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Essential Tennis Glossary: 26 Tennis Terms Explained

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 16, 2020 • 6 min read

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The game of tennis is an all-around sport that can improve your hand-eye coordination, balance, and agility. It can also enhance your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. To play tennis properly (and fairly), it’s important to become familiar with all the rules and terms.

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26 Essential Tennis Terms

Tennis has plenty of its own lingo that is necessary for every player to learn before they ever set foot on a court. Check out the following list of common tennis terms:

  1. Ace: An ace occurs when the service returner cannot make contact with their opponent’s serve at all, resulting in the loss of the point. A service ace is also considered a type of winner.
  2. Advantage-in: Also known by its more colloquial term “ad-in,” this is a reference to the tennis score if the server wins the next point after deuce. Ad-in points are served from the advantage courtside (left side of the tennis court). If the serving side scores again, it’s game. If they lose their advantage point, the score returns to deuce.
  3. Advantage-out: Also known as “ad-out,” this refers to the tennis score if the server loses the next point after deuce. If they lose the ad-out point, their opponent wins the game. If the server can win the ad side point, the score returns to deuce. Ad-out points are always served from the ad-court side.
  4. Advantage set: An advantage set is played when there is no tiebreak format, which means that every set must be won by two games. In 2010, professional tennis players John Isner and Nicolas Mahut famously had the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon. Their fifth set lasted over eight hours, ending with Isner winning 70-68.
  5. Baseline: The court’s backline, where players hit their groundstrokes. Servers must also remain behind the baseline during their serve and cannot touch or cross the line until their racket head makes contact with the ball toss. The notch in the middle of the baseline is called the center mark.
  6. Deuce: When the score in a tennis game is tied at 40-40 (or 40-all), it’s called a deuce. Deuce scores are always served from the right side of the court, also known as the deuce court.
  7. Double fault: A double fault is when the served ball misses the service box or lands in the net, or the server foot faults on the second serve.
  8. Doubles sideline: Since doubles matches have twice as many players, the doubles alleys provide more room to play by opening up the full court. The doubles alleys are the two panels located on the sides of the standard tennis court, and are only considered in-play during doubles games. In the UK, the doubles alleys are referred to as “tramlines.”
  9. Fault: A fault happens on the first serve, when the server hits the ball into the wrong service box, out of bounds, or into the net. A fault can also occur when the server touches or steps over the baseline during their serve, also referred to as a foot fault.
  10. Forced error: A forced error occurs when you play strategically to an opponent’s weakness or hit an unreturnable shot, resulting in the opposing player hitting the tennis ball out or into the net.
  11. Game point: When a player wins the majority of points within a game, the final point is referred to as game point.
  12. Grand Slam: A Grand Slam refers to when a player wins all four major tennis championship tournaments—Australian Open, French Open, US Open, and Wimbledon—in the same season. To date, only five players have achieved this accomplishment in tennis history, including Serena Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slam titles. The individual championship tournaments are often referred to as Grand Slam tournaments.
  13. Let: A let is when the serve hits the net during a first or second serve, but the ball lands in the correct service box (if it hits the net but lands out, it’s a fault). If the ball is a let on the first service, you get a do-over—that is, you get to start over from your first serve, and once again have two chances to make it in. If the ball is a let on the second serve, you only get one chance to make it into the right service box. However, as long as the ball bounces in the correct service box after hitting the net, you can continue to get lets and serve until it goes in, or you miss.
  14. Love: Used when referencing the score, love is the equivalent of zero.
  15. Match point: When a player wins the majority of sets, and is one point away from winning the entire tennis match, they have match point.
  16. Net: The net divides the tennis court, giving each player their own side. The net cannot be touched during a point, or else it’s an automatic loss of that point.
  17. No-ad scoring: If you elect no-ad scoring, then the player who wins the deuce point wins the game. No-ad scoring is beneficial for players who want to play a quick game, without getting into a potentially long back and forth of trying to win each game by two points.
  18. No man’s land: No man’s land is the area of the court between the baseline and service line. This playing area is neither far enough back to time a proper groundstroke, nor close enough to the net to hit a proper volley. Most players caught in no man’s land are at a disadvantage (unless given the perfect set-up for an approach shot, which is an aggressive short-stroke hit from the middle of the court).
  19. Rally: A rally refers to the continuous play of a point. Once the serve lands in-play and is subsequently returned, a rally commences until one player or team wins the point (this term is often confused with “volley,” which is a type of shot hit out of the air).
  20. Service break: The player serving usually has an advantage over the other player. The server sets up the first points throughout the game, often setting the pace for how they’re played out. However, if the receiving side scores enough points to win that game, that’s considered a service break.
  21. Service line: The service line is the horizontal center line of the court, whereas the vertical center line perpendicular to it is the center service line, and separates the two service boxes. Where the lines meet is often referred to as the “T.”
  22. Set point: When a player wins the majority of games and is one point away from winning the whole set, they have set point.
  23. Singles sideline: The singles court is for one-on-one matches (also known as singles matches), and regulated to the inner lines of the court.
  24. Tiebreaker: Sometimes, players end up with a tied score in a set (6-6). In that case, the players enter a tiebreak, where the first player to win seven points wins the set. (The player must also win the set by two points.) An example of a tennis score with a tiebreak would be 7-6 (to represent the games) and 7-5 (to represent the tiebreak points). However, the tiebreak can continue past seven points if neither player can win two in a row.
  25. Unforced error: Unforced errors happen when a player makes a mistake all on their own, without any pressure or strategy from the other player. If you’ve incidentally managed to set the opposing player up for the perfect shot and they whiff it, or if they double fault on their second serve, that’s an unforced error.
  26. Winner: When a player hits a good shot that is completely untouchable on the opponent’s side, it’s called a winner. Winners can happen by most tennis shots—they don’t necessarily have to be fast and powerful—just as long as the other player doesn’t make any physical contact with the ball.

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