Tennis Match Etiquette & Rules

Especially at more recreational skill levels of interscholastic play, it’s important to know not only the rules of tennis, but also basic etiquette.

The USTA Code of Conduct, written to help players in unofficiated matches, provides a number of solutions to sticky scenarios which arise in these types of matches. Following are some basic rules and guidelines that cover common courtesy for tennis matches.

Warm up Your Opponent
Warm up is not practice; it is warm up, for your opponent as well as yourself. This means hitting balls directly to the opponent and at a reasonable pace. Generally, you should not return serves during the warm up, unless you ask your opponent for permission. Doubles teams may warm up with each other, rather than their opponents.

Call the Score Before Each Point
This not only ensures that players are on the same wavelength before each point and avoids later disputes, calling the score before serving lets the receiver know the point is about to begin. The server should call the score before each point, NOT the receiver.

Do not Return Serves that are Obviously Out
If a serve is obviously long or wide, the Code of Conduct requires player to hit the ball into the net in front of them, or make sure it is secure in the fence behind them. It’s considered a form of rudeness to hit serves that are obviously out back over the net. Continuing to do so can be considered unsportsmanlike and a delay of game.

Play to the Reasonable Pace of the Server
While the rules allow up to 20 seconds in between points for recovery, the receiver must play to the reasonable pace of the server, which is generally considered around 10-12 seconds after the last point ended. Receivers should not stall and servers should not rush, even if they prefer to start the next point immediately. Additionally, if the receiver is not ready when the ball is served, he or she should make no attempt to return the ball. If the receiver makes a stab at a serve, and then tries to claim he or she wasn’t ready, the receiver is out of luck. Just hold up your hand and say, “I wasn’t ready.”

Players are not allowed to use the 20 seconds to regain condition (i.e., catch your breath for an extended period of time). The time between points is for retrieving balls, quickly toweling off and preparing to start the next point. Obviously, you don’t need to rush between each point — the normal pace of getting ready for the next point should give you time to catch your breath.

If one player stands off to the side of the court to catch his breath after every point, this is stalling. If you’re not in shape to play a competitive tennis match, you need to work no your conditioning. It’s not fair to leave your opponent standing in the sun for hours while you recover each point.

When in Doubt, Call it “In”
If there is any doubt, give the call to your opponent. If you honestly can’t see a call, you may ask your opponent if they saw the ball. If they saw the ball, they should make the call. If they didn’t, then you must give them the call.

According to Friend at Court, “Player calls own shots out. With the exception of the first serve, a player should call out the player’s own shots if the player clearly sees the ball out regardless of whether requested to do so by an opponent. The prime objective in making calls is accuracy. All players should cooperate to attain this objective.”

There are no “do overs” if you are not sure of a call.

In years past, a player could reverse an out call and replay the point if the player put the ball back in play with force (not a weak sitter that would have lost her the point anyway). Doubles team who disagreed on calls could also replay a point if they put the ball back in play.

This is no longer the case. If you call a good ball “out,” you must give the point to your opponent.

Don’t Interrupt Other Courts
In order not to interrupt a point on the next court, or delay your match, simply roll balls into the fence behind and between fences if the other court is involved in a point. This will allow you to begin your point, and allow the players on the next court to retrieve their ball without interfering with your point. Do not roll balls behind players involved in a point, even if it’s well behind them and into their fence; their opponent can see the ball rolling behind them.

Keep Balls Dry
If you sweat to the point that your shorts become soaked, do not put balls in your pocket if this causes the balls to begin to absorb the moisture in your pockets. This can be considered tampering with the equipment and you can be penalized for it. If you sweat this much and use a two-handed backhand, you’ll have to come up with a remedy for this situation, as you may not place a ball on the ground near your feet when serving.

Educate Spectators
Do not applaud double faults or missed shots. If your fans heckle opposing players, you can expect twice that many fans waiting for your team when you come to their school!

Discussing these simple rules of etiquette prior to matches will help your players maintain a sportsmanlike match atmosphere during even the toughest matches.

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