Tennis is one of the most fun sports. A lot of strategy, athleticism and technique is involved and it can be daunting for newcomers to the sport. As with all sports, there is a whole "inside baseball" world in the tennis community. We will break down many of the terms you'll come across both as a recreational player and an avid tennis watcher!
The scoring system in tennis can be a whole topic in itself, so we will describe only the terminology. We will detail the funky scoring system in tennis in a later blog post (subscribe to get notified when we drop that article)!
A point in tennis is rewarded to the player that does not hit the ball out or into the net.
Game, Set, Match
We can think of games, sets, and matches as lego blocks that build up into each other.
A game is the smallest piece out of the three (1 lego block). One player serves for the entire duration of a game until a player scores enough points to win the game. The player that scores a point once they are at 40 points (and not in deuce) wins the game.
A set consists of many games and a player wins the set when they win 6 games. Each player (or each side in doubles) alternate serves after each game in a set.
A match consists of up to 3 sets (or 5 sets in Men's Grand Slams), and is played as a best 2 out of 3 (or 3 out of 5) sets. That is, whoever wins 2 sets first (or 3 sets first in the Men's Grand Slams) wins the entire match.
"Love" (l'œuf en français)
You'll often hear "love" on TV (when the umpire announces the score) during the first few points of a game. For example, "15 love", "love 15", "30 love" are commonly used. "Love" is simply synonymous for 0 points: one of the players have 0 points while the other have 15, 30 or 40 points.
The origin of the "love" actually comes from the french word l'œuf for "egg". If you squint really hard, 0 looks like an egg! Since l'œuf sounds so similar to "love" in English, the anglicism of the term has transformed the usage of the French word to something we recognize as "love" nowadays. If you listen closely, umpires on the tour do still correctly say the French word for historical accuracy!
There are a lot of things going on on the tennis court, and the number of lines can be daunting to a beginner. We'll briefly walk through some terms you'll hear to refer to areas of the court divided up by the lines you see below and hopefully demystify the complicated court setup!
For simplicity, we'll refer to the bottom side of the court in the image above since both sides are exactly the same.
The net separates one side of the tennis court from the other. As with most sports with a net, the goal is to hit the tennis ball back to your opponent over the net. The net is made of plastic or some polyester material.
Fun fact: It is actually normal (and part of the official rules) for the net to sag in the middle more than on the sides!
The baseline is the line at the very bottom edge (hence "base"). This is the line a player serves from.
The service line is the line running horizontally between the baseline and the net. Along with the "center service line" (the line that runs vertically in the middle of the court), the service line marks out the left and right service boxes.
The service boxes are the top-left and top-right boxes formed by the net and service lines. This is the area where the opponent must land their serve to begin a point.
The doubles alleys are the long left and right rectangles ("alleys") formed by the single's sidelines. The doubles alley is used only for doubles matches (each side has 2 players) and is considered "out" when playing singles matches.
There are roughly 7 fundamental strokes in modern tennis: the forehand, backhand, forehand volley, backhand volley, lob, overhead, and serve. We won't go into detail about how to perform each one (we'll go into this in a later blog post!) but we'll briefly describe what differentiates them.
The forehand is arguably one of the most iconic tennis shot, and most player's favorite stroke. Roger Federer, 20-time Single's Grand Slam champion, is best known for his fluid and concise forehand (aptly dubbed the "Fed forehand").
The forehand consists of letting the ball bounce once and then hitting the ball on your dominant side (so on your right side if you're a righty or your left side if you're a lefty).
Similar to the forehand, the backhand consists of letting the ball bounce once, but this time hitting the ball on your non-dominant side. In modern tennis, there are usually two variations of the backhand: the 1-handed vs 2-handed backhand. As their names suggest, the 1-handed backhand is hit with only your dominant hand on the racquet handle, while the 2-handed is hit with both hands on the racquet handle.
If you're curious on how to hit both the 1-handed and 2-handed backhand, check out our online step-by-step tennis masterclasses where our ATP pros and coaches walk you through from the very basics to the most advanced tennis concepts!
We didn't explicitly mention this above, but the "forehand" and "backhand" are technically "forehand groundstrokes" and "backhand groundstrokes", but often referred to by their shortened term for brevity. The "ground" part refers to the ball bouncing once before hitting either stroke.
Forehand & Backhand Volley
What separates the volley from the groundstrokes above is if the ball bounces before you hit (and return) the ball to your opponent. Volleys are hit without letting the ball bounce. This generally requires the ball to be hit much higher up (around shoulder level, vs waist level for groundstrokes), and especially when you're up close to the net.
Similar to the forehand and backhand groundstrokes, the forehand and backhand volleys are hit on your dominant side and non-dominant side, respectively.
Lobs have a funny name because they sound like the shortened form of "lobsters". A lob roughly consists of a player hitting the ball very high up towards the back of the court on the other side. Oftentimes this is a strategy used when the opponent is very close to the net (they're "attacking") and you want to defensively push them back to the baseline.
Like their name suggests, overheads are hit over your head! The technique to hit an overhead is exactly like a serve, but hit in the middle of the point rather than to start a point.
The serve is one of the hardest strokes to learn and to master across all sports (and definitely within tennis). People usually have the hardest time with the serve since it requires a high level of consistency and accuracy. Every point starts with a serve: In modern tennis, the overhand serve is the only way to go, although you may see cheeky pros such as Nick Kyrgios employ the underhand serve as a trick serve once in a while.
Wrapping it Up
The inside world of tennis with the vast array of jargon and terminology can be intimidating for beginners. Once you familiarize yourself with some of these terms you can worry less about understanding what's going on and start enjoying the game itself.
We have only breached the surface of the tennis dictionary or "tennisiology", but we hope our brief survey of commonly-used tennis terms have been helpful!
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