Tennis can be quite an overwhelming sport when you’re just starting, as you need to not only learn how to hit your shots but also need to learn what everything means and how they are connected. If you feel like you can use some clarity on what some tennis terms mean, you have come to the right place.
Below we have compiled a list of all the tennis terms you need to know, accompanied by their meaning and/or definition. This list was written by a former college and professional tennis player, and it was written in a way that even beginners can understand.
If by any chance you have a term that you still cannot understand or that is not on this list, please let us know in the comment section below and we’ll get back to you with an answer.
Tennis Terms – A
Ace: An ace happens when a player hits a serve that cannot be returned by his or her opponent. It usually means that it was a great serve.
Ad-In & Ad-Out: This is another way to refer to the points that come after 40×40 in the tennis scoring system (see Advantage). If the game is tied at 40×40, Player A is serving, and Player A wins the point, the score will be Ad-In. On the other hand, if the player who is receiving wins the point, the score will be Ad-Out.
Advantage: Tennis has a complex scoring system, and the term advantage is used to count the point that comes after the game is tied at 40×40 (deuce). If the game is tied at 40×40 and Player A wins the point, the score will then be “Advantage Player A”.
Alley: The portion of the court that is used only during doubles matches. Also called doubles alley, you can think of it as an “extension” to the singles court.
Approach Shot: Approach shots can be executed using either the forehand or the backhand, and they can be hit with either slice or topspin. All it means is that the player is hitting a shot and then transitioning to the net, or “approaching” the net.
ATP: ATP stands for Association of Tennis Professionals. This is the organization that rules pretty much everything related to the men’s tennis at the top level (with the exception of Grand Slams). They have a say on rankings, tournaments, and tennis rules.
Australian Open: The first Grand Slam of the year, the tournament is played in Melbourne in January and is played on hard courts.
Tennis Terms – B
Backhand: The backhand is another one of the main shots in a tennis game. It 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. Backhands can either be one-handed or two-handed.
Bagel: Informal term to refer to a set with a score of 6×0. You don’t want to get a “bagel” – it can be humiliating.
Ball Abuse: If, out of frustration or anger, a player hits a ball in an aggressive way (while not in play), whether directed towards the opponent, the crowd, the umpire, or anywhere else in his or her surroundings, he or she will have committed a ball abuse. During the match, the player will either receive a warning, a point penalty, or a game penalty – all of which may or may not be accompanied by fines.
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.
Breakpoint: If a player is receiving (returning), and he or she gets to a score of 0x40, 15×40, 30×40, or Ad-Out, he or she will have a breakpoint. It means that he or she is one point away from “breaking” their opponent’s serve.
Bye: A bye happens when a player advances through the first round of a tournament without having to play – usually because he or she is one of the top ranked players in the tournament (see seed).
Tennis Terms – C
Call: A call is an indication of whether a shot was IN or OUT. They are usually referred to as line calls, and at the top level, they are done by umpires. At the club level, players make their own calls.
Carpet: One of the 4 most common court surfaces, even though there are no ATP or Grand Slams played on it anymore. This is one of the fastest court surfaces you can play on.
Challenge: At the top level tournaments, players can “challenge” line calls they do not agree with. They are allowed a certain amount of challenges during each set, and they need to let the umpire know when they want to challenge a call. If that happens, a video-analysis of the shot will be replayed and show whether the shot was in or out.
Challenger: The level of tournaments that comes before the “big league ones” (ATP Tournaments). These tournaments are usually played by players ranked between 80 and 350 in the world, and they offer significantly less prize money than top tournaments.
Changeover: A changeover is the term used for when players need to switch sides on the court. It happens once after the very first game of each set, then after every 2 games played.
Chip-And-Charge: When a player returns a serve using a slice shot and goes to the net immediately after.
Clay Court: Clay courts are the second most frequently seen courts on tour, being extremely popular in South America and Europe. It is the surface of the French Open, and it is a slow and bouncy surface.
Code Violation: A code violation is a punishment given to a player by an umpire because the player acted in a way that goes against the Code of Conduct. It is usually because the player received coaching, or because the player committed a ball, racket, or verbal abuse.
Continental: The continental grip is a way to grip the racket when you are playing. The Continental grip is the foundation of every beginner tennis player’s game. Since this grip is ideal for shots like serves, slices, volleys, and overheads, beginners end up using this grip for every stroke so they don’t have to worry about changing grips.
Crosscourt: A crosscourt shot happens when you hit the shot diagonally across the court. So if you hit a shot from your forehand to your opponent’s forehand, that would be considered a crosscourt shot.
Tennis Terms – D
Dampener: A vibration dampener is a small accessory you can add to your racket in order to reduce the vibration feeling when you hit the ball.
Deuce: The term used to refer to a score of 40×40.
Double Fault: Each point, the server has two serves to start the point. If the player fails to hit one of those serves inside the service box, he or she will have committed a double fault – which means he or she will have lost the point.
Down The Line: A down the line shot is the opposite of a cross court shot. If you hit a shot from your forehand to an opponent’s backhand, it will generally be considered a down-the-line shot.
Draw: A draw in tennis is the structure of a tennis tournament that establishes who each player will face and in which round. It is usually determined by placing a few seeds in predetermined spots and then randomly drawing the players for the other spots.
Dropshot: A dropshot is a type of tennis shot in which you are trying to hit a short ball in hopes that it will bounce twice before your opponent can reach it.
Tennis Terms – E
Eastern: The Eastern Forehand group allows players to hit forehands with more topspin than Continental grips, yet less than Semi-Western ones. The Eastern forehand grip is great if you play mostly on fast surfaces, since it allows you to hit flat shots and to quickly switch grips between forehand and serves or slices. While this grip is more popular than the Continental grip, it is not used by many players. The reason behind it is that it can cause a lot of stress on your wrist. Juan Martin del Potro is the only player who hits forehands with a true Eastern grip
Error: When a player misses a shot during a point, whether by hitting the ball at the net or by landing the shot outside of the court lines.
Tennis Terms – F
Fifteen: In tennis, fifteen is the value of the first point played in a game. The scoring within a game starts at 0x0, and depending on who wins the first point, the score goes to either 15×0 or 0x15.
Follow-Through: Follow through is a technical term for the path the player’s racket goes through after the racket makes contact with the ball.
Forced Error: Unlike unforced errors, forced errors happen because a player’s opponent hit a good shot that caused the player to miss. The forced error is due to the opponent’s merit rather than the player’s fault.
Forehand: Forehands are, for the vast majority of players, their strongest weapon. 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.
Forty: In tennis, forty is the value of the third point won by a player in a game. The game score starts at 0, moving to 15, then 30, and eventually 40.
French Open / Roland Garros: The French Open is the second Grand Slam of the year, happening in Paris. Roland Garros is usually played at the end of May on clay courts. Rafael Nadal is considered to be the “king” of the Roland Garros.
Futures: Future tournaments are the lowest level of professional tournaments a player can play in order to obtain ranking points. The prize money and points obtained in futures tournaments are virtually insignificant, however, when compared to ATP, WTA, or Grand Slam tournaments.
Tennis Terms – G
Game: A game is the second stage of the tennis scoring system. In essence, it is an accumulation of 4 or more points won by the same player.
Grand Slam: In tennis, Grand Slams are the 4 biggest tournaments in the world – both in terms of points and prize money. The 4 Grand Slams are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open.
Grass: Considered the most elegant of all surfaces, grass courts are somewhat difficult to find nowadays. Grass courts tend to allow the ball to slide when it bounces, which makes the overall game a lot faster. In addition, the ball tends to stay low and close to the ground, which means that shots with slice are usually more effective than shots with topspin.
Grinding: When a player is fighting really hard to win a match, usually running a lot.
Grip: In short, grip might mean two things: 1) the part of your racket which you hold; and 2) the way or position in which you hold your racket.
Grooving: In tennis, grooving means playing in a somewhat relaxed way rather than running around the court. Players who are grooving are just hitting balls through the middle of the court, without the intent of playing points or getting competitive.
Grunting: In tennis, grunting is the act of making noises while and after hitting a shot. Players do so for several reasons, including adding extra power to shots all the way through better relaxation.
Tennis Terms – H
Har-Thru: A type of clay court very popular in the United States. These courts are usually blue / green and have a similar feel to regular clay courts – just faster.
Hard Court: Usually classified as hard courts, acrylic or polyurethane court surfaces are by far the most popular courts in the United States. Acrylic tennis courts have a regulating base made with concrete or asphalt and have a finishing wearing surface made of acrylic or polyurethane. Courts with this surface are usually considered medium, medium-fast, or fast. The majority of the biggest professional tournaments are played on acrylic/polyurethane courts, including two Grand Slams (Australian Open and US Open), the ATP Finals, and 6 ATP 1000s (Indian Wells, Miami, Canadian Open, Cincinnati, Shanghai, and Paris).
Hitting: In tennis, hitting usually means that you are practicing but without playing points. It is similar to grooving, but it can be more intense.
Tennis Terms – I
Inside-In: An inside-in shot is executed when the player is hitting a forehand where he would normally be hitting a backhand or vice-versa. For the shot to be an inside in rather than an inside out, the shot needs to be hit in a straight line rather than diagonally.
Inside-Out: An inside-out shot is similar to an inside in, but where the shot is hit diagonally to the opponent’s court.
Tennis Terms – K
Kick Serve: A kick serve in tennis is a type of serve in which the player adds a lot of topspin (by hitting the ball from under), which causes the ball to bounce higher after it lands on the opponent’s court.
Tennis Terms – L
Let: The word let can have two different uses in tennis. Both of them mean that essentially either a point or serve will be repeated. The first use of let is when a serve touches the net and lands on the service box – which is a let and means that the serve will be replayed. The second use of let is when a point is interrupted by an external factor (fan running on court, a ball from another court, a dog running around), and this let means that the whole point will be replayed.
Lob: A lob is a shot in which you hit the ball over your opponent while he or she is close to the net.
Long: In tennis, you would call a shot long if it bounces outside of the court lengthwise (past the baseline).
Love: In tennis, love means zero.
Lucky Loser: A lucky loser is a tennis player who loses in the qualifying rounds, but manages to get into the main draw after a player withdraws from the tournament.
Tennis Terms – M
Match: In order to win a tennis match, a player needs to win either 2 out of 3 sets or 3 out of 5 sets, depending on the tournament he or she is playing. The vast majority of tennis tournaments works under the “2 out of 3 rule”. What that means is that, in order to win a match, a player needs to win 2 sets before his or her opponent.
Match-point: A match-point means that a player is one point away from winning the match.
Net: The net is the part of the court that divided the court in half. Players must switch sides according to the rules.
Tennis Terms – N
No-Man-Land: In tennis, no man’s land is the part of the court between the service line and the baseline. This is an area where players should not be standing, as they become very vulnerable. And yet, beginners tend to stand on it.
Tennis Terms – O
Out: In tennis, out means that a shot landed outside the valid boundaries of the court. A shot that was out results in a lost point.
Overgrip: Overgrips are cloth-like tapes that are wrapped over the original grip of a tennis racket, working as an extra layer of comfort, stability, and sweat absorption for tennis players.
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.
Tennis Terms – P
Passing Shot: A passing shot happens when one player is at the net and his or her opponent successfully hits a shot that passes around them, landing inside the court. It is different from a lob as a lob goes over the opponent, not around him.
Poach: A poach happens in doubles when the player who is at the net intercepts a shot that was originally aimed at the player standing at the baseline.
Point Penalty: If tennis players commit more than one code violation, they might receive a point penalty – which means that they lose a point as a punishment for bad behavior.
Pusher: In tennis, a pusher is a player who doesn’t go for shots and is happy to play a defensive style. The term pusher has a bad connotation, as people generally see defensive tennis as ugly tennis.
Tennis Terms – Q
Qualifying: A qualifying is a separate draw in a tournament for players that did not rank well enough to qualify to the main draw. If players win enough matches in the qualifying draw, they end up securing a spot in the main draw.
Tennis Terms – R
Rally: A rally in tennis is the act of hitting shots from one side of the court to the other. A rally can occur during a point, or just as a friendly “grooving” between players.
Return (Of Serve): 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.
Tennis Terms – S
Seed: In a tennis tournament, a seed is one of the 8, 16, or 32 top-ranked players, depending on the tournament size and type. These players are placed in special positions in the draw, so they will only face each other in more advanced rounds.
Serve: The serve is the stroke that begins every single shot 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.
Serve And Volley: In tennis, serve and volley is a playing style in which the player tries to immediately reach the net after serving. It was a very popular style in the past, but now it is difficult to find players who adopt this strategy.
Set: A set is the third stage of the tennis scoring system. Once a player accumulates enough games, he or she will win a set. Generally, a player will win a set if he can win 6 games before his opponent can win 5. If one of the players can do that, he will win a set, both players will take a break, and both the point and game counting will go back to 0 x 0.
Shank: A shank in tennis happens when a player hits the ball using the frame of the racket rather than the strings. It generally results in an uncontrolled and non-aimed shot.
Shot: In tennis, a shot happens every time a player makes contact with the ball. A shot is a subdivision of a stroke: a forehand (stroke) can be hit as an inside-out, inside-in, crosscourt, down-the-line, with slice or topspin (shots).
Slice: 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.
Stance: In tennis, the term stance relates to how a player positions his or her legs when hitting a shot. Tennis stances are known as open, , semi-open, neutral, and closed.
Strike: Striking means the act of grooving or hitting. Strike can also mean “to hit a shot”.
Stroke: Tennis strokes are the basic movements that must be learned in order to play the sport. These are: forehand, backhand, serve, return, volleys and overhead.
Sweet Spot: The sweet spot is the area in the racket a player should hit the ball with. This is usually near the very center of the racket, and using the sweet spot usually results in great shots.
Tennis Terms – T
T: The T is the area on the court where the service line meets the line that divides it into two boxes.
Tanking: In tennis, tanking means the act of giving up on a match, and continuing to play without the intention or desire to win.
Thirty: In tennis, thirty is the value of the second point won by a player in a game. The game score starts at 0, moving to 15, then 30, and eventually 40.
Tiebreak: A tiebreak is a special type of game, designed to break a tie between two players (hence the name). Normally, a tiebreak occurs when both players are tied at 6 games to 6. The scoring system in a tiebreak game works differently than regular games (0, 15, 30, 40), and you should count the points using the regular numerical system (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, …). Normally, the first player to reach a total of 7 points wins the tiebreak, also winning the set.
Topspin: Topspin is the effect added to shots when a player hits a ball in a ‘down-to-up’ motion. This is the spin players use in the majority of their shots. It causes the ball to bounce higher after it lands on the opponent’s court.
Touch: Touch is a term that refers to the player’s ability and capacity to hit finessed shots.
Tweener: Tweeners are one of the most admired shots by tennis fans. When hitting a tweener, a player hits the ball between his or her legs, while having his or her back facing the opponent.
Tennis Terms – U
Umpire: The umpire is the main judge in a tennis match, who sits on the high chair and is responsible for counting the points and applying all the rules.
Underhand Serve: The majority of tennis serves are hit while the ball is over the player’s head, but underhand serves are hit using a different motion – with the ball at knee height. This serve is considered valid yet unethical.
Unforced Error: An unforced error happens when a player is in a relatively comfortable position to hit a shot, but ends up missing (either in an attempt to hit an aggressive shot or because of carelessness).
US Open: The US Open is the fourth Grand Slam of the year, and it is played on hard courts in New York City.
Tennis Terms – V
Volley: Volleys are fairly simple movements, in which you hit the ball without letting it touch the ground. It can be done either on the forehand or backhand side, and it requires firm hands and fast reflexes.
Tennis Terms – W
Walkover: A walkover happens when the player’s opponent fails to show up for the match, allowing the player to advance to the next round without even playing.
Warning: In tennis, a warning is the normal outcome of the player’s first code violation. It is given by the umpire, and it does not cause the player to lose any points.
Western: The Western grip is ideal for players who have a solid baseline game and play on slow courts that require a lot of topspin. However, it also becomes even more difficult to change grips and to hit shots close to the ground.
Wide: In tennis, wide can mean two different things. First, a wide serve is a serve that bounces on the outer side of the service box, causing the opponent to move away from the court. Second, a wide shot is a shot that landed outside of the court lines widthwise.
Wildcard: A wildcard is an invite to the main draw or qualifying draw of a tournament, even if the player does not have a ranking good enough to qualify to it. It is usually given to injured or local players.
Wimbledon: Wimbledon is the third Grand Slam of the year, played on grass courts in England. It is considered to be the most elegant of all 4 Grand Slams.
Winner: In tennis, a winner is a good shot that successfully goes past the opponent, resulting in a won point.
WTA: WTA stands for the Women’s Tennis Association, which is the organization that rules everything related to women’s tennis. It is the equivalent of the ATP.
Tennis Terms – Z
Zero: In tennis, zero means… well, zero. However, it is never used to describe the point score (“love” is always used) and only sometimes to describe the game score (“six-zero”).