Tennis Rules and Etiquette


General Etiquette

Besides the rules of tennis there are also some important unwritten laws which come under the title of tennis etiquette. Tennis is a social game, a game involving simple politeness and consideration. Everyone will enjoy the game so much more if those standards are maintained. Here are some of the rules which are most important:

  • Courtesy. Tennis is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy from all participants. Make tennis a fun game by praising your opponents’ good shots and by not:
    – conducting loud postmortems after points;
    – complaining about shots like lobs and drop shots;
    – embarrassing a weak opponent by being overly gracious or condescending;
    – losing your temper, using vile language, throwing your racket, or slamming a ball in anger; or
    – sulking when you are losing.
  • Talk quietly when standing near tennis courts that are in use.
  • Never walk behind a court when a point is still in play. Wait until the point is over and then cross as fast as possible.
  • Always come prepared. Bring not only balls, but towels and water to drink when it is hot.
    This includes face masks, food wrappers, tennis ball cans and lids, food waste and so forth.
  • Wear proper tennis sneakers on the tennis courts. Other shoes may wear out quickly, hurt your feet, or damage the court.
  • Shirts musts be worn while on the club premises.
  • When you’re ready to play, put racket covers, ball cans, jackets etc., out of everyone’s way.
  • To see who serves first, spin your racket or toss a coin. If you win the toss, the choice is yours. You may serve first, or you may choose to receive first or to pick which end of the court you want to start playing on. As a third choice you may make your opponent choose first.
  • When sending balls back to a neighboring court, roll them on to the back of the court. Never send them back while play is in progress.
  • Retrieve balls for your partner and your opponent.
  • Don’t criticize your partner, offer encouragement.
  • Call your own lines and let your opponent hear the call. If the ball is good say nothing and play on.
  • Always respect the line calls of your opponent.
  • If there is a disagreement, offer a let. In other words, replay the point.
  • Always display good sportsmanship—compliment your opponent on good shots.

The official rules of Tennis Canada state that a warmup should be no longer than five minutes unless otherwise decided by organizers.

First and foremost, you should keep time and avoid abusing the length of the warmup period. If you require more time, you should work a separate warmup into your schedule before the match starts.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the warmup is a brief period intended to allow players to get comfortable before play commences, and therefore you should not treat it like practice. Instead, players should hit the ball back to their opponent and avoid going for winners or put-away shots, which waste time and reduce the efficacy of the warmup.

Also, plan for your opponent to want to hit a variety of different shots, i.e., groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, and serves. Help your opponent get the most out of their warmup, and they’ll return the favor.

Warmup Serves

Typically, the serve is the last stroke to warm up. As your opponent serves, catch the balls instead of firing returns back at them.

It’s a quick way to get on their nerves before the match even starts. In the worst-case scenario, you might hit them if you catch them off guard in between serves, which isn’t good form.

Line Calls

The vast majority of tennis matches played across the globe are without officials, so players are required to make the line calls.

More specifically, each player is responsible for calling the lines on their side of the court because they have the best vantage point.

As a result, poor line calls are one of the major causes of disputes on the court. However, just because you’re making the call, doesn’t mean you can or should make calls in your favor.

Instead, in all cases where you are not 100% sure of the correct call, you should give your opponent the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, this system works best when players on both sides of the net follow suit. The most reliable way to ensure that happens is by giving the opposing player credit if you’re unsure of the right call at all times, which will build trust and encourage the same behavior in return.

To help, you should make your calls quickly and loudly enough so your opponent can easily hear you. There should be no question, and a quick audible call is a confident call, which all players appreciate.

On rare occasions, you may find yourself in a situation where you quickly called a ball out almost by reflex, but just as quickly feel unsure in your decision. If this is the case, it’s perfectly fine to correct your call and apologize for the mistake.

Lastly, although your opponent is responsible for calling their side of the court, there will be some circumstances where you have a better vantage point. If they think the ball was in, but you saw it was out, then you should give them the point or if it was your serve take a fault.

Calling Out the Score

In professional tennis, the umpire calls out the score after every point, so everyone remains on the same page, and there is no question.

However, in recreational and amateur tennis, the players are responsible for calling out the score. The score of the set should be called out by the server before each game, and the score of the game called out before each point.

Doing so helps mitigate disputes, but it’s also good etiquette.

Verbal Distractions

During a match, you should not talk or make any unnecessary noises, such as shouting, during a point. It’s against the rules and can cause you to forfeit the point as a hindrance.

Silence during play allows both players to concentrate. If you’re playing doubles, you’re allowed to communicate with your partner if the ball is traveling toward you. However, if the ball is moving back toward your opponent, you should be silent.

Visual Distractions

Similarly, you should avoid unnecessary or intentional movements meant to distract the player, such as waving your arms before your opponent hits the ball, which would also be considered a hindrance and result in the loss of the point.

Where we frequently see this becoming an issue that falls into a grey area is when the player returning serve intends to distract their opponent by making unnecessary movements.

The distinguishing factor here is whether or not you are intentionally trying to distract your opponent. It’s perfectly natural to move forward, bounce on the balls of your feet, and split step when returning a serve, but you shouldn’t be making unnecessary distracting movements.

Many players will abuse what’s necessary before their opponent serves to try and get in their head, and if it’s not flagrant, it’s going to be difficult to call as a hindrance, but it’s poor etiquette.

Helpful Tip
Unintentional distractions outside each player’s control, such as a ball entering the court during a point, are not considered a hindrance. Instead, players should call a let, and the point replayed.

In a professional setting, an umpire can easily distinguish what’s typical of a player’s preparation before returning the ball and what would be considered an intentional hindrance, which is why you don’t see this in professional tennis very often if ever.

Returning Missed Serves

If your opponent misses their serve by a large margin, don’t return it and take practice swings at it. Instead, block the ball to the side or the back of the court.

It’s annoying if you’re the server, plus they may have to chase the return you hit down to clear their side of the court before their second serve, which can throw their rhythm off.

Clearing Balls

Before the start of each point, both players should make sure the court is clear of balls, so there are no visual distractions present.

After the first serve, the server should also clear the ball if it landed on their side of the court. The only exception that most players won’t have an issue with is if your serve gets caught at the bottom of the net, where it’s out of the way and not much of a visual distraction. However, if your opponent asks you to remove it, you should honor their request.

Retrieving Balls from Nearby Courts

If one of your balls ends up at the back of a nearby court, it’s perfectly fine for you to retrieve it.

However, never do it during a point. Instead, wait until the players finish their point before running to grab it or asking a player to return it.

Net Cords & Mishits

Now and then, you’re going to hit a shot that clips the net chord and purely based on luck will land on your opponent’s side of the net, making it impossible for them to return. Likewise, you may shank or mishit the ball sending it in an unexpected direction or with an absurd spin that catches your opponent off guard and wins you the point.

When this happens, it’s common courtesy to wave to your opponent out of recognition for the lucky shot. There’s no doubt that luck is part of the sport, but no one likes to get beat by luck.

If you step into your opponent’s shoes, it’s incredibly frustrating, especially after fighting hard for a point at a critical moment, and it can get under a player’s skin. Waving to your opponent is a non-verbal cue that says, I get it; it was luck. However, you don’t need to be sorry about it – that’s not the point. It’s merely good sportsmanship.

Many will argue or debate the validity of the hand wave in these situations, but we appreciate the tradition.