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The rules of tennis can be intimidating for newcomers, especially with the unique scoring system and the many lines on the court. But fear not – we are here to set the record straight.


Let’s start with the most basic element – a point.


Each point begins with a serve, and you can win a point in two main ways: (1) if your shot bounces twice before your opponent can hit it (known as a “winner”), or (2) if your opponent’s shot lands outside of the court boundaries (an error).


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A game is played to four points. If tied at three, you can play with ad scoring (win by two) or no-ad scoring (sudden death).


So far, so good? The next part is where it gets slightly tricky… but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be keeping score like a pro.


In each game, instead of counting 1-2-3-Game, points are scored 15-30-40-Game.


There is no definitive answer as to why points are counted in that way, but one popular theory is that it comes from the hands of a clock (with 45 eventually being shortened to 40 because it is one less syllable). 


A score of 40-40 is called “deuce.” If playing with ad scoring, the player who wins the next point then holds the “advantage” (hence the term ad scoring) and if they win the following point, they win the game. Should the player with the advantage lose that point, the score returns to deuce.


If playing with no-ad scoring (sudden death), then you play one decisive point for the game.


A typical tennis match is played with players competing to win “sets,” with six games required to win one set. Depending on the match, you may play just one set, best of three, or even best of five!


Here are some other basic rules to know:


  • Players alternate games serving, with each player serving an entire game until completion, before returning the next game.
  • The server must always stand behind the baseline and serve diagonally into the service box. On each point, the server and has two chances (a first and second serve) to serve into the required box. If they miss both chances, then their opponent wins the point.
  • The server must alternate sides of the court after each point, always starting on the right side.
  • Sets are traditionally played first to six games and you must win by two. If a set is tied at six games all, a tiebreak is played.
  • A set tiebreak is played to seven points, win by two, with players alternating serve after every odd point. (For example, Player A serves the first point, Player B serves the second and third, Player A serves the fourth and fifth, and so on.)


    So now you know the basic rules of tennis. Or at least you’re getting the basic idea. But if you are new to the sport or just looking to rally, don’t worry about remembering everything right away. Just get on the court and have fun!

    To view the official rules and regulations information from the USTA, click here.