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The Rules of Tennis

Matches may be governed by four different sets of rules!

Conference Rules
First, your conference will have rules that govern the format you play (eight- or 10-game pro sets; two out of three sets; no-ad scoring; nine- or 12-point tie-break; etc.).

State Rules
Second, your state high school athletic association will have rules governing play throughout your state. Your conference rules will undoubtedly be in compliance with these rules, but in the event that you qualify for divisional or state tournaments, you will want to familiarize yourself with our state's rules.

USTA Rules of Tennis
Most high school tennis matches are played following USTA Rules of Tennis. You can purchase a set of rules inexpensively, and it's a good idea to have a set on hand to settle disputes.

Code of Conduct
Finally, since not all matches are officiated, the USTA has developed the Code of Conduct for unofficiated matches to cover disputes that would normally be decided by an umpire (e.g., lets, foot faults, disagreement in score, etc.). If your conference or state does not allow coaches to mediate disputes during a match, it's very important that each of your players has a copy of the Code, which is a small, inexpensive pamphlet covering many of the most common disputes that arise during tennis matches. Purchase information is available at the USTA's Web site at our links above.

Knowing the rules of tennis will not only help you  settle disputes that arise during matches, but will also help you  avoid unnecessary distractions that might side track your concentration for the remainder of a match.

You should read the following for:

Key Rules for Unofficiated Matches

Most high school tennis matches are not officiated by USTA-certified umpires, and therefore, young players are on their own to call their own lines, interpret unclear rules and otherwise police themselves.

In addition to the official rules of the game, the USTA has produced a code of conduct which governs unofficiated matches.

Below are highlights of some of the key rules from The Code.

Warm Up is Not a Practice
A player should provide his opponent a five-minute warm-up (10 minutes if there are not ball persons). If a player refuses to warm up his opponent, he forfeits his right to a warm-up. Some players confuse warm-up and practice. A player should make a special effort to hit his shots directly to his opponent. If doubles partners want to warm each other up while their opponents are warming up, they may do so.

Out Calls Corrected
If a player mistakenly calls a ball “out” and then realizes it was good, the point shall be replayed if he returned the ball within the proper court. Nonetheless, if the player's return of the ball results in a “weak sitter,” the player should give his opponent the point. If the player failed to make the return, the opponent wins the point. If the mistake was made on the second serve, the server is entitled to two serves.

Foot Faults
A player may warn his opponent that the opponent has committed a flagrant foot fault. If the foot faulting continues, the play may attempt to locate an official. If no official is available, the player may call flagrant foot faults. Compliance with the foot fault rule is very much a function of the player's personal honor system.

Service Let Calls
Any player may call a service let. The call shall be made before the return of serve goes out of play or is hit by the server of his partner. If the serve is an apparent or near ace, any let shall be called promptly.

Obvious Faults
A player shall not put into play or hit over the net an obvious fault. To do so constitutes rudeness and may even be a form of gamesmanship. On the other hand, if a player believes that he cannot call a serve a fault and gives his opponent the benefit of the close call, the server is not entitled to replay the point.

Receiver Readiness
The receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of the server. The receiver should make no effort to return a serve when he is not ready. If a player attempts to return a serve (even if it is a “quick” server), then he (or his team) is presumed to be ready.

Delays During Service
When the server's second service motion is interrupted by a ball coming on the court, he is entitled to two serves. When there is a delay between the first and second serves:

•the server gets one serve if the was the cause of the delay;
•the server gets two serves if the delay was caused by the receiver or if there was outside interference.

The time it takes to clear a ball that comes onto the court between the first and second serves is not considered sufficient time to warrant the server receiving two serves unless this time is so prolonged as to constitute an interruption. The receiver is the judge of the whether the delay is sufficiently prolonged to justify giving the server two serves.

Disputes over the score shall be resolved by using one of the following methods, which are listed in the order of preference:

•count all points and games agreed upon by the players and replay only the disputed points or games;
•play from a score mutually agreeable to all players; spin a racket or toss a coin.

Talking During a Point
A player shall not talk while the ball is moving toward his opponent's side of the court. If the player's talking interferes with his opponent's ability to play the ball, the player loses the point. Consider the situation where a player hits a weak lob and loudly yells at his partner to get back. If the shout is loud enough to distract his opponent, then the opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. If the opponent chooses to hit the lob and misses it, the opponent loses the point because he did not make a timely claim of hindrance.


We hope this helps!


Last Updated on June 22, 2011

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Coach Jim Gregg