Basic Rules for Beginner’s Tennis

Tennis is called “the sport of a lifetime” for good reason. Cradle-to-grave programs, including those for tiny tots and tournaments, which feature 90-and-over age categories offer opportunities for play for all ages and skill levels. To get into the swing of tennis, all you’ll need is a racket, tennis shoes, three balls and the basic rules of the game.


The serve starts every point in tennis. The server stands behind the baseline, which is the farthest line from the net, and serves right-to-left to start the first point, left-to-right for the next, and so on, until a game is won. The player must stand to the side of a short line, which intersects the baseline in the middle, and serve over the net into the opposite service box, which is the square created by the lines near the net. The server must serve the ball from his hand before it touches the ground, and can serve either overhand or underhand, as long as the ball doesn’t touch the ground before he hits it.

In order for a serve to be “good,” it must land in the opposite service box on a fly, without touching the net. If the serve is not good, it is a “fault.” Like three strikes in baseball means you’re out, two faults in tennis means you lose the point. If the ball hits the net on a fly and lands in the correct service box, a “let” is called and, like a foul ball after two strikes in baseball, you can go again, until you hit a good serve or a double fault. Once the serve is in, the point begins.

A Point

Once a serve is in play, the receiver hits the ball back over the net to keep the point going. The receiver may not hit the serve on the fly, and must let it land in the service box before returning it. All other shots during a point can be hit on a fly or after one bounce after the initial return.

The first player to hit the ball into the net, outside the boundary lines of the court, or who lets the ball bounce twice loses the point.


Tennis uses an odd scoring system. The first point is called “15.” The second is “30.” The third is “40.” The starting point is called “Love,” which means no score.

If the server wins the first two points, she leads by 30 – Love. If the players split the first two points, the score would be 15 – all. If players have played six points and are tied, the score is then called “Deuce.” Whoever wins the deuce point then has an advantage in the game, which must be won by two points, because she has a lead. The server calls the score, “Advantage In,” if the advantage is in favor of the server, or “Advantage Out,” if the score is out of her favor. Frequent tennis players use “Ad In” and “Ad Out” most commonly for these scores. Scores can go back and forth between deuce and ad until someone wins the game by two points.

Tennis matches are divided into games and sets, with a player winning a set when they win six games, with at least a two-game lead. If a set score gets to six – all, players can play one of two tie breaks. Tie breaks are either first one to five, or first one to seven, win by two points. In the first version of the tie break, the player who’s serve it is starts the tie break with two points. The next player serves two, the original server serves two (if necessary), and the second server serves the remaining three points, if necessary. The winner does not have to win by two points. In the tie-break to seven, the first player serves one point from left to right, then players alternate serves, starting from right-to-left, serving two points before changing serves. The winner must win seven points, and have a two-point lead.

When a player wins two sets, they win the match.

About this Author

Sam Ellyn has been writing, editing, lecturing and producing videos on the sport sciences (exercise physiology, nutrition, biomechanics, physics, motor learning, pedagogy and sports medicine) for more than 20 years. He has written for numerous publications, including “Fit,” “Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Parent’s Playbook,” “Tennis” and “Golf Teaching Pro.”