Tennis – Understanding the Rules and Scoring System of the Game

While the average age of a professional tennis player is 27 years old, tennis is a great life-long sport and one that can be picked up at any age. There are many club players that play well into their 60’s and even 70’s. While many club players will have played in high school and college, there are a large number of club players that don’t take their first lesson until they reach their 30’s or 40’s.

Setting up the court

A tennis court is set out primarily for the playing of two different games, that being singles and doubles. The easy way to differentiate the different playing area is to remember that the tramlines, the strips of a tennis court on either side of the main playing area, are only ever used when one is playing the game of doubles. Occasionally one sees a tennis court where the tramlines are absent, such as in specialized exhibition courts; if you’ve ever seen one, you’ll be familiar with the exact dimensions of a singles court.

General basics for the beginner

The basics of tennis are pretty simple. One player serves the ball diagonally across the court to their opponent inside the service box. The goal of that player is to return the ball after only one bounce in his court back across the net and inbounds. Play takes place until one player misses the ball or fails to hit it inbounds on his opponent’s side of the court.

The server starts the game only by serving from the right side of the court behind the baseline. He then alternates to the left side of the center line for his second serve, and so on throughout the game.

Often the most confusing aspect for a tennis beginner is the scoring. There are three types of scoring: Game, Set, and Match. Points add up to a single game, games then add up to a set, and sets add up to a match.

Serving the ball

Whether one is playing singles, two players, or doubles, four players – two on either side of the court, there are a few important things to remember before a racquet is even picked up and play starts.

To begin with finding the center mark along the baseline of the court. This is where the serving action begins. The opponent or opponents on the other side of the court are advised to stand back behind the halfway line of the court to return serve. In doubles, the exception to this rule is when you are not receiving serve and will then take up a position near the net to volley any balls.

When serving the player stands to the right of the center line and begins the service action, so the ball is delivered to the left hand forward box on the other side of the net. When the point is completed, the server moves to the left of the center line and serves to the right forward box on the other side of the net.

A point is played out until: (a) the ball is hit out of bounds, outside the lines, (b) the player serves two faults, that is two invalid serves or (c) the ball is missed by one player and bounces twice without retrieval.

Game scoring

The scoring of tennis employs a unique system. The first point scored is called as 15, being either 15-0 (fifteen love) where the server or serving team wins the point or 0-15 (love fifteen) if the opponent wins the point. The second point will be announced as 15-15 if the receiver or receiving team wins or 30-0 if the server wins the first two points. This pattern continues until either one player or team wins four points then a game is called.

If the score gets to 40-40 where both teams has won four points, a ‘deuce’ is called by the umpire (or whoever happens to be scoring). When this happens play continues as normal until one side wins two points in a row; when this happens a ‘game’ is won. The next point after the deuce will be announced as ‘advantage’ to the winning side. If the opponent wins the next point, then the score will go back to deuce and play continues.

Set scoring

Tennis is played in sets, either three or five depending on the type of match. Five sets are usually only used for men’s singles matches and three sets for women’s and doubles matches. The exception to this rule is played at the season-ending the tournament for women on the professional tennis circuit; here the final is played over five grueling sets.

Back to scoring, in a set, the score continues until one side wins six games and therefore wins the set. In the event where the score reaches five games all (5-5), if this happens the first side to reach seven games to five (7-5) will win the set. If the play reaches six games all (6-6) then a ‘tie-breaker’ is played. The first side of the game to reach seven points with a lead of two will be announced as the winner of the set. Players change ends after every six points. If the tie-breaker score reaches six all (6-6), then play continues until one side wins by a margin of two points.

In a three set game, the winner is whoever wins two sets first. In a five-set game then the winner is the first to three sets. The exception is when each side wins a set in a three-set game or two sets each in a five set game. Then an ‘advantage’ set is played where the player who reaches six games wins or whoever can win by two games after five all (5-5) is declared.

An advantage set is not always played at club level as it can extend a match for a very long time. At the club level, a tie-break set is often scored to break the deadlock and provide a winner.


Tennis is an incredible sport for players of all standards and even though the rules and scoring can seem complicated at first, the beginner will soon pick up the finer points and enjoy the course of play.

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