The Rules of Tennis

By Claire Borders , last updated November 19, 2011

Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world. The high energy and fast pace of the game makes it an exciting and seemingly complex event to watch and play, but the rules of tennis are actually quite simple. Here is everything you need to know to get in the game.

Like any sport, the ultimate objective of tennis is to win a match. The basic rules of tennis are that four points win a game, six games by a margin of two or more win a set, and two sets win a match.

In tennis, opponents stand on opposite sides of the court facing one another. Before play begins, a coin toss is used to determine who will be the server and who will be the receiver during the first game. The server stands behind his or her baseline within the boundaries of the court. From that point, the server hits the ball with his or her racket into the box diagonally across from the origin of the serve. When serving, the ball must be hit before it touches the ground. A server gets two chances to successfully get a serve in, and if the server misses both opportunities, he or she gives up one point.

Once the serve is delivered, the receiver must hit the ball, after no more than one bounce, back to the server's side of the court. The receiver can hit the ball anywhere within the server's court, but must keep the ball within the boundary lines. The players continue to hit the ball back and forth until one of them misses or the ball is hit out of bounds. If the ball is mishit or if it hits the net, the last player to make contact with the ball gives up a point to his opponent.

Scoring in tennis is somewhat different than other sports, and the terminology can be confusing to those who are unfamiliar with the game. Points in tennis are awarded in incriments of 15. The first point is called "15," the second, "30," and the third, "45," although it is also commonly referred to as "40." If a player has "love" that means he or she has zero points. If the score is 40-40, that is called a deuce, and either side must score two points to win. "Advantage In" means that the server will win if he or she scores the next point. Similarly, "Advantage Out" means that if the receiver of the serve scores the next point, he or she wins.

At the end of every game, the players swap roles as server and receiver. Once a player has won six games, he or she has won a set and a new set begins. To start the new set, the receiver of the last game becomes the server, and the players continue to switch roles after each game. In most tournaments, two sets win a match. However, there are a few in which three sets win a match.

Whether you are planning to play in a tournament or just recreationally, understanding the rules of tennis is the first step toward perfecting your game.

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