The Quick Guide to Tennis Rules for Beginners

You may be a bit overwhelmed with the thought of learning a whole set of rules…but this quick guide will get you hitting in the right direction.

If you have a friend that plays tennis that can walk your through a practice match that would be the best way to learn.

Once you have played a couple of matches you will feel confident and understand how the game is played.

In this post we will cover everything you need to know about tennis rules.

If you are new to the sport you will want to check out our complete guide on how to play tennis to get you started!

(This post contains affiliate links. To read our full disclosure policy click here.)

Tennis Rules for Beginners

How to Start a Tennis Match

A tennis match starts by a coin toss or a racket spin.  

Have you noticed there is a letter or shape on the end of the handle of your tennis racket?

If you have a Wilson racket it is a “W”.  You then can use “M” or “W” when you spin your racket.  

You can either hold it in your hand and spin it until your opponent says “stop.” 

You could also spin it on its head and let it drop.

Who ever wins the toss gets to pick if they want to serve fist or choose their side.

Basic Tennis Rules

To win a point during a tennis match you must hit the ball inside the white lines.  

If a ball goes out of bounds the point is over and whomever hit the ball out loses that point.

If the ball lands on the lines, it is considered in and playable.

Here is a quick look at a tennis court so that you can see the most important lines:

Tennis Lines

You may notice that there are two sets of sidelines.  One set for doubles and one set for singles.

If you are playing singles the ball must land within the singles court which is outlined by the singles sideline and baseline.

If you are playing doubles you would use the doubles sideline and baseline to mark where the ball should land.

Doubles Tennis Rules Vs. Singles Tennis Rules

One of the most important rules to know in doubles is that a player’s line extends to include both alleys on both sides, while in singles it only includes one alley and no part of the opposite side.

In singles, the ball is considered out of bounds if it lands in the alley.

The only other big difference that you would need to make sure of is that you switch off who serves during your doubles match.

For example, if you serve a set then your partner will serve the next time that your team is serving.

You can not just have the same person serve every game.

In singles, you don’t have to worry about this because you and your opponent will switch serving between the two of you after every game.

Keeping Score in Tennis

Both you and your opponent should be keeping score in your head.  The person that is serving should also call out the score before each point.

If you forget the score….ask your opponent if they know it. 

If you both have forgotten what it is, go back to the point that you both remember and go from there.

You can read our complete tennis scoring guide here.

Tips for Remembering Tennis Score

One of the best ways to make sure that tennis scoring stays on track is to make sure the server calls out the score EVERY point.

Sometimes people think they may not need to…but if you have ever had a really long intense point…you will be happy that you did.

It can be really easy to forget what the score is.

You should ALWAYS know what the score is even if you are not the one serving.

When do you switch sides in tennis?

You will switch sides with your opponent after every odd game.

That means you will switch sides after the first, third, and fifth games.

When you switch sides you are allowed to take a quick break on the sidelines.

This is the perfect time to grab a quick drink or wipe off with a towel if you are playing tennis in the heat.

Keep your tennis bag at the bench as well filled with everything you may need during a match from a first aid kit to quick snacks.

Not sure what to pack? Make sure these 10 things are in your tennis bag.

Calling a Ball Out in Tennis

In professional tennis you will sometimes see a line judge.

In recreational tennis you and your opponent are the line judges.

Make sure you call the ball as you see it and fairly.

If you are unsure about the ball being in or out then ALWAYS call it in.

If you think your opponent made a wrong call, you can ask them about it but don’t push the issue.

Remember that depending on the angle and where a person is standing their viewpoint could be different.

You can read more about playing fair in tennis HERE.

Tennis Serving Rules

You must serve from behind the baseline.

If your feet cross the baseline when serving it could be called a foot fault.

A serve is a “good” if it lands inbounds and bounces once before being hit by the receiver or touches any part of the net assembly, including its supports.

A serve that hits near an opponent but does not touch him/her directly is still considered good

even if your opponent does not hit it back.

If your first serve is out of bounds you get a second serve.

If your second serve is out of bounds the point is over and the point goes to the receiver.

Where should your serve land?

As you know, serving is a HUGE part of a tennis match. 

When you serve you are aiming for the service box diagonal from you and over the net.

You get two chances to get your serve in.  If you miss both serves you lose the point.

If you serve and the ball grazes the net and still falls in the serve box it is called a “let.”

A let means that you get to serve one more time.

Learn how to serve like a pro here.

Can you touch the net in tennis?

DO NOT touch the tennis net.  That is an important rule.

If you touch the net with your body or racket the point is over and you lose it.

Never reach over the net to make a shot (not sure why you would do this…but just in case.)

Stay on your side of the net…and don’t touch it.  The End.

If a ball lands into the net…the point is over.

Related Posts: Tennis Equipment Guide: What You Need to Get Started

What if the ball touches the net?

When you serve the ball and it touches the net and the ball falls in the opponent’s court in the

service box this is called a let and the server gets to “redo” the point.

If it hits the net on the serve but lands out of bounds this serve is counted as out and you would either go onto the second serve or the point is over.

If the ball touches the net at any other time during your match it is considered in play and you would just keep playing the point as long as the ball is inbounds.

Hitting the Ball

Use your racket to hit the ball. 

No carrying the ball with your racket. 

If the ball bounces twice the point is over.

You can not hit the ball twice in a row to get it over the net.  Only once. 

No throwing the ball during a point other than when you throw it in the air for your serve.

There are many different types of hits you can use to get the ball over including forehand, backhand,lob, etc.

Your First Match

If you are about to play your first match or tournament…let your opponent know.

Most likely they will be glad to help you with any scoring or rule questions that may come up.

You can read more about basic tennis etiquette HERE.

The more matches you play…the more everything will make sense.

Good luck!