of a single point
The players (or teams) stand on opposite sides of the net.
One player is designated the ''server'', and the opposing player, or in doubles
one of the opposing players, is the ''receiver''. Service alternates between
the two halves of the court.
The server stands behind his baseline, between the centre
mark and the sideline. The receiver may stand anywhere on his side of the
net, usually behind the diagonally opposite service box. When the receiver
is ready, the server serves by releasing the ball from his hand (usually
tossing it up in the air) and hitting it with his racquet before it hits
the ground (usually near the apex of its trajectory). A player unsatisfied
with his toss can let the ball fall to the ground and try again. If he swings
the racquet and misses the ball this is a faulty service.
The server is required to keep his feet in nearly
the same position during the serve. The server's feet may be raised
off the ground, but walking or running are not permitted, so as
to prevent the opponent being misled as to where the serve will
originate. Breaching this rule or exceeding the permitted part
of the court constitutes a ''foot fault''.
In a legal service, the ball travels over the net
without touching it and into the diagonally opposite service court.
If the ball hits the net but lands in the service court, this is
a ''let service'', which is void, and the service is attempted
again. If the first service is otherwise faulty in any way, the
serving player has a second attempt at service. If the second service
is also faulty, this is a ''double fault'' and the receiver wins
A legal service starts a ''rally'', in which the
players alternately hit the ball across the net. A legal return
consists of the player/team hitting the ball exactly once, before
it has bounced twice or hit any fixtures, such that it then travels
back over the net and bounces in the court on the opposite side.
The first player/team to fail to make a legal return loses the
If a player hits the ball before it has bounced
at all on his side of the net, the preceding return from his opponent
is legal despite the ball not having bounced. Touching the net,
hitting the ball before it has passed the net, touching the ball
with anything other than the racquet, deliberately hitting the
ball twice, and various other transgressions result in losing the
point. In doubles, after the service and initial return either
player may make any return; it is not permitted for both players
on a team to hit the ball in the same return.
Because the lines are drawn just inside the courts,
the ball is considered "in" if any part of it touches
any part of the relevant line. On clay courts the ball leaves an
impression in the ground that can be checked, and on grass courts
a puff of chalk from the line indicates contact from the ball.
In an unumpired game, the players are to give each
other the benefit of the doubt on line calls. In an umpired game
it is for the umpire or line umpire to call "out". The
umpire may overrule a line umpire's call. In high-level tournaments,
automatic equipment is increasingly used for line calls, especially
for the serviceline.
A tennis match
usually comprises one to five sets,
each of which in turn consists of a number of games
(typically six). The winner of a specified number of games
wins a set, and the winner of a specified
number of sets wins the match.