Tennis terms explained for newbies

Just started watching tennis? No clue what’s transpiring? Commentators’ words seem absolute gibberish? Fear not, we shall unravel the terms for you.

Tennis as a sport may seem like a workaday exchange of a small ball from one end to the other between two (four in case of doubles) players. But when you actually sit back to observe the game, there is so much more to it – just the intensity that could make a world of difference; or the minuscule details behind every rally.

When a layman starts watching tennis for the first time, more often than not, he has absolutely no clue what’s transpiring, and the commentators’ words may seem absolute gibberish. So here’s a list of commonly used tennis terminologies to help you understand the sport better and appreciate it’s intricacies in a finer light:

1) Court


The designated area on which tennis is played. The surface varies from tournament to tournament, but mostly comes in three major types – hard, clay and grass. Different court surfaces have different pros and cons, and players often have preferences for one of them as a result.

2) Baseline, Sideline, Centre Line

The baseline refers to the outer edge of the court which is demarcated to indicate the boundary of play, and is parallel to the net. The sideline refers to the outer edge of the court which is demarcated to indicate the boundary of play, and is perpendicular to the net. If the ball goes over the baseline or the sideline, the point goes to the opposing player.

The centre line as the name suggests, is the demarcation which is drawn through the centre of the court. The player must serve from one side of the centre line and ensure the ball lands on the other side.

3) Ace


An ace is a legitimate serve (where the ball lands in the service box) which the returner is unable to even touch, resulting in an immediate point for the server. You could say that an ace is a combination of both, a serve and a winner (a shot which the opponent doesn’t reach and wins the player a point).

4) Fault, Foot Fault Double Fault

A fault is when a serve fails to land into the opponent’s service box – either because of hitting the net, going in the wrong box, or going long. A foot fault is a type of fault wherein the player steps on or over the baseline before striking the ball. A double fault is when a player commits two faults consecutively. This results in a point to the opponent.

5) Point, Game, Set, Match


A point is the smallest unit of scoring in the sport of tennis. It generally refers to the period of play between a legitimate serve and the time when the ball goes out of play. A point may also be won by virtue of a double fault from the opponent. A game is a sequence of points played before the player serving is alternated.

A minimum of 6 games comprises a set. The first player to win six games with a two-game advantage wins the set. A match refers to the entire fixture and is comprised of best of 3 or 5 sets depending on the format. In layman’s terms, a player wins points to win a game to win a set to eventually win the match. Hence, the common phrase, ‘Game, Set, Match’.

6) Love

The word love in tennis is a scoring term which refers to ‘zero’. Hence, saying the score is fifteen-love indicates that the score is 15-0. The origin of the word in tennis contexts is not really defined, but popular beliefs suggest that it has been derived from the French word l’oeuf, literally meaning egg; or in this case, nothing.

7) Deuce, Advantage


A deuce refers to the score in a game being tied at 40-40. From here on, a player has to win two consecutive points to win the match. A player who wins the first point after deuce is said to have the advantage. However, if the player loses the point after the advantage, the scoring falls back to deuce.

8) Forehand, Backhand, Smash, Drop Shot

A forehand is a stroke played when the player hits it with an open stance with the ball on his stronger side. So, for a right-handed player, the forehand is played when the ball is to his right. The backhand is a stroke contrary to the forehand. It is generally played with a closed stance when the ball is on the weaker side of the player. A backhand may be played with a double-handed grip or a single-handed one. For a right-handed player, the backhand is played when the ball is to his left.

A smash is an overhead stroke which is hit with immense power and velocity with the intention that it can’t be returned. A drop shot on the other hand is when the player gently caresses the ball to just go over the net. It is employed to catch the opponent off-guard when he is away from the net.

9) Volley


A volley is a shot which is hit by a player in the vicinity of the net in which the ball is met on the full without it bouncing on his side of the court. It is used to return shots quickly; and also to cut down on angles on their side of the court and hit steeper angles on the return.

10) Break, Break Point

A break is when a player wins a game when the opponent is serving, hence ‘breaking the serve’. A break is a key moment in a match as it is generally the server who wins a game. The point which gets the player the break is called the break point.

11) Tie-Breaker


As the name suggests, a tie-breaker is played when the set is tied at 6-6. It is won by the player to first reach 7 points with a difference of at least 2 points over the opponent. A tie-breaker can be played in every set barring the final set of the match – in which the players have to keep playing till one of them has a 2-game advantage over the other.

12) Seed

A seed is the position of a player for a given tournament’s draw based on his ranking, so as to not meet other seeded players before the latter stages of the tournament. Depending on the size of the tournament’s draw, the number of seeds may vary. The seeds are chosen by the tournament organizers based on the players’ ranking and their odds of winning the tournament.

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