Tennis Terminology Explained

Tennis terminology can often be confusing to new players. This guide is designed to clarify tennis terms that beginners may not be familiar with. It covers both the simplest, and the most advanced tennis lingo in alphabetical order.

Tennis Terms Defined and Explained

Ace

If you serve and the ball goes “in,” but your opponent doesn’t touch it, this is referred to as an ace. Many players have powerful first serves where they try to get an ace by placing the ball away from their opponent.

Ad In

If you win a “deuce” point and you are serving, then the next point’s score will be “advantage in” or ad in.

Ad Out

If you win a “deuce” point and your opponent is serving, then the next point’s score will be “advantage out” or ad out.

Alleys

Sometimes referred to as the “doubles alleys,” these are the long rectangles on the sides of the court that are only in play when a doubles match is being played. If a singles match is being played, and the ball lands in one of the alleys, then the ball is out. If a serve lands in the alleys, it is out, even in doubles. The purpose of doubles alleys in tennis is to compensate for having 2 players per side in doubles matches.

Backhand

When a player hits the ball on their non-dominant side, this is a backhand. For righthanded players, a backhand is hit from their left side. For lefthanded players, it’s hit from their right. Typically, player’s backhands are weaker than their forehands. Backhands can be one or two handed—many people alternate between the two depending on the type of stroke they are attempting to hit.

Backspin

Backspin is created when you hit under the ball in a slicing motion. When you hit a ball with a lot of backspin, it will “die” after bouncing on the opposition’s side of the court. It’s common to put backspin on the ball when hitting a drop shot.

Backswing

This is the pre-swing motion performed by players before making contact with the ball. There are multiple types of backswings. Some players start with their racket down low, raising it to contact the ball, while others perform a loop motion to generate more power before hitting the ball.

Baseline

This is the line at the very back of the court. In traditional colored tennis courts, it separates the green “in” section and the red “out” section of the court. Servers must stand behind this line when serving in order to not foot fault. If a ball is hit past the baseline, then it is “long” (out) in tennis terminology.

Closed Stance

Players demonstrate a closed stance when hitting groundstrokes while being perpendicular to the net. When hitting a forehand groundstroke, right-handed players typically hold their left hand out before making contact, and then twist their core to generate power.

Continental Grip

A grip type that is typically used when serving, and when volleying. It can also be used with a one-handed backhand.

Deuce

In traditional tennis scoring, games must be won by 2 points. So, what if the scoring is tied at 40-all? If this happens, the score is now called “deuce.” From here, a player must win 2 consecutive points to win the game. When the score is deuce, the server should simply call out “deuce” before serving, rather than “40-all”.

Double Fault

In tennis matches, servers get 2 serves per point (first and second serves). If they fail to get their second serve in the appropriate service box, then a “double fault” occurs and the server loses the point.

Doubles

When a tennis match involves 2 players on each side for a total of 4 players, this is referred to as “doubles.” The alleys are in play in doubles.

Drop Shot

A drop shot is a kind of hit that is meant to drop close to the net. It is useful shot to hit when your opponent is way back near the baseline of the court. Drop shots are typically hit with backspin.

Eastern Grip

This is one of the major forehand grips in tennis.

Fault

When you miss your first serve (it hits the net or goes outside of the appropriate service box), you commit a “fault” and then get to attempt a second serve.

Follow Through

After contacting the ball, players continue their swing, typically ending with the racket over their shoulder. This part of the swing is known as the follow through.

Foot Fault

If the server steps on or over the baseline when serving, a foot fault has been committed. This forfeits that serve, transitioning to either second serve, or next point due to a double fault.

Forehand

The most commonly hit stroke in tennis is the forehand. A forehand is considered the dominant stroke, while backhands are non-dominant. In English, player’s forehands are usually stronger and more consistent. Learn about forehand grip types, and the windshield wiper technique in our forehand groundstroke guide for tennis parents.

Game

In traditional tennis game-scoring, the order of points goes as follows: Love, 15, 30, 40, Game. Think of it like this:

  • Love = 0
  • 15 = 1
  • 30 = 2
  • 40 = 3
  • Game = 4

First to 4 points wins the game. If the score is 40-40, then it is now “deuce” and players must win by 2 points.

Grand Slam

The four major annual tennis tournaments are the Grand Slam tournaments. These include Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open.

Groundstroke

These are the strokes that are typically hit from or around the baseline. A best practice is to try and hit them deep with topspin.

Half Volley

When you hit the ball immediately after it bounces and begins to rise up from the court, it is referred ti as a half volley.

ITF

The ITF is the International Tennis Federation, which acts a s a governing body of tennis throughout the world.

Kick Serve

A serve hit with immense topspin is called a kick serve. To hit a kick serve, you must toss the ball back over your head, almost behind you—then quickly brush up on the ball in a topspin-generating motion.

Let

If you serve and the ball hits the top of the net but still goes over and into the correct service box, then it is a “let.” It’s essentially a “re-do.” It is the returner’s responsibility to call lets if there is no line judge present.

Lob

When your opponent is at the net, it can be a good idea to “lob” them. A lob is when you hit a high ball over the heads of players at the net, so they can’t reach it. A good lob will force your opponent to turn around and run to the back of the court to defensively retrieve your shot.

Love

Tennis is the game where love means nothing—literally. If you’re serving and have zero points in a game while your opponent has 1, then the score is love-15.

Net Generation

The Net Generation platform aims to help parents get their children involved in tennis. The website is owned by the United States Tennis Association (or USTA for short). Here’s our guide to USTA’s Net Generation.

No Man’s Land

The in-play area between the baseline and the service line is referred to as no-man’s land. It’s called this because players are recommended to never stand in that area for a long time. Either stay back by the baseline or move up past the service line to play aggressive.

Open Stance

Players demonstrate an open stance when hitting groundstrokes while being parallel with the net. It allows a quicker transition from ready position to the wind-up, relative to closed stance. It’s also favorable for quicker lateral movement across the court.

Poach

Poaching is a tactic used in doubles tennis. The net player in a doubles match can come across the center line trying to volley a ball that their partner could have hit. It is often effective, but it shouldn’t be used excessively because then your opponent will simply hit their returns down the line past you.

Pro

Tennis pro can refer to two different things. It can refer to a tennis coach/instructor who is usually certified with the USPTS. It can also translate to someone who is a professional tennis player, who plays in tournaments. Read our Kid Tennis Hub guide that details the requirements for going pro in tennis from a young age.

Pusher

There is a perceived negative connotation with this term. A pusher is someone who runs around the court and gets everything back, typically with not much power. If someone calls you a pusher, don’t be upset, however, because consistency is utterly crucial in tennis.

Rally

This simply refers to the back-and-forth of hits between players. It can also mean a friendly session of hitting, where consistency is favored over winning.

Ready Position

The stance players should be in while waiting for the opponents serve and other hits. The ready position stance involves bending your knees with both hands on the racket, while facing your opponent. When your opponent contacts the ball, you should split-step before getting into position to return their shot.

Return of Serve

This is when the ball is hit back over the net after a player serves. Returns should be hit deep.

Second Serve

If a player misses their first serve, then they get a second serve. These are usually less powerful and more consistent because double faults can prove costly.

Serve

The serve is the first stroke hit every point in tennis matches. Players get 2 serves per point before they double fault.

Serve and Volley

A strategic approach used by servers in tennis matches. Immediately after serving, the server rushes to the net, attempting to volley the returner’s shot. This volley should be intended to win the point, placed at an angle that the returner cannot reach. It is an aggressive approach, and it can be very effective if combined with a great serve.

Service Box

There are 2 service boxes on each side of the court, and 4 in total. They are the squares closest to the middle of the net. Servers always serve cross court to the diagonal service box on the opposing side of the court.

Service Line

The service lines are parallel to the net, about halfway between the baseline and net on each side. A serve cannot be deeper than this line, or it is out.

Set

When playing a set in tennis, the first player to 6 games wins. Players must win by 2 games, so the set score can be 7-5.

Sidelines

These are the lines on the outside of the court that form the boundaries. This includes both singles and doubles lines.

Slice

This refers to the spin that is put on the ball that creates lateral movement after bouncing.

Singles

When a tennis match is being played in a 1 versus 1 format with a total of 2 players, it is referred to as a “singles match.”

Smash (Overhead)

When a player hits a shallow lob, their opponent should attempt to hit an overhead smash. To do this, point with your non-dominant hand at the ball as it’s in the air, and when it’s right above you, hit it with power using a serve motion. Make sure not to get too excited and overhit the ball into the net!

Spin

There are many types of spin that can be created by hitting the ball in certain ways. These include topspin, backspin, and sidespin.

Split Step

Execute a split step every time your opponent hits the ball. To do a split step, do a small jump from the ready position, landing on both feet facing the net. This lets you quickly move and make adjustments based on where your opponent hits the ball. It’s crucial to learn this habit early on in your tennis career to the point where you don’t even think about it.

Sweet Spot

The very middle part of the strings of a racket is called the “sweet spot.” It’s always in your best interest to try and hit the ball on the sweet spot of your racket.

Tie Breaker

If a set score gets tied at 6-6, then a tie breaker is played. There are multiple types including 7-point and 10-point tiebreakers.

Topspin

By brushing up on the ball, you can generate topspin. This lets you hit the ball with velocity while keeping it from going too far past the opposing baseline. Most professional tennis players use immense topspin.

USTA

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is the primary governing organization for tennis in the United States. There are currently hundreds of thousands of members in the non-profit who regularly participate in tournaments, leagues, and more. For more information on getting involved with USTA activities and events, check out our guide on USTA Tennis Link.

Volley

When you hit a ball out of the air, before it hits the ground, this is called a volley.

Warm Up

Before playing a tennis match, players warm up by hitting a friendly rally of groundstrokes, volleys, overhead smashes, and serves. This helps players get into their rhythm, while helping to prevent potential injuries.

Western Grip

The palm of your hand should be underneath the racket when using the popular western grip.

Windshield Wiper

This technique helps beginners generate topspin with a simple explanation. Brush up on the ball in an arc-like motion similar to that of a windshield wiper. Doing so in one fast swing will create topspin.

Kid Tennis Hub

This tennis terminology guide is brought to you by Kid Tennis Hub, the top resource center for tennis parents looking to get their children involved with the sport.  For more information, check out our Ultimate Guide for Tennis Parents and browse our Top Kids Tennis Gear Recommendations.

Leave a Reply