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Tennis Glossary


Ace - A serve that the opponent cannot return; as a verb, to serve an ace.

Ad - Short for advantage; see entries beginning with that word, below.

Advantage - The player who scores the first point after deuce is said to have the advantage, since winning the next point will also win the game.

Advantage court - The left service court, where the receiver takes service when either player has the advantage.

Advantage in - Indicates that the server has the advantage; also “ad in”

Advantage out - Indicates that the receiver has the advantage; also “ad out”

All - Used in scoring to indicate a tie, as in “40-all.”

Alley - One of the areas outside the singles court that come into play in doubles. The alleys are 4 feet wide.

Back court - The area of the court from the baseline to the service line.

Backhand - A stoke made with the hitting arm or arms and racquet across the body. Can be hit with one or two hands.

Backspin - Backward rotation on the ball, caused by drawing the racket strings down during the stroke, that results in a low bounce. On some surfaces, the ball may even bounce back toward the net. Also known as underspin. See also chip; chop.

Band - The strip of canvas at the top of the net.

Baseline - A line at the end of the court, parallel to the net, that marks the lengthwise boundary of the playing area.

Baseline player - A player who employs a baseline game; aka a grinder.

Block - To return the ball by holding the racket stationary rather than swinging it.

Break - To win a game as receiver; as a noun, a synonym for service break.

Break point - A point which will result in a service break if it’s won by the receiver.

Closed grip - A grip in which the racket face is tilted downward, toward the court.

Closed racket - A racket held with a closed grip.

Court - The tennis court is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles, 36 feet wide for doubles. It is divided across the middle by the net. Service lines are marked 21 feet from each side of the net and parallel to it. The area bounded by the singles sidelines and the service line is divided into two equal parts, the service courts, by the center service line, which is halfway between the sidelines and parallel to them. Visit our tennis court dimensions page for more information (diagram included).

Cross-court - Descriptive of a shot that is hit from one side of the court to the other, as well as over the net. For example, the player hits from the right-hand side of the back court to the right-hand side of the opponent’s back court.

Deuce - When players are tied at 40 (three points each), the score is called “deuce”. At deuce, a player must win two points in a row to win the game. If the players split the following two points, the score reverts to deuce.

Double fault - The server is given two attempts at a valid serve. If both attempts fail, it is a double fault and the receiver wins the point. Also used as a verb.

Doubles - A match between two teams of two players each.

Doubles court - The playing area for a doubles match, which includes the two alleys as well as the singles court. The area is 78 feet long by 36 feet wide. See also: court.

Down the line - Descriptive of a shot that is hit straight from near the sideline, as opposed to a cross-court shot.

Drop Shot - A soft shot that drops just over the net; usually hit with backspin to minimize its bounce. It’s most commonly used against an opponent who is playing deep, as contrasted with the chip shot. This shot is most effective on a clay court surface.

Error - A shot that fails to cross the net or lands out of the court, resulting in loss of the point. See forced error; unforced error .

Face - The flat area of the racket formed by the strings and bounded by the frame.

Fault - An invalid service attempt. It is a fault if the serve fails to land in the receiver’s service court; if the server swings and misses the ball entirely; or if the serve is made from beyond the baseline or from the wrong side of the center mark. See also: double fault; foot fault; serve.

Fifteen - The first point of a game for either player or side.

Follow through - The motion of the arm and racket after the ball has been struck.

Foot fault - Usually a fault caused by the server’s foot entering the court before the racket contacts the ball. It is also a foot fault if any part of the server’s foot is on the wrong side of the center mark, or the server is walking or running while delivering the serve. See also serve.

Forehand - A shot hit from the racket side of the player’s body; the right side for a right-hander.

Forty - The third point of a game for either player or side. If both reach forty, it is called deuce.

Frame - The oval portion of the racket that contains the strings; an unstrung racket.

Game point - A point that will end the game if it is won by the leading player or side. See also set point; match point.

Game-set - Part of an announcement that a player has won the decisive game in a set, as in, “Game-set to Miss Jones.”

Game-set-match - Part of an announcement that a player has won the decisive game in a match, as in, “Game-set-match to Miss Jones.”

Grand Slam - There are four tournaments in the “Grand Slam” of tennis: The Australian, French, U. S. Open and England’s Wimbledon. The phrase came from contract bridge by way of golf.

Groundstroke - A shot hit from the back court or behind the baseline after the ball has bounced; the standard shot in tennis.

Head - The part of the racket comprising the frame and strings.

Hopper - A container that holds large quantities of tennis balls.

In - Descriptive of a good shot that lands in the opponent’s court.

Let - A stroke that doesn’t count and must be replayed. This most commonly happens when a serve touches the net before entering the proper service court. It’s also a let if the serve is delivered before the receiver is ready, if play is interrupted by some unusual occurrence (such as an animal running onto the court), or if a linesman’s decision that resulted in stoppage of play is reversed by the umpire.

Lob - A shot that is hit in a high arc, usually over the opponent’s head. See defensive lob; offensive lob.

Long - Descriptive of a shot that is out because it hits the court beyond the opponent’s baseline.

Love - Zero; no points. For example, a score of 40-love means that the server has scored three points and the receiver hasn’t scored any. In a set score, it means that the player hasn’t won any games. Probably derived from the old French word for egg, l’ove, because a zero is egg-shaped.

Match - A tennis contest made up of sets, as a set is made up of games. In major competition, a men’s match is made up of five sets and the winner is the player who first wins three sets. Women usually play best-of-three matches.

Match point - A point that will end the match if it is won by the leading player or side. See also set point; game point.

Mixed doubles - Doubles competition in which each team is made up of one female and one male player.

Net - The barrier that divides a tennis court into lengthwise halves. It’s a web, usually made of braided synthetic material, suspended from a steel cable that’s strung between two 3-foot metal posts located 3 feet outside the sidelines. The cable is covered by a band of canvas or synthetic material, 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. A 2-inch wide center strap, also made of canvas or synthetic material, holds the net taut at the center. As a verb, “to net” means to hit the ball into the net. Visit our tennis nets page for more information.

No-man’s land - The area between the baseline and the service line, so called because a player who is caught there finds it difficult to hit ground strokes and isn’t close enough to the net to hit slams.

Open grip - A grip in which the racket face is tilted upward, away from the court.

Open racket - A racket held with an open grip.

Out - Descriptive of a shot that lands outside the playing area, wide and/or long.

Poach - In doubles, to hit a ball, usually with a volley, that would ordinarily have been played by the partner.

Racket - The instrument that’s used to hit the ball. It has a long, straight handle and an oval frame strung with natural gut or a synthetic material. Up until the late 1960s, rackets were made of wood, but then steel and aluminum frames were introduced, followed by frames of graphite, fiberglass, titanium, and carbon. Maximum dimensions are 29 inches in overall length, 12 inches in overall width. The hitting surface can be no more than 15 inches long and 11 inches wide. Also spelled racquet.

Rally - An extended exchange of shots between players or sides.

Ready position - The position adopted by the receiver in anticipation of the serve.

Receiver - The player who receives service throughout a game.

Return - To hit an opponent’s shot back over the net and in play. After service, every successful shot is a return.

Round robin - A tournament in which each player meets every other player and final standings are determined by the won-lost records. Such a tournament is sometimes a preliminary round to determine seedings and order of play.

Seed - Before a tournament, certain players are ranked, based on their ability and recent performances. The process is called seeding, the rankings are called seeds, and the top-ranked player is called the top seed. Matches are then arranged so that the top-seeded players will not meet until the later rounds of the tournament.

Serve - The shot that begin each point. Standing behind the baseline, the player must toss the ball into the air and hit it into the diagonally opposite service court. The server is given two chances to make a valid serve. A failure is called a fault and a double fault results in loss of the point. On the first point, the server must be to the right of the center line, and then alternates sides with each point. In singles, the players alternate service throughout a match. In doubles, service alternates between the sides, and all four players serve in turn.

Serve and volley - A style of play in which the server takes the net after each successful serve in order to volley the opponent’s return.

Server - The player whose turn it is to serve.

Service - See serve.

Set - A set is a group of games that is won by the player or side that first wins at least six games with a two-game margin, unless a tie-breaker is employed. In major tournaments, there are usually five sets in a men’s match and three in a women’s match. See scoring system; tie-breaker.

Set point - A point that, if won by the leader, will result in winning the set. See also game point; match point.

Shot - The act of hitting the ball with the racket.

Sideline - The line that marks the side boundary of the court. The sidelines are 27 feet apart for singles and 36 feet apart for doubles.

Slice - A shot hit with both backspin and sidespin; as a verb, to hit such a shot.

Smash - An overhead shot that is hit very hard and down into the opponent’s side of the net.

Strings - The hitting surface of the racket, made up of interlaced strings of gut or synthetic material. Visit our tennis strings page for more information.

Stroke - A swing at the ball; a shot.

Sudden death - A tie-breaker of predetermined length. The most commonly used are the 9-point tie-breaker, in which the first player to score 5 points is the winner, and the 13-point tie-breaker, which is won by the first player to score 7 points.

Sweet spot - The optimum hitting area, around the middle of the racket face.

T - The midcourt area, where the service lines meet the center service line.

Tennis elbow - Tendinitis of the elbow, often caused by the strains placed on the joint by playing tennis, though it may have other causes. Visit our sports medicine page for therapy wraps, splints and braces for this kind of injury.

Thirty - The second point scored by a player or side in a game. See point; scoring system.

Topspin - Forward spin, around the ball’s horizontal axis, that’s applied by drawing the racket strings up and over the ball at the moment of impact. A shot hit with topspin is more likely to stay in play, because it drops sharply after reaching its highest point, and it takes a high bounce.

Two-handed backhand - A backhand shot on which the player has both hands on the racket handle.

Unforced error - Loss of a point caused by a poorly hit shot that goes into the net or out of the court. Compare forced error.

Volley - A shot on which the ball is hit before it bounces. As a verb, to hit such a shot.

Wide - Descriptive of a shot that lands beyond the sideline, or beyond the service sideline in the case of a serve. See also long.

Wood shot - A shot on which the frame of the racket strikes the ball.