Glossary of Tennis Terms

Tennis Glossary of Terms

New to tennis? Wanting a refresher course? This is the place for you. Below you'll find an exhaustive list of tennis terms which will answer any questions you may have about the game.

Everything from the basics to the professional level of tennis of tennis is accounted for and defined clearly.

If nothing else let this serve as your guide for professional sounding tennis commentary.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z
A
Ace:

A serve that lands in play and is not returned by the receiver who is unable to touch the ball.

Ad Court:

Also known as the backhand court, this is the side of the court where the second point of each game begins.

Advantage:

'Advantage' is called for the player who wins the first point after deuce. This player is said to have the advantage as they only require one more point to win the game.

All-Court Game:

A player who performs well on all court surfaces.

Alley:

Also known as the tramlines, an alley is a four-foot wide area on each side of the court that enlarges the court area when doubles is played. The alleys are not part of the court during a singles match.

Alternate:

A player who was not originally scheduled to play but is elevated to the schedule after another player withdraws prior to the start of a match.

Approach Shot:

A shot hit hard and deep, often with topspin, that allows a player the time to come to the net.

ATP:

The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) is the governing body that oversees men's tennis.

ATP Tour:

The top-tier men's tour. The biggest tournaments in men's tennis (aside from the grand slams) take place on the ATP Tour.

B
Backhand:

A type of stroke (shot) in which a player hits the ball with a swing that came from across their body.

Backcourt:

This refers to the area of the court from the baseline to the service line.

Backspin:

The backward rotation on a ball, caused by quickly bringing the racket strings down during the stroke as the ball is hit which results in a low bounce - otherwise known as hitting the underside of the ball! On some surfaces, the ball may even bounce back toward the net. Also known as underspin.

Backswing:

The motion of moving the racket back and into position to swing forward and hit the ball.

Bagel:

When a player wins a set 6-0 it is known as a bagel. A player on the receiving end of such a scoreline has been 'bageled'.

Ballkid:

Formerly ball boys or ball girls. These are boys or girls who retrieve balls for the players and perform other court-side duties such as providing the players with towels and water.

Ball Toss:

The action of throwing the ball into the air at the start of the service motion.

Band:

No, not the musical type! In tennis, the band is the strip of material at the top of the net. Bands are white to clearly differentiate them from the rest of the net which is black.

C
Call

When the umpire or a line judge calls the ball 'out'.

Center Line:

A line that extends from the middle of the service line to the net. This line marks the boundary between the two service courts.

Center Mark:

A line that marks the middle of the baseline that is used to show which side a player should serve from.

Challenge:

When a player requests an instant replay review of where a ball has landed. Due to the amount of technology required, challenges are generally only on offer in big tournaments.

Challenger Tour:

The second-tier men's tour. Players compete in Challenger Tour events to earn ranking points to play on the ATP Tour. Players ranked below 80 in the world play in Challenger Tour events.

Changeover:

A 90-second period after every odd-numbered game in a set where the players change side.

Chip:

Blocking a shot with slice (backspin). This creates a low trajectory, with the aim often to have the ball only just clear the net.

Chip-and-Charge:

An aggressive tactic where a chip shot (see above) is followed up by running to the net.

Chop:

A shot played with maximum backspin. The aim is to get the ball to stop immediately or even bounce back towards the player who hit it.

Clay:

One of the three surfaces that tennis is played on, with the French Open the most notable tournament played on clay. The clay surface is made of crushed brick, clay, shale or stone.

Code Violation:

A rule violation handed out for violations such as shouting an obscenity. A first code violation results in a warning, a second a point penalty, a third a game penalty, and a fourth a match forfeit.

Court:

A standard tennis court is rectangular in shape and measures 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. The whole court is used for doubles, but for singles there are tramlines which reduce the court width to 27 feet. There is a net across the middle of the court that stands at three feet and six inches tall at each end, and three feet in the middle.

Crosscourt:

A shot that is hit diagonally across the court.

D
Davis Cup:

An annual competition involving international men's teams. Participating countries compete in a single-elimination format. Davis Cup ties are best-of-five contests that consist of four singles matches and one doubles clash.

Dead Net Cord:

When a player inadvertently clips the very top of the net, causing the ball to trickle over onto their opponent's side of the net.

Dead Rubber:

A match when the result of a contest is already decided. This can occur in the Davis Cup or Fed Cup if one team gains an unassailable lead before all five matches have been played.

Deciding Shot:

In doubles, once a game reaches deuce (not sure what 'deuce' is? Take a quick look two terms down), advantage is not played and the team that wins the next point wins the game.

Default:

A default occurs when a player is disqualified after receiving four code violations.

Deuce:

A score of 40-40 in a game. Once deuce is reached, a player must win two points in a row in order to win the game.

Deuce Court:

The right side of the court. It is from this side that a player will first serve, and will also serve when the score is deuce

Double Bagel:

When a player wins 6-0, 6-0.

Double Fault:

Serving two consecutive faults. The server loses the point as a result.

Double Hit:

The act of striking the ball twice in the same stroke. It results in the loss of the point.

Doubles:

A match played between four players, with two on each side. The full court is used in a doubles match.

Down the Line:

A ball that is hit straight down one sideline of the court.

Draw:

The schedule of a tournament. The draw is determined by seedings and a random selection process.

Drop Shot:

A delicate shot that is lightly played and barely clears the net. Often played with backspin and when an opponent is deep in the court.

E
Error:

A shot that does not land in play, resulting in the loss of a point.

Exhibition:

A match or tournament that is not played for money or ranking points, but rather for entertainment or to raise money.

F
Fault:

A serve that does not land in an opponent's service box

Fed Cup:

An annual competition involving international women's teams. Participating countries compete in a single-elimination format. Fed Cup ties are best-of-five contests that consist of four singles matches and one doubles clash.

Flat:

A shot hit with no spin.

First serve:

A player has two attempts at serve. It won't come as a surprise to hear that the first of those attempts is known as the first serve!

Follow-through:

The portion of the swing after the ball has been hit.

Foot fault:

During a serve, a player cannot step on the baseline or across the center line. Doing so results in the loss of a serve.

Forced error:

An error that is as a result of an opponent's good play.

Forehand:

A shot in which a player hits the ball with the front of the racket facing the ball.

Frame:

The oval part of the racket that cases the strings.

Futures Tour:

The third-tier men's tour, sitting below the Challenger Tour and the premier tour, the ATP Tour.

G
Game:

A game is a sequence of points in which one player serves.

Game point:

One point away from winning the game.

GOAT:

Acronym for 'Greatest Of All Time'.

Golden Slam:

Winning the Grand Slam and a gold medal at the Olympic Games in the same calendar year

Grand Slam:

One of the four major tournaments of the year, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

Grand slam:

Wait, haven't we had this already?! In addition to referring to the four individual tournaments, the term 'Grand Slam' also refers to winning all four major tournaments. If a player achieves a career Grand Slam, they have won all four major tournaments across the course of their career. A calendar Grand Slam is achieved if a player wins all four major tournaments in the same year.

Grass Court:

No surprises here, grass is, well, grass! Grass is one of the major court surfaces that tennis is played on. Grass produces a fast surface with a low bounce. Wimbledon is the most high-profile tournament played on grass.

Grip:

The way in which a player holds the racket. There are three prominent types of grip: the Eastern (place your palm on the side plane of your handle, parallel to the plane of your strings), the Continental (place your palm on the upper right slant bevel, 45 degrees counterclockwise from the Eastern), and the Western (place your palm on the bottom plane of your handle, at 90 degrees clockwise from the plane of the strings).

Groundstroke:

Hitting the ball after it's bounced once with either a forehand or a backhand.

H
Half court:

The area of the court midway between the baseline and net.

Half volley:

A groundstroke that is played immediately after the ball has bounced (or, if you're really good, simultaneously), with the racket low, resulting in low shot.

Hard court:

One of the three primary types of court that tennis is played on. Hard courts are made from asphalt or concrete topped with a synthetic/acrylic layer. Hard courts are characteristically medium to fast in speed off the surface. The US Open and the Australian Open are played on hard courts.

Hawk-Eye:

The ball-tracking system that enables players to challenge calls. Hawk-Eye is a computer system that is connected to cameras to track the path of the ball.Hawk-Eye was first used at the US Open, but is now utilized at all major tournaments.

Hold:

To win a game when serving.

I
Inside-In:

When a player runs around their backhand side to hit a forehand down the line.

Inside-Out:

When a player runs around their backhand side to hit a forehand crosscourt.

ITF:

Acronym for the International Tennis Federation, tennis' governing body.

J
Jam:

To hit the ball straight at an opponent.

K
Kick serve:

A type of serve with a lot of spin that causes the ball to bounce high or change direction.

Knocking Up:

Ever wondered what players are doing just before a match when they're politely hitting the ball to each other? Well, that's known as knocking up.

L
Let:

A let is called when a serve hits the net cord and the ball falls within the receiver's service box. The server is awarded another serve. If the ball hits the net cord and bounces outside of the receiver's service box then it counts as a fault. A let can also be called when a player is distracted by something outside of normal play, such as a ball kid dropping a ball that rolls onto the court.

Line judge:

The line judge makes calls regarding whether the ball has landed within the boundaries of the court. Line judges can be overruled by the umpire.

Lob:

A ball that is hit high into the air. A lob can be used in both defense and offense. A defensive lob would be used to give a player time to recover, while an attacking lob could be played over an opponent who is stationed at the net.

Love:

Aside from making the world go round, love is a tennis term used to indicate a zero in tennis. If the score is 30-0, it is spoken as 'thirty-love'.

Love game:

A game is won to love if one player did not win a point in the game.

Lucky loser:

In tennis even losing can work out well! The lucky loser is the highest ranked player in a qualifying tournament who falls to qualify directly for a tournament. If a player then withdraws from the tournament, they are promoted to the main draw.

M
Match:

No surprises here, a match is the official term for a contest between two players (singles) or four players (doubles). A match is played over either three or five sets.

Match point:

The term used when a player needs one point to win the match.

Mid-court:

Also known as 'half-court' or 'no man's land', the mid-court is well, exactly, what it suggests, the middle of the court - and it's not a place you want to be! Staying in the mid-court, around the service line, leaves a player vulnerable to a number of tactics.

Mini-break:

In a tiebreaker, a mini-break is when a player wins a point on their opponent's serve.

Mis-hit:

When the ball hits the strings, but not in the 'sweetspot, the area of the strings that provides the truest hit.

Mixed doubles:

A doubles match in which teams consist of one male and one female.

N
Net:

No prizes for guessing this one. A net spans the width of the court and stands at three feet and six inches tall at each end, and three feet in the middle. It's held up by two posts and is made up of interlaced fabric, with a tape running across the top of it.

Net chord:

The net chord is the tape at the top of the net.

Net point:

A point that is one or lost by a player when they come to the net

New balls:

In a professional match, the balls are changed every seven games. This is done because the characteristics of the balls change as they are used more.

No man's land:

Don't get stuck in between on this one, refer to our earlier entry of 'mid-court'.

O
Official:

There are three types of officials in tennis: tournament referee, chair umpire, and line judge.

On serve:

When neither player has broken serve in a set.

Open era:

Tennis changed forever in 1968 when tournaments became open to both amateurs and professional players. The period since that point is known as the 'Open Era'.

Out:

A ball that lands outside of the playing area.

Overhead:

Any shot that is hit above a player's head, most commonly a 'smash'.

Overrule:

When an umpire reverses a call made by a line judge.

P
Pass:

Also known as a passing shot, this is when a player (usually near the baseline) hits the ball so that it passes by (but not over) their opponent who is at the net.

Percentage tennis:

A safety-first tactic which involves looking to keep the ball in play rather than hit winners. The aim is to force an opponent into an error by remaining in the point for long periods.

Poaching:

An aggressive doubles strategy in which the player at the net comes across to volley a ball which was meant for their partner who is positioned deeper in the court.

Point:

The period of time between a successful serve and when the ball goes out of play.

Point penalty:

An umpire may hand a player a point penalty for a code violation.

Protected ranking:

When a player is injured for at least six months they can request a protected ranking which is based on their average ranking from the first three months of their injury. This allows them to qualify for tournaments on their return which they would otherwise not have been ranked high enough to enter.

Putaway:

In attacking shot aimed at ending a point.

Q
Qualifier:

A player who has entered the main draw of a tournament by winning the pre-tournament qualifying.

Qualifying:

A qualifying tournament involves lower-ranked players vying for a spot in the main draw of a tournament by playing in a pre-tournament draw.

Qualifying draw:

The draw for the qulification tournament.

R
Racket:

The piece of equipment used by tennis players to hit the ball. Rackets consist of a long handle attached to a looped frame that has meshed strings tightly woven across it. First made of wood, rackets are now made of graphite or a composite of synthetic materials.

Racket abuse:

When a player slams their racket into the ground or an object around the court, it is known as racket abuse. This can result in a code violation.

Rally:

Following a successful service, an exchange of shots between players prior to the ball going out of play is known as a rally.

Rankings:

A merit-based hierarchical system that determines seeding and the entrance to tournaments

Receiver:

The player who the server serves the ball to

Retirement:

When a player withdraws during a match, usually due to injury or illness.

Return:

When the ball is hit back to a player. This is usually said in the context of returning a serve.

Round of 16:

The stage of a tournament when there are 16 players remaining.

Round robin:

A tournament format in which players are organized into groups and then only play the other members of their group.

Rubber:

An individual match in the Davis Cup or Fed Cup.

S
Second serve:

A player has two attempts to serve a legal serve, the second of which is known as the second serve.

Seed:

The position a player is assigned due to his or her ranking. The higher a player is seeded, the easier their first games should be in theory. A player's seeding is determined by their ranking.

Serve:

The starting stroke of each point. A serve must land in the service box diagonally across from where the server is positioned.

Service box:

The square area of the forecourt, where a serve must land.

Service line:

A line that runs parallel to the net and forms the edge of the service box.

Serve and volley:

A tactic in which the server immediately runs to the net following their serve, hoping to volley their opponent's return.

Set:

A unit of scoring in which players look to win six games. In order to win a set, a player must be two games ahead when they reach six games or win a game when they are 6-5 ahead. If the score reaches 6-6 then the set is decided by a tiebreaker.

Set point:

A player has set point when they require one more point to win the set.

Shot:

The act of hitting the ball.

Singles:

A match involving two players. In a singles match, the tramlines are not in play.

Slice:

A type of shot that utilizes underspin.

Smash:

A strongly hit overhead shot that is usually hit when a player is at the net or in the forecourt.

Spin:

The rotation of the ball. Types of spin include: backspin, topspin, and underspin. The spin affects the bounce and trajectory of a ball.

Stance:

The way in which a player stands when they hit the ball.

Straight sets:

A match in which a player wins the match without losing a set.

Strings:

The material that is meshed together to form the face of the racket, the portion of the racket surrounded by the frame.

Stroke:

Also known simply as a 'shot', this is the act of hitting the ball.

T
The 'T':

The 'T' is the section of the court where the center line meets the service line to form, you guessed it, a T.

Tanking:

A colloquial term used when a player intentionally loses a match. It can also be used as a tactic in a match to save energy for an upcoming game or set.

Tennis ball:

To you and me it's the round, yellow thing that players try to hit. In more professional terms, it's a soft, hollow, rubber ball that's coated in synthetic fur.

Tennis dad:

The father of a player who is actively involved in their career, often as a coach early in their development.

Tennis elbow:

Ever dusted off the old racket for a casual game of tennis only to suffer from pain and tenderness in your elbow after only a few outings? If your answer is 'yes', then you know tennis elbow all too well.

Tennis Hall of Fame:

The International Tennis Hall of Fame, situated in Newport, Rhode Island, honors players and contributors to the sport of tennis.

Tension:

How tight the strings on a racket are.

Tie:

A term used to describe a contest in the Davis or Fed Cup.

Tiebreak:

A game played when a set is level at 6-6. The winner of the tiebreak is the first player to reach seven points with a difference of at least two points.

Topspin:

A type of spin where the top of the tennis ball rotates toward the direction it has been hit, causing it to dip and bounce at a higher angle.

Toss:

At the beginning of a match a coin toss is conducted. The winner of the toss is able to elect whether they would like to serve or receive first.

Touch:

If a player makes contact with the net with any part of their body or racket, it is termed a 'touch' and they lose the point.

Tramline:

The line that marks the edge of the court in singles or doubles. The outermost tramline is used for doubles, with the inner tramline used for singles.

Triple Crown:

Winning the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles at the same event.

Tweener:

A trick shot in which a player hits the ball between their legs. This tactic is primarily used when a player is chasing down a lob which has gone over their head. It looks great when it works out, but terrible when it goes wrong!

U
Umpire:

Also known as the chair umpire, the umpire enforces the rules during a match. The umpire sits in a high chair in line with the net.

Unforced error:

An error that is said to have happened through bad play by the receiver rather than pressure from their opponent.

Unseeded player:

A player who is not seeded in a particular tournament

V
Volley:

A shot that is hit just before the ball bounces, usually from a position in the forecourt.

W
Walkover:

A walkover occurs when a player forfeits a match before it has started. This is usually done due to injury or illness.

Wide:

A call used when a shot has landed out, beyond the sideline.

Wildcard:

If a player is handed a wildcard to an event, they are allowed to play even though their ranking was not high enough for them to gain automatic qualification. Wildcards are often given to young, local players or to a player who has been sidelined for a significant period due to injury.

Winner:

A shot that lands in the court and the opposing player is unable to reach it

WTA:

Acronym for Women's Tennis Association, the organization that oversees women's tennis.

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