If you’ve started to follow the game of tennis, you may have noticed that it has its own distinct terminology that differentiates it from other sports. Many of these terms, such as the score of “Love” for example, date back centuries to the mid-1500s.
Below is a list of the 101 terms that you should familiarize yourself with to have a better understanding of the game. These terms are the essential building blocks of tennis. From scoring to the various shots and rules used in tennis, this list provides a comprehensive overview of the game.
- 1. Ace
- 2. Advantage (Ad)
- 3. Ad Court
- 4. Ad-In
- 5. Ad-Out
- 6. All
- 7. Approach Shot
- 8. Backhand
- 9. Backpedal
- 10. Backspin
- 11. Backswing
- 12. Ball Machine
- 13. Baseline
- 14. Bevel (Grip)
- 15. Break Point
- 16. Changeover
- 17. Clay (Court)
- 18. Closed String Pattern
- 19. Continental (Grip)
- 20. Court, Tennis
- 21. Cross-Court
- 22. Dampener, Vibration
- 23. Deuce
- 24. Deuce Court
- 25. Double Fault
- 26. Doubles Alley
- 27. Doubles Match
- 28. Doubles Sideline
- 29. Down the Line
- 30. Drop Shot
- 31. Eastern Grip
- 32. Fault
- 33. Fifteen (15)
- 34. Flat Shot
- 35. Forehand
- 36. Forty (40)
- 37. Game
- 38. Game Point
- 39. Graphite
- 40. Grip
- 41. Groundstroke
- 42. Half Volley
- 43. Handle, Racket
- 44. Hard Court
- 45. Head, Racket
- 46. Hit
- 47. Hopper, Ball
- 48. Hold
- 49. Kick Serve
- 50. Let
- 51. Lob
- 52. Long
- 53. Love
- 54. Match
- 55. Match Point
- 56. Natural Grass (Court)
- 57. Net
- 58. Net Post
- 59. Open String Pattern
- 60. Overhead
- 61. Overgrip
- 62. Pace
- 63. Passing Shot
- 64. Plow-Through
- 65. Rally
- 66. Ready Position
- 67. Return, Service
- 68. Semi-Western Grip
- 69. Service (Serve)
- 70. Service Box
- 71. Service Line(s)
- 72. Service Break
- 73. Set
- 74. Set Point
- 75. Shot
- 76. Side-Step
- 77. Singles Match
- 78. Singles Sideline
- 79. Slice
- 80. Slice Serve
- 81. Smash
- 82. Split Step
- 83. Stance, Open
- 84. Stance, Closed
- 85. Stiffness (Racket)
- 86. Strings, Natural Gut
- 87. Strings, Nylon
- 88. Stroke
- 89. Sweet Spot
- 90. Tension, String
- 91. Thirty (30)
- 92. Throat (Racket)
- 93. Tie-breaker
- 94. Topspin
- 95. Topspin Serve
- 96. Toss, Service
- 97. Touch
- 98. Volley
- 99. Wall
- 100. Western Grip
- 101. Wide
A serve that goes unanswered by the service returner. For a serve to be considered an “Ace”, it must clear the net without touching it, land within the service box or on the service lines, and there must be no contact made by the returner on the ball. If the service returner touches the ball with their racket, it is no longer considered an Ace, but rather a service winner.
2. Advantage (Ad)
In scoring, “Advantage” or “Ad” for short refers to a one-point lead following a Deuce score (tied at 40-40). If a player wins the next point after being at Advantage, they win the game. If not, the score returns to Deuce.
The left side of the tennis court, from the vantage point of each player, is also referred to as the Ad side since this is where a server stands when the score is either Ad-In (the server leads) or Ad-Out (the returner leads).
3. Ad Court
The left side of the tennis court (left of the center mark) relative to the server’s or service returner’s side of the court. It is referred to as “Ad Court” because this is the side of the court where either the server or the returner has the “Advantage” following a Deuce (40-40 tie) score.
Additionally, when playing on the Ad Court side, one player will always have the lead. The score is never tied on the Ad Court side.
In scoring, “Ad-In” refers to the server or service team having the point “Advantage” or lead. Ad-In and Ad-Out are used to distinguish between the service side having the Advantage or the return side having the Advantage.
“Ad-Out” is used in scoring to indicate that the service returner or serving return team has the point “Advantage”. If the service return side wins the ensuing point, they win the Game. If, on the other hand, the service side wins the next point, the score returns to “Deuce”.
In scoring, “All” is the equivalent of a tie score. If both players or teams are tied at 15 apiece (15-15), this can also be referred to as 15-All. The same applies to a 30-All score. However, a tie at 40-40 is referred to as Deuce.
7. Approach Shot
A shot used in tennis when approaching the net. When a player hits an approach shot they are setting themselves up to attack the net. Typically approach shots are hit deep into an opponent’s court, though it doesn’t have to be the case.
Reverse groundstroke used when hitting a ball on a player’s non-dominant side. For a right-handed player, the backhand side is on their left. The shot is executed in a reverse arm swing motion relative to the forehand. The shot is performed by leading with the back of the hand rather than the palm.
The backhand can be hit either as a one-handed backhand or as a two-handed backhand. The one-handed backhand is the classical backhand used in the game. The two-handed backhand is performed with the dominant hand on the lower part of the handle and the non-dominant hand on the top.
In tennis, backpedaling refers to the act of stepping backward when retreating away from the net towards the baseline. It is commonly used to recover from overhead lobs or to adjust one’s distance relative to the net. Footwork drills often focus on backpedaling among other movement techniques.
The opposite of topspin, backspin is a form of spin where a tennis ball rotates in reverse to the direction of travel. Backspin is created by striking the backside of the ball in a downward fashion with the racket open (facing up).
The term slice is commonly associated with backspin, though technically speaking the two differ. Backspin varies from a slice in that the motion throughout contact is downward rather than sideways.
The initial phase of a groundstroke, backswing refers to the backward motion of the racket during the swing. A backswing can be performed straight back or in a looping motion. Typically the backswing is followed by a brief pause before the forward swing takes place.
12. Ball Machine
A machine that feeds tennis balls at various angles and speeds. Primarily used for practice, ball machines typically use rotating wheels and air pressure to shoot tennis balls out of a barrel and onto the court. Most often, ball machines use pressureless tennis balls to operate.
The outer boundary line at the end of a tennis court. Shots that land on or within the baseline are considered good, while shots that land beyond are out or “long”. The baseline is also the boundary used for serving. A player must stand behind the baseline when serving and cannot step on the baseline.
The baseline is divided in half by the center mark. The mark divides the court between the Deuce court and the Ad court. When serving on the baseline, players need to be positioned on the correct side of the center mark.
14. Bevel (Grip)
The flat surfaces that form a tennis handle and grip. There are 8 bevels in total on a tennis racket handle and grip. They can be referenced using a numerical system from 1-8 with 1 being the top bevel and then counting in a clockwise fashion for right-handed players.
For left-handed players, the numbering system works in reverse, or counterclockwise. Bevels are used to reference different types of grips used in the game of tennis. The positioning of the index knuckle, for example, is often referenced to the bevel used for the grip.
15. Break Point
In scoring, break point is used when the service returner or return team is one point away from winning a Game. Since the server is expected to win their serve, when the returner wins it is referred to as a service break. A break point is a point played where the returner has the chance to break the serve.
During a tennis match, players or teams switch sides starting at 1-0 and then every two Games. This is referred to as a “changeover”. Changeovers occur when the total Game score adds up to an odd total.
The reason for switching sides is to compensate for any field disadvantages or advantages due to sun, shade, among other factors. This allows each player or team to play roughly equally on each side of the court.
17. Clay (Court)
One of the three main court surfaces used in tennis. Clay courts are made from crushed masonry. There are four types of clay commonly used, red clay, green clay, blue clay, and grey clay. While all fall under the general category of clay surfaces, they are made from different types of masonry materials.
Red clay courts, for example, are made from crushed red brick, while green clay courts are made from basalt. Grey courts, on the other hand, are made from natural clay from the ground. Characteristics of clay courts include the ability to slide more easily and a higher ball bounce. The speed of play on clay is also slower than on hard court surfaces and grass.
18. Closed String Pattern
Refers to a dense racket stringing pattern. Rackets are manufactured with a specific number of cross strings and mains. A dense pattern typically has 18 mains and 20 crosses (18×20). A denser string pattern results in a string bed that provides greater control, but less power than an open string pattern.
19. Continental (Grip)
A versatile hand grip formation that is used primarily for serves, volleys, overhead shots, and slice shots (backspin). The continental grip was once used for forehand groundstrokes as well, but that is no longer the case in the modern game.
The continental grip is formed by aligning the V-shape between the thumb and index finger (web) with the left side edge of the top bevel of the handle. It is often used as a starting reference point for all other grips.
20. Court, Tennis
A court of various materials including hard surface, clay, and grass where the game of tennis played. Tennis courts measure 78 feet (23.77 m) in length and 27 feet (8.2 m) in width for singles matches or 36 ft (11 m) in width for doubles matches.
Courts are divided in half by a net supported by net posts on each side. Among the boundaries of a court are the baseline, singles line, doubles line, service boxes, and service lines.
A shot taken diagonally from one corner to the opposite corner. For example, a forehand cross-court shot would be taken near the Deuce court side corner and hit diagonally across the net to the forehand corner of the opponent on their Deuce side. Likewise, a backhand cross-court shot would be hit to the backhand corner on the Ad side of the opponent.
22. Dampener, Vibration
A small device made of rubber which can be placed on the strings of a tennis racket to reduce the vibration transmitted to the arm. Typically a vibration dampener is placed centered on the bottom of the main strings so it doesn’t interfere with the ball.
In scoring, Deuce is the equivalent of a 40-40 tie. Once the score is Deuce, either player needs to win two consecutive points to win a Game. If they fail to do so, that is they win one and lose another, the score reverts to Deuce. This can happen indefinitely in theory.
24. Deuce Court
The right side of the tennis court, from the perspective of each player. The Deuce Court and Ad Court sides are divided by the center mark along the baseline of the court. If players reach a score of Deuce, the point is always played on the Deuce Court side.
25. Double Fault
Two consecutive faults in a row when serving results in a double fault in tennis. Double faulting is equivalent to losing a point, the service returner is automatically awarded the point following a double fault. Typically players will be more aggressive on their first serve and more conservative on their second serve to avoid double-faulting.
26. Doubles Alley
Area of the court between the singles sideline and the doubles sideline. The doubles alley is considered out for singles matches since it is wide of the singles sideline. However, the doubles alley is used in doubles tennis play.
27. Doubles Match
Match played with two players (teammates) on each side of the court. During doubles play, the full width of the court up to the doubles sidelines 36 ft (11 m) is used. Aside from the width of the court, most rules of the game remain the same for doubles.
Doubles players can set up in various positions, including one up at the net and one at the baseline, both players up at the net, or both players back on the baseline. The serve alternates between teammates as well as between teams so that after four Games, each player has had a chance to serve.
28. Doubles Sideline
Sideline boundary for doubles matches. During doubles play any ball that lands on or within the doubles sidelines counts as in. The doubles sideline, as the name might imply, is not used in singles tennis. The distance between the doubles sideline along the width of the court is 36 ft (11 m).
29. Down the Line
Shots or serves that are directed straight across the court from either corner of the court are said to be down the line. For example, a shot from the Deuce court side (forehand side for right-handers) hit straight across to the opposing player’s Ad side of the court (backhand side) is considered a shot down the line.
During service points, a serve that lands on or within the center service line is also said to be down the line. Down-the-line shots are generally considered more aggressive than cross-court since the depth of the court is reduced, however, there are many other variables such as how hard the shot is hit that also come into play.
30. Drop Shot
A shot used in tennis to catch an opponent by surprise. Drop shots are typically placed short, just over the net, with backspin to decrease the bounce. The execution of a drop shot requires a good amount of touch and timing.
Unlike other groundstrokes which are typically hit with power in mind, the goal of the drop shot is to hit the ball with little pace, just enough to clear the net. With backspin added, a well-hit drop shot reverses back towards the net and bounces low off the ground, making it very difficult to return.
31. Eastern Grip
The eastern grip can is a grip position that is used on both the forehand or backhand side. The hand positioning on the forehand side is one bevel further clockwise than a continental grip and is referred to as an eastern forehand grip.
On the backhand side, the hand positioning is one bevel counter-clockwise of the continental grip and is referred to as an eastern backhand grip. Of the two, the eastern backhand grip is considered a bit more extreme in the sense that it provides a greater degree of spin on the ball.
When serving, if a player misses their serve by hitting it outside the service box or into the net, this is referred to as a fault. If the player misses again on the second consecutive attempt, then it is referred to as a double fault.
The term fault is most commonly associated with the service shot, however, it is also used to refer to a player stepping on or over the baseline during a serve. This is referred to as a foot fault.
33. Fifteen (15)
In scoring, fifteen (15) is equivalent to a player having 1 point within a Game. When a Game begins, the score is said to be Love-Love. Once either player wins the first point, the score then becomes 15-Love or Love-15 depending on whether the server wins the point or the returner wins the point.
If the other player wins the next point, they also get to a score of 15. At this point the score becomes 15-15, or as it is more commonly referred to, 15-All.
34. Flat Shot
A flat shot in tennis is a shot that is hit with virtually no spin on the ball. While somewhat of a misnomer since all shots have some amount of spin, the flat shot is intentionally hit so it carries very little spin.
The advantage of the flat shot is that it can be very powerful since all force exerted on the ball is linear, that is without imparting spin on the ball. The flat shot can be used on groundstrokes as well as serves. During service, a flat shot is more specifically referred to as a “flat serve”.
The forehand is the most elemental groundstroke used in the game of tennis. It is a stroke hit on a player’s dominant side in a forward swinging motion with the racket head roughly perpendicular to the ground and the palm of the hand guiding the racket forward.
36. Forty (40)
In scoring, forty (40) is equivalent to a player having 3 points within a Game. Once a player reaches a score of 40, they are in a position to win the Game if they win the next point, so long as they are not tied with their opponent at 40 (Deuce).
If the score is tied at 40 (Deuce), the two players must continue to play the Game until one can win two consecutive points in a row.
A Game is made up of a sequence of points with one player serving the full length of the Game. To win a Game, a player needs at least 4 points earned in the following order: 15, 30, 40, Game.
If the score is tied at 40 (Deuce), the player must then win two points consecutively to win the Game.
38. Game Point
When a player is one point away from winning a Game, this is referred to as Game Point. Game point usually occurs when a player has a score of 40 unless the Game is tied at Deuce. If the score is tied at Deuce, the next point won is referred to as “Advantage” and the point following then becomes the Game Point.
Graphite is a material used in tennis rackets as of the mid-1900s. The use of graphite in tennis rackets revolutionized the sport as wood was previously the most common material used. Graphite is a relatively lightweight material.
In addition to its light weight, graphite tends to be relatively stiff. This results in greater power, spin potential, and control. However, because it is a stiff material it also tends to transmit a fair amount of vibration to the arm. For this reason, composite rackets made with other materials are often used to make them more flexible.
The grip of a racket is the material used to wrap the handle. Leather is commonly used, as is polyurethane. Often players will use an overgrip on the handle, which is essentially a second grip wrapped over the base grip. Often the term “grip” is used to refer to the “handle” of a racket.
The term grip can also refer to the positioning of the hand on the handle of the racket. There are various types of hand formations or grips used in tennis. Among the most common are the continental grip, the eastern forehand and backhand grip, and the Western forehand or Semi-Western forehand and backhand grip.
Shots taken in tennis towards the back of the court, or near the baseline, which include the forehand and backhand strokes. Groundstrokes are taken following a single ball bounce. They are performed with the tennis racket extended roughly parallel to the ground and with the head of the racket perpendicular to the ground.
42. Half Volley
A variation of the volley shot taken immediately after the ball bounces. Typically, half-volleys are hit in front, low to the ground, and close to a player’s feet. Generally speaking, a half-volley is not a shot of choice. It is more of a defensive shot used to keep play alive.
Players are sometimes forced to take a half-volley when positioned too far back from the net to perform a regular volley. Experienced players will often place the ball at a player’s feet to make it more difficult for them to return the ball, resulting in a half-volley.
43. Handle, Racket
The bottom end of a tennis racket used to grip the racket by hand. Racket handles are shaped in an octagonal pattern with 8 bevels (sides) in total. Racket handles are typically wrapped with a leather or polyurethane material to provide a better grip.
The reason racket handles are shaped as an octagon is to improve comfort and grip. If only 4-sided, a handle would feel uncomfortable. If circular or oval, a handle would not provide enough grip. The 8 bevels on a handle help increase the grip.
44. Hard Court
A hard court is a painted tennis court made of synthetic/acrylic layers on top of a concrete or asphalt foundation. It is one of the most common types of court surfaces, which also include clay and natural grass.
Its popularity is greatly due to its low maintenance requirements. Unlike grass courts that need to be nurtured, cut, and watered regularly and clay courts that also require brushing, repainting, and watering, hard courts require little maintenance other than refinishing the surface from time to time.
45. Head, Racket
The top end of a tennis racket where contact with the tennis ball is made. The racket head is strung with strings through grommets and openings in the head beam. Racket heads can vary in size and shape, with standard, mid-size, mid-plus and oversize being most common.
Racket head sizes are measured both in square inches and square millimeters. Generally speaking, the larger the head size, the more power a racket will produce. The most commonly used head sizes today are the mid-size and mid-plus since they offer the best combination of power and control.
The term “hit” is used to describe the act of performing a shot in tennis. It can also refer to practicing the sport in a non-competitive setting. If a player says “let’s go hit”, they are looking to practice primarily their groundstrokes and potentially other shots as well.
47. Hopper, Ball
A ball hopper is a basket used to collect tennis balls and hold them during practice or training. Used primarily by coaches or trainers, they allow the instructor to feed a player multiple balls without needing to stop play in order to pick them up.
They are also convenient to have when practicing serves alone. The hopper allows you to store a large number of balls so they are immediately available to use in your service practice or any other type of repetitive stroke training.
In tennis, the term “hold” refers to a player having won their service game. In theory (though not always in practice), a player is expected to win the Games where they are serving. If they manage to do so, they are able to “hold” their serve. If they do not, this is referred to as a “service break”.
49. Kick Serve
A type of serve that induces a very high bounce or kick on the ball when landing. Kick serves can be very difficult to return, particularly for recreational players, due to the action of the ball after landing.
The kick serve is performed by striking the back of a tennis ball diagonally from bottom to top in order to produce heavy amounts of spin on the ball. Of all the serve techniques, it is perhaps the most difficult to execute.
During service, a ball must clear the net and land in the correct service box for it to count as good. If it does not fully clear (touches) the net, but manages to go over and land in the correct service box it is referred to as a “let”.
When a serve is a let, it has to be repeated. In theory, a let can go on indefinitely until the ball either clears the net or lands in the net, resulting in a fault.
A lob is a high trajectory, arching shot, typically taken to beat a player when they are up at the net. A lob can also be a defensive shot used to allow a player to get back into position due to its high trajectory and hang time.
A ball that lands beyond the boundary lines of the court and is considered “out”. On the serve, a ball is long if it lands beyond the service line. During groundstrokes, volleys, lobs, and all other shots other than a serve, a ball is considered long if it lands beyond the baseline.
A ball that is long is out and, therefore, the player who hit the shot loses the point. If a ball lands outside of the sidelines, it is considered wide rather than long.
In scoring, the term “Love” in tennis is the equivalent of zero points. When a Game starts, the score is said to be Love-Love. Once a player wins the next point, the score moves to 15-Love or Love-15, depending on whether the server wins the point or the service returner.
As an example, If the same player wins the next three points, the score goes to 30-Love, 40-Love, and finally Game. In other words, a player’s score remains at Love until they win a point or the Game comes to an end.
In tennis, a match is the full duration of competitive play. A match is comprised of Sets, which in turn are comprised of Games. Depending on how the scoring of a match is predetermined, a player can win a match in a single set, by winning two sets (best of 3), or by winning three sets (best of 5).
55. Match Point
When a player is one point away from winning a match, the next point is referred to as “Match Point”. The term is used to alert the players or opponent that the match is about to end on the next point. If the player fails to win the next point but is leading by a few points, the next point is once again match point.
56. Natural Grass (Court)
The traditional court surface used in tennis dating back to the late 1800s and mostly popularized in England at Wimbledon. Natural grass requires a high degree of maintenance, so few places have grass courts.
Natural grass courts are characterized by a very slick, fast surface, and unpredictable ball bounces. Professional grass courts are extremely well maintained, but often recreational grass courts are not, making playing on them highly unpredictable and challenging.
A woven fabric or metal barricade which divides a tennis court in half and is supported by a cable at the top and net posts at each end. For a shot in tennis to be considered in, it must both clear the height of the net and land within the boundaries of the court.
One variation to this is shots taken very wide relative to the sidelines where the ball passes along the side of the net post and lands in. Regardless of the height of the shot, in this instance, the ball is good if it lands within the court boundaries.
58. Net Post
Metal posts located at each end of a tennis net and used to support the net structurally. In addition to the net being attached, the net posts also house and support the tension cable which holds up the net.
59. Open String Pattern
Refers to a stringing pattern with fewer mains and cross strings than a closed string pattern. An open string pattern usually has 16 mains and 18 crosses (16×18). This results in a greater trampoline effect than a closed string pattern, and therefore greater power.
On the downside, open string patterns tend to break more easily since the strings are likely to shift more. Additionally, while providing greater power, open string rackets offer less control than closed string patterns.
Any stroke in tennis taken by swinging the racket above one’s head. Technically this includes the serve as well, though for the most part an overhead is used to refer to a smash shot.
A layer added to the grip of a racket. Overgrips are primarily used to increase the grip of a racket. They tend to be a bit more sticky than regular grips and also help to better absorb sweat. Overgrips can also be used to thicken the racket handle a bit if the original grip is slightly too small.
The term pace in tennis refers to the speed of a ball after contact with the racket. A shot can be hit with heavy pace (a hard, powerful shot) or no pace (a lightly hit ball) and everything in between.
A shot can be hit with a lot of pace or little pace. When returning either hard hit or weak shot, a player either takes pace off the ball or adds pace to the ball.
63. Passing Shot
A shot hit past an opponent when they are up at the net. Typically, passing shots are hit down the line. However, a cross-court passing shot is also possible, they just occur less often since the player at the net is likely to make contact with the ball.
The effect of a tennis racket pushing a tennis ball forward. Plow-through refers to how a racket “feels” at the moment of impact with a ball. A racket with good plow-through will feel solid and stable and drive the ball hard.
In theory, heavier rackets will have better plow-through than lighter rackets. However, modern racket designs have become better at balancing weight and stability, so that often lighter rackets can have good plow-through as well.
In tennis, a rally is the continuation of groundstroke shots during a single point between two opponents. Rallies are characterized by extended back and forth shots from players at opposite ends of the court.
A rally starts with a serve, a return, and then continues with various groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, or any other type of return until the point is won and the rally ends.
66. Ready Position
Starting position used before setting up and executing a shot. When a player is in the ready position, they have their racket out in front, knees slightly bent, weight on the front of their feet and eyes fixed on the ball. This allows them to react more quickly to the oncoming shot.
67. Return, Service
Return shot following a serve. Typically a player will stand near the baseline to execute a service return. A player will return the ball for a full Game until the Game ends. At this point, the players switch between serving and returning the serve.
68. Semi-Western Grip
A grip position used on both the forehand and backhand sides. On the forehand side, the semi-western grip is located one bevel further clockwise from the Eastern grip and two bevels clockwise from the continental grip.
On the backhand side, a semi-western backhand grip is located one bevel further counter-clockwise than an eastern backhand grip and two bevels further counter-clockwise that a continental grip.
69. Service (Serve)
An overhead stroke used in tennis to initiate a point. The serve is the only stroke along with the smash shot that is hit overhead. Serves must be placed into the service box located diagonally from the server’s side of the court.
In addition to the shot placement, servers must be careful not to step on or over the baseline when serving. Serves are initiated with a service toss and then followed through with an overhead motion. There are various types of spin used on a serve, including topspin, slice, and the kick serve. Additionally, serves can be hit flat, with minimal spin.
70. Service Box
An area defined by the net and three surrounding service lines: the far service line, the middle service line, and the singles sideline. Serves must land in the service box located cross-court from where the server is positioned.
A tennis court has four service boxes, two on each side of the court. Serves must land within the service box or on the service lines to count as good. The service box area is also commonly used for volley shots, particularly during doubles play.
71. Service Line(s)
There are effectively three lines that comprise a service box, in addition to the net. The far service line is located just past the halfway point between the net and the service line. The center service line divides the two service boxes on each side of the court.
Finally, the third boundary is the singles sideline portion between the net and the far service line. Serves must land on or within the service lines to count as in.
72. Service Break
When the server loses their service Game, or alternatively the service returner wins the Game, it is referred to as a “service break”. The term “break” implies to an extent that the player who is serving is expected to “hold” serve.
In practice, this is not always the case, since otherwise, you would end up with a perpetually tied match. If the Game results in a service break, the server has simply not managed to win on serve. Viewed another way, the returner has stopped them from doing so, that is, broken their serve.
A “Set” in tennis is comprised of a number of Games, with 6 being the minimum. A player needs to reach at least 6 Games with a minimum margin of 2 (For example, 6-4 or 7-5) to win the set. If a Set is tied at 6 Games a piece (6-6), a tie-breaker is usually played to determine the winner of the Set.
In some professional tournaments, the French Open, for example, play continues until one of the players wins the Set by a margin of two Games. This has resulted in some very long matches in the past. However, the most common way of determining the winner during a 6-6 tied is to play the tie-breaker.
74. Set Point
When a player is one point away from winning the Set, this is referred to as “Set Point”. If the player with the lead wins the ensuing point, they win the Set. If the player has a wide enough margin during a Game (e.g., 40-Love or 40-15), then Set Point can be repeated.
The act of moving or shuffling your feet sideways during play. Side-stepping is used extensively in tennis, more so than just about any other sport. Typically, sidestepping is used in between groundstrokes such as the forehand and backhand.
However, sidestepping can also be performed during volleys and even on overhead shots which require adjustment either to the side or backward. On overhead smash shots, it’s common to side-step back towards the baseline.
77. Singles Match
A match played in tennis between two players, one on each side of the court. Singles matches are played within the singles sideline boundaries (27 feet (8.2 m) apart). This differs from doubles matches which utilize the full width of the court (36 feet (11 m) wide).
In a singles match, two players alternate between serving and returning serve for a full Game. The switch between serve and return of serve occurs once a Game is won. In the event of a tie-breaker, players switch serves every two points.
78. Singles Sideline
The singles sideline is the boundary used in a singles match along the width of the court. Singles sidelines are separated by 27 feet (8.2 m) in distance. During a singles match, the ball must land either on or within the singles sideline to count as good.
Slice is a type of spin used on a tennis ball during serves and groundstrokes. To impart slice on a ball, players brush the back of a ball in a sideways direction. For right-handed players, this would be from left to right.
The term slice is also commonly used to describe an underspin or backspin shot on groundstrokes. While this is not 100 percent correct from a technical standpoint since the direction of spin differs, it has come to be used interchangeably with the term slice.
80. Slice Serve
A serve where the ball is struck on the back side from one side to the other. A right-handed player, for example, would brush the back side of the ball from left to right to execute a slice serve.
This technique creates a spin effect on the ball which causes it to curve slightly and spin away from the opponent after landing in the service box. Slice serves are more commonly used on second serves, though that does not necessarily have to be the case.
The smash is an overhead shot which uses a technique similar to a serve, but with a shortened backswing. Typically, the smash is struck in front of a player and slightly to the side in an overhead motion.
Smash shots are most commonly executed following a lob shot. Generally, players are lobbed when up at the net and use the smash as a return shot while up at the net. However, smash shots can also be hit further back, even from the baseline.
82. Split Step
A small hop off the floor (about 1-2 inches) just before initiating a stroke. The split step is used to create a quick bounce off your feet to react to a shot placed either on your forehand or backhand side.
By hopping slightly off the ground, you can create a coil effect that allows you to move quickly in any direction. Usually, the split step is timed as the ball bounces on the opponent’s side, just before they make contact.
83. Stance, Open
A type of stance used when performing a stroke where the body is positioned relatively parallel to the net. This differs from a traditional closed stance where the body is turned sideways relative to the net.
In reality, during an open stance, the body needs to rotate around the torso so that, as the shot is hit, it is more angled towards the net. Likewise, the feet need to be slightly angled towards the corner post rather than perfectly perpendicular to the net.
84. Stance, Closed
Traditional stance used when performing a stroke where the body is turned sideways to the net. In a closed stance, the front shoulder and hip are facing towards the net and the feet are effectively parallel to the net.
In practice, the back foot is about parallel with the net while the front foot is angled towards the corner post.
85. Stiffness (Racket)
Racket stiffness refers to how much flexibility a racket has during impact. A stiff frame will tend to not flex much relative to a flexible frame. Generally speaking, a stiffer frame will generate greater power, however, it will also transmit more shock to the arm.
When selecting a frame, it’s important to consider stiffness. Ideally, you want to balance power with comfort, particularly if you have issues with your arm. Players with tennis elbow or other arm problems would likely want to opt for a racket frame that is less stiff and more flexible.
86. Strings, Natural Gut
A type of string used on tennis rackets that is made from the intestines of a cow. First introduced in 1875 by Babolat, natural gut strings continue to be the top choice among professional players. It is the most expensive type of string on the market and is characterized by a fairly short lifespan before breakage.
Natural gut has a very soft feel when hitting the ball and high dwell time (the time the ball is on the strings). It also absorbs shock very well, making it a good choice for arm pain sufferers. These are the main reasons why it has remained popular among top players over the years.
87. Strings, Nylon
A cheaper alternative to natural gut, nylon strings are synthetic strings used on tennis rackets. The quality and construction of nylon strings can vary widely. At the most basic end are solid core nylon strings, the most durable type of string, but very hard on the arm.
On the other end of the spectrum are multifilament nylons, created by binding hundreds or thousands of fibers together. This type of string has better shock absorption and offers the closest thing in terms of feel to natural gut, but at a more affordable price.
The act of hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket. In tennis, the term stroke also implies a specific type of stroke such as the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, and overhead stroke among others.
89. Sweet Spot
The central area of a tennis racket string bed. Hitting the ball in the sweet spot is the goal of tennis when performing any shot. By hitting the ball in the sweet spot, a player can generate the most amount of power and control the shot more effectively.
Technological advances in the construction of rackets and an increase in the size of racket heads in recent years have improved and increased the size of the sweet spot in most modern rackets.
90. Tension, String
Refers to how tightly strings are set within the racket head. Usually, rackets come with a recommended string tension range. Higher string tensions result in more control, while lower string tensions provide more of a trampoline effect when striking the ball, resulting in greater power.
91. Thirty (30)
In scoring, thirty (30) is the equivalent in tennis of having two points. The scoring sequence in tennis is as follows: Love (0 points), 15 (1 point), 30 (2 points), 40 (3 points), and Game at which point the player wins the Game.
If both players are tied with 40 each, the score goes to Deuce and one of the players has to win by two consecutive points. If they fail to do so, the score returns to Deuce until someone can win two points in a row.
92. Throat (Racket)
The throat of a racket is the portion between the handle and the head. In modern rackets, it begins at the top of the handle and splits into two sections that connect to the head.
Typically shaped like a “V”, the throat has an opening in the center. The opening takes weight off the racket and is where most of the flex in a racket comes from. A stiff racket will provide less flex at the throat of a racket to generate more power.
A tie-breaker in tennis is played when the Set score is 6-6. The player who last received serve becomes the server once the tie-break begins. At the end of the first point, the players switch serves. They continue to do so every 2 points until the tie-break ends.
A player needs to reach 7 points to win the tie-breaker. However, in the event of a 6-6 tie, one of the players needs to win by a margin of two. Players switch sides (change over) every 6 points during a tie-breaker.
A technique used in tennis to impart forward rotational spin on a ball. Topspin can be used on serves as well as on groundstrokes. To create a topspin effect, the trajectory of swing needs to be upward and simultaneously forward (diagonal), and the tilt of the racket needs to be slightly closed (angled down).
Topspin is one of the most common types of spin used in modern tennis. It allows the player to hit the ball with full pace while causing the ball to drop quickly after it clears the net so that it remains within the boundaries of the court.
This effect is the result of the heavy forward rotation of the ball. Additionally, topspin causes the tennis ball to bounce aggressively towards the baseline, making it more challenging for the opponent to return the ball.
95. Topspin Serve
A type of service technique that generates topspin on a tennis ball. Using topspin on the serve helps create a strong drop on the ball after it clears the net. Additionally, it produces an aggressive bounce on the ball once it lands.
Topspin on a serve is achieved by striking the tennis ball somewhere between the mid-point of the back of the ball and the top of the ball. The motion of the swing is up and though, rather than just straight down.
96. Toss, Service
The service toss is used at the beginning of a serve to guide the ball up overhead. Placement of the service toss takes practice. Generally speaking, the toss should be placed in front of the player and slightly to the side.
This placement works well for slice serves, flat serves, and even topspin serves. However, kick serve tosses are sometimes placed more directly above the head. Ideally, you want to consistently place the ball the same for all tosses and adjust your stoke to the toss.
The term “touch” in tennis refers to the ability to play a shot with more “feel” than power. This usually translates to taking some pace off the ball. While a good part of tennis involves power-hitting, touch is an important factor in some shots such as the drop shot.
The drop shot requires “touch” because it is supposed to just clear the net and bounce low. If hit too hard, the ball will travel too far. If hit too soft, the ball will land in the net. For this reason, the drop shot is said to require a great deal of touch.
A shot taken up at the net without the ball bouncing on the court surface. Volleys can be hit both on the forehand and backhand sides. The technique on a volley differs from other strokes in that the swing is shortened and hit further out in front.
A variation of the volley is the half volley, which unlike the volley is played with one bounce off the ground. The volley is used in both singles and doubles tennis, however, it is more prevalent in doubles play since usually, at least one player sets up at the net for each team.
A “wall ” is a universal term for a free-standing wall or backboard used for practicing tennis. It is one of the most common ways of practicing tennis alone. Most shots can be practiced against a wall including serves, overheads, forehands, backhands, and volleys.
100. Western Grip
The western grip is a grip formation used primarily for forehand shots. It is considered an extreme grip in the sense that the racket head ends up extremely closed (facing down) when performing a stroke.
The western grip is found by rotating the hand one bevel further clockwise (for right-handed players) than the semi-western grip. If using the continental grip as a point of reference, the western grip is three bevels clockwise from the continental grip.
A ball that lands outside of the sidelines is considered “wide”, in other words, out. Since the ball lands outside of the court boundaries, it results in a loss of the point by the player who hit the shot.
In addition to the sidelines, a serve that lands outside of the service lines to either side is considered wide as well. Keep in mind that a shot that lands on the service lines or on the sidelines is not out, it is considered good.
That completes the list of 101 tennis terms. While not exhaustive, this list should give you a good start in understanding the range of terminology used in the game. You can come back to this list from time to time as you come across terms on the website that you are not immediately familiar with.
If you would like more information on the terms used in this list, be sure to check out the article Tennis Rules: Guide to Scoring and Tennis Basics. It will provide a more complete overview of the terms listed and explain a bit more how they are put to practice.
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