An Expert Guide to Tennis Etiquette

Published on 05/19/2023 · 7 min readTennis etiquette can be hard to learn as you're new to the sport. But luckily Tennis Expert Nicolas Carrero is here to help with a guide to proper etiquette below!
Nicolas Carrero, Tennis Expert
By Tennis Expert Nicolas Carrero

Photo by Nicolas Carrero

TL;DR “Tennis etiquette” is an amalgam of age-old sporting traditions. A set of rules that every serious tennis player just knows. However, they can be notoriously challenging for beginners to pick up. That’s because most of these customs can’t be found in any rule book, neither will they be announced before any match you attend, or be posted at any tennis court you show up to. So, let’s go over some of these quirky guidelines, and who exactly they apply to. And heads up, that doesn't only mean the athletes themselves.

Players Etiquette

Warmups and Pregame

For both casual and professional players around the world, certain rules should be followed before even the first serve. First, it’s important to start with warmups; where you hit across the court with your opponent. Five minutes is usually the standard time allowed for a warm up before a match. But if you are not playing a tournament or ITF(International Tennis Federation) sponsored match, that is one of the looser rules for casual players–who may take up to 25 minutes or more before a match. Usually it’s relaxed and not too hard-swinging, as far as warmups go.

One thing that is the same with all levels is that serving is the final shot practiced before a match for both players during warmups. One player will practice the serve while the other receives it on the other side. How hard you serve during warmups is up to you—some people like to practice softly serving at first and then building up, while others like to serve all out. A coin toss, or racket twirl will decide who serves first…and the match is on!

Refereeing

Higher-ranking ITF tournaments usually feature an umpire and line judges to call balls in or out. But casual players will have to call their own lines. This can lead to some very contentious moments when two opponents disagree over the line calls of the other. To avoid these instances, it is typically recommended that if a ball is too close to the line to truly tell, you should give your opponent the benefit of the doubt and call it in.

There are two different ways of calling a ball in or out. The first is vocally—with a strong yet quick “out!” call. You can also use hand signals—with a single raised finger meaning out, and a horizontal, flat, extended hand meaning in.

Keeping Score

Further, it is also customary to announce the game score before every game and point score before point, usually by the player who is serving. So, let’s say it’s the second game of the match and the player serving had just lost the first game of the match. The server would go “love one”, or 0-1, before starting the next game. The player who serves is always the first mentioned when talking about score. So if he would’ve won the first game, it would be “one love” or 1-0. Same with point score. Let’s say the server won the first point of the next game. Before the second point, he’d yell out the point score–”fifteen love” or 15-0. If the server loses the next point, he’d yell out “fifteen all” or 15-15 and so on.

Sportsmanship Between Athletes

Sportsmanship reigns supreme in tennis—which is called the “gentleman's sport” for a reason. As a player, you should never try to distract your opponent during a match. That means no making noises or strange movements while your opponent is serving.

Further, it may occur that one of your shots clips the top of the net and bounces over to your opponent's side during match play, winning you the point. When this happens, it’s good practice to wave or put your hand up towards your opponent. By doing so, you are acknowledging the luck that played a crucial part in that point.

Lastly, when the match ends, you shouldn’t celebrate too wildly. Instead, keep things civil, and approach the net for a handshake and a “great match”!

Other Players in the Area

When playing on a club or a public court, oftentimes you will not be alone. There may be another match taking place on the court immediately next to yours. When this is the case, it’s highly likely that a ball from the other match may wander over to your court.

If you are in the middle of a point when this happens, it is advised to stop the match and retrieve the ball for the other players; it is a bit dangerous to have a ball rolling through the court when you are super focused on your opponent.

However, if yours is the ball that rolls over to another player’s court, wait until they are done with the point to retrieve it. Do not assume that other players will stop playing to retrieve your ball for you. Some players play through it and wait until the point is over to retrieve the ball for you or allow you to walk/run over and get it yourself.

After the match, throw away any and every ball can or piece of garbage that is left behind. Do not leave any towels, jackets, or stray balls.

Spectator Etiquette

Photo by Christian Tenguan

Whether simply watching your friends play at a local court, or witnessing your favorite athletes live at the world’s biggest tournaments, spectators must still follow a very strict etiquette.

Making Noise

Spectators should always refrain from making any noise during a point. When the ball is in play, you need to stay silent. After the point, onlookers can clap and cheer, as long as the noises stop by the time the server is ready to start the next point.

In this regard, tennis fans are also held to a higher standard than most others. While it’s all too common for spectators to taunt or harass players in other sporting contexts, in tennis it is highly frowned upon. So much so that taunting players will most likely result in you getting thrown out of the match, depending on the setting and the tolerance of the umpire.

Professional Events

During professional tournaments, you must stay seated during games. The only time you may stand up—whether it is to go to the bathroom or the snack stand—is at the end of every odd game. This means the end of the first, third, and every following other game. This coincides with when players rotate to the other end of the court, and take time to sit, hydrate, and change their racquets.

Further, phones must be silenced—cameras included. And while taking a phone call during a professional match isn’t illegal, it will certainly feel that way when the entire rest of the crowd's eyes turn upon you.

Dresscode

Depending on the tournament, spectators are also expected to follow a certain dress code. The two most formal Grand Slam Tournaments are Wimbledon and the French Open—held each year in London and Paris, respectively.

At Wimbledon, spectators certainly dress to impress—and this typically means in white or lighter colors. The French Open reflects what we consider to be more Parisian style, with elegant headwear and fancy get-ups being common sights amongst the grandstands. Often white hats and business casual attire is common.

The two other Grand Slams are considered more casual affairs, partly because of where they are located. Because the US Open takes place in New York in September, the heat necessitates a more laid-back dress code. Likewise, the Australian Open takes place in January—one of the hottest months in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Photo by Nicholas Carrero

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