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Everything You Need to Know About Tennis

In case you’re new to the sport of tennis, here’s a quick rundown of how the game is played.

We also include some key rules so that you’re well prepared to dive in to some of the more technical aspects of betting on tennis…

How the Game is Played

Tennis IconPlayers and Equipment

A tennis match can be a contest by two players (singles) or four players (doubles). Each player is equipped with a tennis racket (modern rackets are made of synthetic materials such as carbon fiber) that has a network of strings (made primarily of nylon) running across it.

Matches take place on a rectangular court that is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. For a singles match, only 27 feet of the width of the court is in play, with the ‘tramlines’ on each side out of play.

The court has a three-foot high net which runs across the middle. There is a service box on each side of the court which runs from the net to 21 feet in the direction of the baseline.

The service box is divided in half and is marked by a line on the baseline to signify the two sides of the court, the deuce side (the right of the court) and the ad side (the left of the court).

Tennis IconThe Aim of the Game
The aim of the game is to land the ball over the net and within the lines of the court in a way that prevents your opponent from returning the ball.

Each time you are successful in achieving this you win a point.

Every point begins with a player attempting to serve the ball into the service box diagonally across from them. The ball cannot bounce more than once before it is returned and if a player hits the ball into the net then they lose the point.

The ball has to land inside the boundaries of the court, and the lines marking the court are considered in-play.

Tennis IconThe Scoring System

The scoring system in tennis can sound a little strange; the points are also known as love (no points), 15 (one point), 30 (two points), and 40 (three points). If both players have 40, then it is known as ‘deuce.’

From deuce, a player needs to win two consecutive points to win the game. After they win the first point, they are said to have ‘advantage.’ If they then lose the point, the score returns to ‘deuce,’ but if they win the point following advantage then they also win the game.

A tennis match consists of either a best-of-three or best-of-five sets depending on the event, and each set is a race to reach six games first, but with a two-game lead. A set can be won 7-5, but if both players reach six games then a ‘tiebreak’ is played.

A tiebreak is a mini game that is won by the first player to reach seven points, with a margin of two.

Tennis IconHow Points Are Won

By now you’ve got the general idea — you need to win points to win games — but how exactly do you that you might ask? Come right this way…

You win the point when…

  • Your opponent serves a double fault (more on that in a moment)
  • Your opponent fails to return the ball before it bounces twice
  • Your opponent hits the ball into the net
  • Your opponent hits the ball outside the court boundaries
  • Your opponent hits the ball twice
  • Your opponent touches the net

The Rules You Need to Know

As with most sports, the official tennis rulebook is a lengthy read, so we’ll just go through the basics that you need to know in order to have a proper understanding of the game.

Tennis IconThe Scoring

We’ve been through the basics of the scoring system already, but here is an outline of the complete scoring used in a tennis match…

Scoring in a Game

  • Points Won: Zero = 0 or ’Love’
  • Points Won: One = 15
  • Points Won: Two = 30
  • Points Won: Three = 40
  • Points Won: Four = Game Over

However, if the score is 40-40 or ‘deuce,’ then at least six points in total are required to win the game – the fifth point results in ‘advantage,’ and the sixth wins the game.

Scoring in a Set

The score in a set could be: 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5, or 7-6. The first five options are fairly straightforward: one player reaches six games by a margin of two or more games. However, the score of 7-5 may seem a bit contrary to what we’ve said before.

This is because one player reached six games (6-5) but did not have a two-game advantage. As a result, the set continued and the player with the advantage won the game and with it the set 7-5.

If you thought that one was strange, then 7-6 will be even more bizarre (what happened to the two-game margin?!). This score results when a tiebreak occurs after the players are tied at 6-6.

The winner of the tiebreak is said to have won the deciding game,

and with it the set 7-6.

Scoring in a Match

Depending on the tournament, the number of sets over which a match is contested changes. Women’s matches are always best-of-three set encounters. In men’s tennis, best-of-three set matches are used for ATP Tour events, but at grand slams, matches are played over five sets.

The main take away from the scoring system is this:

The winner of the match is the player that wins the majority of the sets (either two or three).

Tennis IconServing

The serve is a crucial part of tennis for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it’s how each game gets underway.

There are also a lot of rules that come into play when serving, so let’s run through the basics:

  • The player who serves first is decided by a coin toss before the match. The winner of the coin toss has the option of choosing their preference of side or whether they will serve or receive.
  • The server serves from the baseline and switches the side of the court from which they are serving after each point.
  • The server has to keep both feet behind the baseline prior to hitting the ball. If they fail to do so then a ’foot fault’ will be called.
  • The player returning the serve can stand wherever they want, but they generally stand behind or on the baseline.
  • If a serve fails to land in the service box or lands in the net, then it is a ’fault.’
  • A server has two opportunities to serve on each point, so if their first serve is a fault, then they have another go. If they serve two consecutive faults it is a ’double fault’ and they lose the point.
  • If a serve clips the net and still lands in the correct service box, then a ’let’ is called and the player will retake the serve. However, if the ball tips the net and does not land in the service box then it’s a fault.
  • Players rotate service, with the server becoming the returner after each game.
Tennis IconPlaying a Point

Right, now that we know how a point starts, let’s get into the post-serve action…

Once a successful serve has been made, the returner attempts to – no prizes for guessing – return the ball back to the server. If they do so, then we’re underway with a ‘rally.’ A rally is when players exchange shots which land in play.

A rally ends when one player wins the point (scroll back up to see how that’s achieved). There is no limit on how long a rally can continue for, and they can be a thing of beauty when two players are in full flight!

The rules that come into play during a rally that ensure it continues are:

  • The ball must be hit within or on the boundary lines of the court
  • The ball cannot be hit into the net
  • The ball cannot bounce twice before being returned
  • The ball cannot be hit twice by the same player
  • Neither player can touch the net
Tennis IconThe Match Officials

We’ve spoken a lot about the players involved in a tennis match, but there are, of course, also officials who oversee the on-court action.

The senior match official (known as the chair umpire) sits in a high chair in line with the net and calls out the scores after each point. The chair umpire has the final say on any calls and has the ability to overrule the line judges.

The chair umpire can also hand out penalties to the players for any rule infractions.

The line judges are, you guessed it, stationed adjacent to a line and are responsible for calling whether a ball is in or out.

In most major tournaments, players now also have the option of calling for a review of a call thanks to the Hawk-Eye system.

Hawk-Eye relies on ball tracking to determine whether a ball has landed in or out.
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