Tennis is considered to be the 4th most popular sport in the world. Standing behind only soccer, basketball, and cricket, tennis has an estimated fan base of over 1 billion fans and is considered one of the most global sports of all. While cricket is very popular in India and basketball is very popular in the US, tennis fans are spread out everywhere across the world. In addition, the 4 Grand Slams are some of the most-watched sporting events in the world, and these numbers are growing year after year.
Tennis is also one of the sports with the largest number of players across the world. In 2019, the ITF (International Tennis Federation) published a study that claims that there are currently about 87 million active tennis players in the world.
There are several reasons behind tennis’ popularity, which include: 1) It can be played from a young age until a very advanced age; 2) It is a great workout to stay in shape; 3) It has a great social aspect to it, which allows players to make friends and network; and 4) It only requires 2 players and very little equipment.
If you are considering learning tennis but you don’t know where to start, you have come to the right place. While we understand that learning this new sport can be intimidating, we will do our very best to make it easy and exciting for you. We will break everything down in a way that even the absolute beginner can understand. And at the end of the day, if you still have any questions, feel free to let us know and we guarantee we will try to help you out.
The important thing to remember is that tennis is not as difficult as it seems and that you can (and will) learn how to play quickly. So don’t get discouraged and stick through with it, and most importantly – have fun!
The content below is structured in the following way:
- Equipment You’ll Need
- The Basics
- The Nice-To-Haves
- Finding A Tennis Court Near You
- Understanding The Tennis Court
- The Court Lines
- The Court Areas
- Understanding Tennis Shots
- Forehand Volley
- Backhand Volley
- Understand The Basic Rules
- Understand How The Scoring System Works
- Tennis Etiquette 101
Equipment You Will Need
While sometimes tennis may be considered a sport reserved for the wealthy, the reality is very different. While playing tennis competitively is, in fact, expensive, playing it recreationally requires few players and very little equipment.
Below, we have come up with two different lists: the first one outlines the absolute basic equipment you will need, while the second one mentions some equipment that is nice to have. If this is one of your first few times playing, we highly recommend that you stick to the basics until you decide if this is a sport you want to pursue. If you know for a fact that you like to play tennis, you might want to go ahead and invest in some of the nice-to-have equipment.
Tennis Equipment List – The Basics
- Tennis Racket: Choosing a tennis racket can be very overwhelming since there are so many options out there. As a general guideline, you should stick to rackets from these 7 brands. If you’re willing to invest some more, I would recommend sticking to Babolat, Head, or Wilson rackets. You can visit a tennis shop near you to get some custom guidance, but in general, when looking for a good tennis racquet brand, you should look for racquets that are known to last for a long time, that will give you control and power, that will be gentle on your body, and that will not become outdated. You can get a pretty decent racket for somewhere between $100 and $150.
- Tennis Balls: You will also find a multitude of tennis ball options in stores, but we recommend that you stick to one of 3 types: Penn Championship Tennis Balls, Wilson US Open Extra Duty Tennis Balls, and Wilson Championship Extra Duty Balls. These 3 balls are the best and most popular among tennis players, and they can be purchased through the Amazon links above, at Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or your local tennis shop. Tennis balls get old after a few playing sessions, so you will need to purchase new ones as they become old. You should not pay more than $5 for a can of balls.
- Tennis Overgrip: When you buy a new racket, most of the time it will not come with an overgrip on it. Overgrips are used to absorb sweat, give a better grip, and add comfort when holding the racket. Playing without an overgrip will not be optimal, so you should buy one (they are very cheap). One of my favorite grips is the White Wilson Pro Comfort Overgrip, and you can usually find it at most tennis stores. While they are cheaper if bought in bigger quantities, you can usually find individual ones for sale as well. You should pay about $5 to $10 dollars for 3 overgrips.
- Tennis Shoes: You should avoid going on a tennis court while wearing regular workout shoes since they are usually not stable enough and can easily lead to injuries. Tennis shoes are specially designed to provide the right level of comfort and protection. My favorite tennis shoe brand is Asics, but Nike, Adidas, and New Balance have great options as well. While the best tennis shoes are priced in the $150 range, you can get decent starting pairs for about $70.
- Workout Clothes: Finally, you will also need workout clothes to play tennis. You don’t need to spend money on getting new clothes at first, so just pick any clothes that are breathable, flexible, and comfortable. Seriously, any shorts, leggings, and t-shirts will do. Also, make sure you always wear socks if you don’t want to end up with blisters all over your feet.
With the equipment mentioned above, you should be ready to get to the court and start playing. While it is not necessarily cheap, you could get a pretty decent starting kit for $225. And remember that you will be able to reuse this equipment multiple times, which ends up being a good investment.
Tennis Equipment List – The Nice-To-Haves
The equipment listed below is not necessary for the beginner tennis player, but it is quite useful for the more advanced ones. So, if you’ve decided that you want to continue developing your tennis game, you might want to consider investing in the items below.
- Tennis Bag: As you start accumulating more and more tennis equipment, it will become quite inconvenient to carry all of your stuff around. That is when you might want to consider investing in a tennis bag. A tennis bag will have enough room for several rackets, balls, and everything else you might want to bring on the court. You can either buy a tennis backpack or a bag for 3 or 6 rackets, depending on how much equipment you have. Most tennis players usually buy a tennis bag of the same brand as their racket’s, but it’s completely fine to buy from a different brand.
- Tennis Strings: The more you play (and the more topspin you hit shots with), the more worn out your strings will become. As strings become used, they begin losing tension, and eventually, the friction between the horizontal and vertical strings will break the strings. Once the strings break, you will need to replace them as you have little control when playing with broken strings. This is when it comes in handy to have a set of tennis strings in your bag, so you can immediately have your racket restrung. The string you choose will have a big impact on your game, but when you’re just starting out it won’t matter too much.
- Dampener: Using or not using a dampener is a matter of preference. A dampener will reduce the vibration of the racket when you strike the ball, and some players prefer it like that. It is a common myth that a dampener will reduce the risk of tennis elbow, but that is not correct.
- Wristband: Some players enjoy wearing wristbands, as they can help your hands to stay dry during the points. If you normally play in extremely hot or humid weather, you should plan on having some wristbands in your tennis bag. It can be very difficult to play tennis if you’re sweating so much that you can barely hold your racket. I always had sweatbands I’m my bag in case of emergency.
- Water Bottle: Buying a thermal water bottle is completely optional, as you can easily just keep buying new plastic bottles all the time. However, if you do decide to buy one, you end up saving some money in the long-run and you can keep your water cold for long periods of time.
- Towel: Lastly, it’s pretty important to always have a towel with you when playing tennis. Unless you’re playing in cold and dry weather, you will eventually start sweating. The sweat will then get to your hands, and it will be quite hard to hold your racket. In some cases, you might even let the racket slip during a serve and breaking it (been there, done that). Having a cheap towel can help you avoid that.
Finding A Tennis Court Near You
Once you have the tennis equipment you need, you should find a tennis court near you. In some cases, you will need to join a country club or a gym with tennis courts. If you need to do so, you will have to pay but you will most likely also have access to a tennis league (which is pretty nice). If you’re trying to learn tennis by yourself, however, I recommend that you wait to join a club and instead try to look for free and public courts nearby. Some countries don’t have public courts everywhere, but the US has many of them. You may have a park nearby or even a high school with tennis courts, and you can usually use those for free.
There are a few websites which you can use to locate tennis courts near you, including:
Understanding The Tennis Court
Once you have your equipment and you have found a court to play, it is time to move on to the actual tennis game. Before you can learn the rules and how to hit specific shots, it is necessary that you understand the layout of the tennis court and what each basic shot means. By understanding those, it will be much easier to learn the rules.
Tennis Court Lines
The picture above contains the name of every line on a tennis court. This is the purpose of each line:
- Baseline: The baseline indicates the boundary of the court lengthwise. It serves two purposes: 1) When a player is serving, he or she must stand behind the baseline; and 2) If a player hits a shot that lands past the baseline, the shot is considered out and the player will lose the point.
- Doubles Line: As the name indicates, the doubles line is only relevant during doubles matches. During a doubles match, it indicates the boundary of the court widthwise. During singles matches, it is irrelevant.
- Singles Line: It is the equivalent of the doubles line, but for singles matches. Indicates the widthwise boundaries of the court in a one-vs-one match. Any shot that bounces outside these lines is considered out, which results in the player losing a point.
- Center Service Line: This line is aligned with the center mark, and it divides the court into a left and a right half. As with the center mark and the service line, it is only relevant during a player’s serve. Depending on the score, a player needs to serve either to the right or to the left of this line. If the player misses the target, the serve is considered a miss.
- Service Line: When combined with the center service line, the service line forms the area known as the service box (see below). The service line indicates the lengthwise limit of the area where a player’s serve must land. If a serve lands beyond the service line, it is considered a miss.
- Center Mark: This line’s sole purpose is to indicate where the player who is serving must stand before the serve. A server will start serving a game serving on the right side of the center mark, and will alternate between left and right every point after.
Tennis Court Areas
When the lines above are combined, they end up forming different areas on the tennis court, as you can see below.
- Left and Right Service Boxes: The most important area you should understand now. These are the areas where players need to hit their serves. For now, you just need to understand that a player will have to alternate each point, hitting the right service box in one point and the left one on the next. We’ll explain with more details below.
- Doubles Alley: These areas are only relevant during doubles matches. Think of them as an “extension” to the singles court. Since there are 4 players in a doubles match instead of 2, the court becomes a little bigger.
- Total Court Area: As mentioned above, the doubles court area is bigger than the singles one. A total court area is where every player’s shot (except serves) must land on.
- Net Height: While the net height is not technically an area, it is worth mentioning. Each shot a player hits must clear the net. Otherwise, it is considered an error and results in a lost point.
Understand Tennis Shots
Before moving on to the actual rules of the tennis game, you should become familiar with the 8 basic tennis shots. These are shots that you will need to hit during pretty much every match you play. For now, you just need to know what each shot means. These are the shots:
The serve is the stroke that begins every single point in a tennis match. While one player is serving, the other is receiving, and they take turns after the end of every game. Serves can take different shapes and forms, but they are generally characterized by a movement where the player swings the racket above his head, while still standing behind the baseline.
We have a great resource if you wish to learn how to serve step-by-step, where you will find everything you need. If you’re interested, you can check out our Serving Guide here.
A return is a shot where one player waits to see where the other player’s serve lands and then attempts to hit the ball back to the other side. A return can be executed in several different ways, with a forehand, backhand, slice, block, or chip. The most important aspect of a return is just getting the ball back to the other side, no matter how.
A player hits a forehand when he allows the ball to bounce once on his court before hitting it, and hits it with his dominant side. With very few exceptions, players hit forehands using only one arm. The reason why forehands are called forehands is because normally, the front (fore) of your hand holding the racquet will be facing your opponent.
If you want to dig a little deeper into how to hit forehands step-by-step, you can check our great article on Forehands.
The backhand is the equivalent of the forehand but executed on the player’s non-dominant side. For instance, if a player is right-handed, the backhand will be executed on the left side. If a player is left-handed, the backhand will be executed on the right side. The reason why backhands are called that is that the back of the player’s dominant hand is facing the opponent.
We have a great resource for players looking to learn how to hit backhands better. You can check it out here.
A slice is essentially a variation of the backhand shot. Instead of hitting the ball on the top, your racquet swings through the bottom of the ball. That adds underspin to the shot, so after the ball bounces on the other side, it stays low and close to the ground.
The forehand volley is a fairly simple movement, in which you use only one arm to hit a ball by your dominant side, without letting the ball touch the ground. It requires firm hands and fast reflexes.
The backhand volley looks a lot like a backhand slice, but without letting the ball touch the ground. Once again, a volley usually occurs when you are standing close to the net. A backhand volley always happens on your non-dominant side.
The last basic shot you should become comfortable with is the overhead (also called smash in some countries). You must be standing close to the net and hit the ball without bouncing. You need to hit the ball over your head (similarly to a serve), and that is why this shot is named the way it is.
Understand The Basic Rules
Tennis rules are quite complex, so if you’re looking to get a good understanding of them, I suggest you go through our Ultimate Tennis Rules Guide. There, you’ll find detailed explanations on every rule there is to know.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll keep things shorter and sweeter, giving you a basic understanding – but enough so that you can go out there and start playing.
In essence, the main rule you need to understand is how to play a tennis point. Once you understand that, it is just a matter of understanding how the scoring system works.
In order to start a tennis match, the players need to decide which one of the players will start the match on serve (hitting serve shots). This is usually done by a coin toss, with the winner getting to choose who starts serving. The player who is serving is called the server, and the player not serving is called the receiver. After that step is done, players will start playing the first point.
In order to do so, the player who starts serving must go to his side of the court and stand behind the baseline. On the first point, he will start on the right side of the center mark. On the second, he will start on the left side, and will alternate every point after. In order to successfully start a point, the player who is serving must hit his serve on the service box located over the net and diagonally from him. So if a player is standing on the right side of the court, he needs to hit his serve on the right service box across the net, and vice versa.
A player has the right to two serves on each point. If he misses his first serve, he has another attempt to hit the service box on his second serve. If the player misses both serves (either at the net or outside the service box), he has hit a double fault and consequently lost the point.
If the player was able to hit the serve inside the service box, the point will have officially started. From then on, each player’s goal is to hit the ball over the net and inside the court area, until one of them wins the point. After the ball has bounced on the service box for the first time, players can either hit the ball directly in the air or let it bounce once on their court. This is when the player will hit the shots mentioned earlier (forehand, backhand, slice, forehand volley, backhand volley, and overhead). There are 5 ways a player can win a point:
- If the opponent misses two serves in a row (double fault)
- If the opponent misses a shot at the net
- If the opponent hits a shot over the net, but outside the court area – either long or wide
- If the player hits a shot that goes past her opponent
- If the player hits a shot that bounces twice on the opponent’s court before the opponent can hit it
Understand How Tennis Scoring Works
If you’re looking to learn all the nooks and crannies of the tennis scoring system, we suggest you go through our Tennis Scoring System guide. There, you’ll find all there is to know, in an easily digestible way. In this post, we’ll stick to the basics.
The first part of the scoring system is to understand that tennis follows a pretty unique counting system. When a player wins points, his points will accumulate until he wins a game. Once the player wins enough games, he will win a set. When a player wins multiple sets, he will have finally won the match.
As we have mentioned above, players can win points in 5 different ways. Once they win points, they get on the scoreboard. Instead of counting points like 1, 2, 3, 4, tennis points are counted as 0, 15, 30, and 40. So if the player who is serving wins the first point of the match, the score goes to 15 x 0. If he loses the first point, the score is 0 x 15 (you always count the score of the server first).
Once a player has a point score of 40 and wins another point, he will have won a game. If both players are tied at 40 x 40 (also called deuce), the first player to obtain a margin of two points wins the game. So if the score is 40 x 40, the counting sequence is 40 → Ad → Game. If the score is Ad x 40 and the player with Ad loses the point, the score goes back to 40 x 40.
After a player wins a game, the point score goes back to 0 x 0 and the server and receiver switch roles. Players keep accumulating games until one of them wins 6 games. Whenever a player wins 6 games, he will have won a set. If players are tied at 5 games to 5, the first one to win 7 wins the set. If the players tie again at 6 games to 6, they need to play a tiebreak.
A tiebreak is a special type of game, designed to break a tie between two players (hence the name). The point scoring system in a tiebreak works differently than other games (0, 15, 30, 40), and you should count the points using the regular numerical system (0, 1, 2, 3, …). The first player to reach a total of 7 points wins the tiebreak, and consequently the set. If players are tied at 6 points to 6 in the tiebreak, the first player to obtain a 2-point margin wins the tiebreak.
The serving turns also work differently during a tiebreak. The player who begins serving serves for one point, and then the players switch roles. From then on, each player will serve for two points until the tiebreak is over. The player who started the tiebreak as the receiver begins the new set as the server.
In most tournaments, the first player to win 2 sets wins the match. During Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open), a player needs to win 3 sets in order to win a match.
Below is a video tutorial we made on how the tennis scoring system works.
Tennis Etiquette 101
If you’ve made it to this point, I can tell you you’re officially ready to start playing tennis! Before we wrap up, we wanted to touch on a few last points that you should know. These points are part of what tennis players consider as tennis etiquette, or unspoken code of ethics that every tennis player is expected to follow. If you’re expecting to continue your tennis learning journey, you should keep the following points in mind.
- Don’t yell, scream, or curse on a tennis court
- Wear outfits and gear that are appropriate to tennis
- Silence your phone and don’t talk on it during a match
- Do not yell or speak when your opponent is about to hit a shot
- While you’re responsible for the line calls (in or out) on your side of the court, you should always rule it in favor of your opponent when in doubt. If you’re not 100% sure your opponent’s shot was out, you should call it in
- Even though it’s ok to question your opponent’s call every now and then, don’t keep questioning it after every point
- If there’s an extra ball on the court, you should stop the point and remove the ball. You will both have to repeat the point, but that will keep everybody away from injuries
- Don’t try to distract your opponent when he or she is serving by making noises or sudden movements
- Play according to your opponent’s rhythm when he or she is serving
- When you’re serving, wait until your opponent is ready to receive
- Don’t celebrate your points in your opponent’s face
- Shake your opponent’s hand at the end of the match. Don’t be a sore loser!
You made it! You now have all the knowledge you need in order to become a tennis player. Now, all you need to do is get out on the court and start practicing. And most importantly, have fun! Tennis is a wonderful sport that has given me some amazing experiences and opportunities in life that I would have never had otherwise, so I will forever be an advocate for this sport.
If you have decided that you want to continue learning about tennis, you are always welcome to come back to My Tennis HQ as we’re always releasing new content for all levels of tennis players. Our mission is to make you a better tennis player, so we hope we can help you. Also, if you have any questions, let us know in the comments section below.