A ball that hits any of the boundary lines is good.

Players must hit the ball back and forth into each other's court until a ball is not returned fairly--it is hit out or missed.

Game Scoring

Unlike most other sports, tennis does not use a basic numbering system. Instead, the first point a player scores is known as 15. His second point is 30. His third point is 40. The server's score is always called first. For example, if the server scores the first point, the score is 15-0 or 15-love. Should his opponent score the next two points, the score would be 15-30.

A game is won if a player wins the next point after he reaches 40, as long as his opponent does not also have 40. If he does, it is known as "deuce." At that point, play continues until one player gains a two-point advantage.

Sets and Matches

The winner of a set is the first player to win six games, as long as he is ahead by two games. In other words, he can win 6-4, 6-3 and so forth. However, if winning a game makes the set score 6-5, another game must be played. If the player who had 6 wins the game, the set is over at 7-5. If he loses, the set is tied at 6-6.

To break a tie, players play one game in which one player must score seven points, but again must win by two points or else play continues until someone has a two-point advantage.

The tiebreaker begins with the next server (whoever would have served the next game) serving one point. His opponent then serves two points. The first player then also serves two. They go back and forth from then on, each serving two points until the set is won.

Matches are typically the best of three or five sets.