14 Surprising Tennis Rules to Know

First, here is the list of the rules. More details about each follow below.

(14) A player can’t touch the ball, with anything except the racket, until the point is over.

(13) A player can’t touch the net, with anything, until the point is over.

(12) A player can’t hit the ball into anything other then the court or net, before it lands.

(11) A player can’t drop or throw a racket, on purpose (e.g., to hit a ball).

(10) A player can’t make noise when the ball is moving towards the other side of the court.

(9) A player can’t whiff the ball when serving.

(8) In an unofficiated match, a player can only make calls for balls on his/her side of the court, however any player can call a let.

(7) Usually a player or his/her racket can’t cross over the plane of the net; however, a player can follow through with a swing across the net only when first making contact with the ball on his/her side.

(6) A player can also reach over the net to hit the ball if it first bounces on his/her side of the court, but the ball goes back over the net (e.g., due to spin or wind) before the player can hit it.

(5) A player can hit the ball around the net, but not through it.

(4) A player can hit the ball twice during a swing, unintentionally.

(3) A player can stand anywhere on or outside his/her side of the court, unless serving.

(2) A player can serve underhand.

(1) A player can take time during a match, within limits (e.g., 20 sec. between points, 1.5 min. between games, and 2 min. between sets).

Here are the details…

(14) A player can’t touch the ball, with anything except the racket, until the point is over.

A player can’t touch the ball with anything other than his/her racket during play. (Note: A ball is considered in play until it bounces two times; lands outside the court; or touches anything other than the court, net/net post, or player’s racket.) Anytime a player gets hit by or touches a ball that is in play, the point goes to the opponent(s). This is always the case, even if the ball was going out. A player can’t catch the ball before it bounces, even if standing out of the court. The ball must first bounce out before the player can touch it. Also, a player loses a point if his/her clothing makes contact with the ball, or his/her hand that is holding the racket touches the ball during a shot. Therefore, oddly enough, a player who hits his/her opponent wins the point. During serve, the server gets the point if he/she hits the receiver or the receiver’s doubles partner or if either catches an out ball in the air before it lands. However, in doubles, if the server hits his/her own doubles partner with the serve, it’s a fault. Ouch! (See ITF Rule #24h. & i.)

(13) A player can’t touch the net, with anything, until the point is over.

A player can’t touch the net while the ball is in play. In fact, if any part of the player’s body, clothing, or racket touches the net or net posts while the ball is in play, the opponent(s) earns the point. Once the point has ended (e.g., the ball bounces twice or lands outside of the court), it is okay to touch the net. (See ITF Rule #24g. See also this USTA link.)

(12) A player can’t hit the ball into anything other then the court or net, before it lands.

In tennis, anything around and above the court, besides the net and net posts, is considered a “permanent fixture.” Permanent fixtures include spectators, ball persons, fences, chairs, lights, and umpire stands. The ball is considered out of play once it touches a permanent fixture, but who gets the point depends on if the ball hits the fixture before or after it bounces. Hitting a permanent fixture with the ball BEFORE it lands, means the player who hit the ball loses the point. For example, if a player hits a ball that first hits a light above the court before it lands in the opponent’s court, the opponent gets the point. However, hitting a permanent fixture with the ball AFTER it bounces in the opponent’s court, means the player who hit the ball gets the point. For example, if a player hits a ball that first bounces in the opponent’s court before it hits a fence, the player gets the point. (See ITF Rule #2, Rule #13, and Rule #24c. and d.)

(11) A player can’t drop or throw a racket, on purpose (e.g., to hit a ball).

A player must have control of his/her racket when he/she hits the ball. That means, a player can’t drop or throw a racket to hit the ball, and the player loses the point if the ball touches a dropped or thrown racket. However, if a player unintentionally drops his/her racket AFTER hitting the ball (assuming the racket does not hit the net, net post, or the opponent’s court), the ball remains in play. If he/she is able, the player can pick up the racket and continue to play the point. However, if the thrown racket hits the net, net post, or goes over the net and lands on the opponent’s side, the opponent gets the point. (See ITF Rule #24j. See also this USTA link.)

(10) A player can’t make noise when the ball is moving towards the other side of the court.

A player can’t make noise when the ball is moving towards the opponent’s side of the court, but can when the ball is moving towards his/her side of the court. For instance, in doubles, a player and a his/her doubles partner can talk if a ball is moving their way — such as to communicate about positioning, which player is going to return the ball, and whether or not to return a ball that looks like it is going out. However, once the ball has been struck and is heading back over to the opponent’s court, the players can’t intentionally make noise or a hindrance can be called. If the hindrance is deliberate, the opponent wins the point, but the point is replayed if the hindrance is involuntary or unintentional (e.g., the player yells after getting hurt). (See USTA The Code p. 52, #34. See ITF Rule #26.)

(9) A player can’t whiff the ball when serving.

A server can’t unsuccessfully attempt to hit the ball when serving. If the server swings and misses the ball, it is a fault. The service motion is considered finished when the player’s racket hits or misses the ball. However, if the server tosses the ball to serve, the server can decide to redo the toss without penalty as long as the server has not swung his/her racket or attempted to hit the ball. That means, a server can throw a ball to serve, decide not to hit it, and either catch the ball or let it bounce to retrieve it. (See ITF Rule #16 and Rule #19.)

(8) In an unofficiated match, a player can only make calls for balls on his/her side of the court, however any player can call a let.

A player or his/her doubles partner is in charge of making calls for shots aimed at or landing on their side of the net, while the opponent(s) are in charge of making the calls on their side. A player or opponent is not authorized to make a call for a play that occurs on the opposite side of the net, unless his/her help is requested. Some more information about calls includes:

(a) Line calls: A ball that touches any part of the sideline or baseline is considered in, and the player whose side of the court that the ball is on, makes the call.

(b) Double bounces: A player can’t play a ball that has bounced twice and is also responsible for making a double bounce call on his/her side. (See USTA The Code p. 50, #19.)

(c) Lets: Since the net is between the two sides of the court, any player or opponent can call a let if the ball hits the net during a serve. (See USTA The Code p. 51, #27.)

In cases of uncertainty about a call, the player should give the benefit of the doubt to the opponent. For example with a line call, if a player is not sure if a ball was in or out on his/her side, then the player should call the ball good, or seek help from a doubles partner or the opponent. If no one is certain that the ball was out, then the ball should be called good. (See USTA The Code p. 49, Making Calls.)

(7) Usually a player or his/her racket can’t cross over the plane of the net; however a player can follow through with a swing across the net only when first making contact with the ball on his/her side.

Typically a player or his/her racket is not allowed to cross over the plane of the net, but there are several exceptions. One instance that is allowed is when a player begins contact with the ball on his/her side of the net and his/her racket crosses over the net upon following through with the swing or hit. For this to be legal, the player must make initial contact with the ball on his/her side, as well as NOT touch the net during the play. (See ITF Rule #25e. See also this USTA link.)

(6) A player can also reach over the net to hit the ball if it first bounces on his/her side of the court, but the ball goes back over the net (e.g., due to spin or wind) before the player can hit it.

Another, but lesser common, instance when a player is allowed to cross the plane of the net involves a ball that first bounces on the player’s side, but the ball goes back over the net to the opponent’s side (e.g., due to spin or wind) before the player can hit it. In this case, to win the point, a player must reach over the net and hit the ball before it lands. However, if while doing so the player touches the net or if the ball lands (on the opponent’s side) before the player makes contact with it, then the opponent gets the point. (See ITF Rule #25b. See also this USTA link.)

(5) A player can hit the ball around the net, but not through it.

Of course a player can hit the ball over the net, but he/she can also hit the ball around the net, as long as it lands in the opponent’s court. For example, it is legal to go wide and hit the ball around and below the level of the net. (See ITF Rule #25c.) Yet, if there is a defect or hole in the net, a player cannot hit the ball through the net or the point goes to the opponent. And if in an unofficiated match there is disagreement on whether or not the ball went through or over the net, it’s the opponent who gets to make the call. (See USTA The Code p. 50, #20.)

(4) A player can hit the ball twice during a swing, unintentionally.

A player is only allowed to swing at the ball once, but it’s legal for a player to unintentionally hit the ball twice with his/her racket during the swing motion. For example, if during a stroke a player accidentally hits the ball with the racket strings and then the frame, that’s okay. (See ITF Rule #24f. See also this USTA link.). Although, this is a newer rule because before the 1970s, hitting the ball twice during a single swing was NOT allowed, whether intentional or not.

(3) A player can stand anywhere on or outside his/her side of the court, unless serving.

As long as a player is on his/her correct side of the net, a non-serving player can stand anywhere on the court or even outside of the court lines. However, when serving, a player is more limited in where he/she can stand. A server must stand: (1) behind the baseline and (2) between the appropriate center line and sideline (i.e., inner sideline for singles and outer sideline for doubles). (See ITF Rule #8 and Rule #16.)

(2) A player can serve underhand.

When serving, as long as the ball is hit in the air before it touches the ground, the release of the ball in any direction is legal. (See ITF Rule #16. See also this USTA link.) Some consider this a good strategy to surprise a competitor. For example, the 1989 French Open winner, Michael Chang, employed this technique to win. (More info here.)

(1) A player can take time during a match, within limits (e.g., 20 sec. between points, 1.5 min. between games, and 2 min. between sets).

Various time limits apply during a match, with an overall goal of play being continuous. Technically, 20 seconds is allowed between points, 1.5 minutes is allowed between games, and 2 minutes is allowed between sets. The first violation will result in a warning, and second in a one-point penalty. (See USTA Regulations p. 125, Table #15.) When serving, a player has 20 seconds from the end of the previous point to strike the serve. However, this time limit applies when practical and not, for example, when a player has to retrieve a stray ball between points. Also, the server should not serve until the receiver is ready and in a ready position. (See ITF Rule #21 and Rule #29. See also USTA Rules of Tennis p. 14, Comment #21.4.)

Like what you read? Give Julia Hazer a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.