A Guide to Tennis LingoPublished on 07/11/2023 · 7 min readGame, set, match! Our guide decodes the fascinating world of tennis lingo. From aces to volley, become fluent in the language of the court.
Photo by Africa Studio
Tennis is a simple yet complicated sport. Simple: grab some racquets, and let's hit a tennis ball over a net! Complicated: what is a doubles alley?! The gentleman's sport is one of the most popular worldwide and can be played by basically all ages. The language and terminology used by tennis players can be very confusing to new players and non-fans, but that’s what we’re here for!
Tennis Court Areas
- Baseline: The baseline is the line at the top of the court that’s parallel to the net. It’s the farthest line from the net, and it’s where you’ll serve, hit serves from, and be standing for a lot of the match. If the ball lands inside the baseline, it's “in” or “good.” If the ball hits the baseline right on the line, it’s also “good.” If the ball lands outside the baseline, it’s “out,” and you win the point.
- Service Line: The other line parallel to the net which runs in the middle of the court. It’s divided in half by a line, and when serving, you have to land the ball in the opposite box from whichever side of the baseline you’re serving from.
- Doubles Alley: We’ve covered the parallel lines at the top and middle of the court, now let’s talk about the sidelines running vertically on the court. The two vertical lines on each side of the court have a space in between them that’s called the doubles alley. When you’re playing a singles match, if you hit the ball and it lands in this space, it’s “out”. If you’re playing doubles, that space is fair game, and the only way to hit it out is if the ball goes outside all the court’s lines.
- Deuce and Ad Court: Back to the baseline! When standing at the top of the baseline, you’ll notice a hash mark in the middle of the court which separates the sides you serve from. When facing the net, the deuce court side is the right side, and the ad court side is the left side. When starting a match, you always begin serving on the deuce/right side. More on deuce and ad soon!
Tennis Strokes, Faults, and Point Winners
- Forehand: The most basic stroke in tennis is the forehand, which is when you hit the ball with your dominant hand directly.
- Backhand: The backhand stroke is when you hit with your dominant hand on your non-dominant side.
- Groundstroke: When you hit from the baseline, these strokes are usually called groundstrokes. A groundstroke can be hit as a flat shot, with topspin (forward ball rotation) or slice (creating backward ball rotation).
- Volley: A volley stroke is when you hit the ball out of the air, which usually occurs close to the net.
- Overhead: Overhead strokes occur when a player tries to lob the ball over you, and you end up having to smash it over your head, kind of like serving.
- Moonball: A moonball is another name for a lob or a shot that causes very high ball bounces.
- Drop Shot: A drop shot is when you slightly slice the ball, and it lands just over the net with some spin or even backspin (when the ball bounces backwards on the bounce), forcing your opponent to run to reach it before the second bounce.
- Fault: When you miss your first serve—whether it doesn’t land inside the box or it doesn’t pass the net on the other side—that is called a fault.
- Double fault: When you miss your serve twice, that is called a double fault, which results in you losing that point.
- Foot Fault: When serving, if your foot touches the baseline, that is called a foot fault, and it may result in the loss of a serve or a point.
- Let: When serving, if the ball clips the net before landing on the other side inside of the service box, it’s called a let. When this happens, the server gets another chance to serve without being called for a fault.
- Ace: An ace is when you’re serving and you hit a legal, yet unreturnable serve that wins you the point.
- Error: Another way to win or lose a point when playing against another player is to commit an error. Errors are usually when a player mis-hits a ball or makes the wrong decision and shot, resulting in losing the point. Errors can be forced by your opponent (“forced error”) or your own fault, which is known as an unforced error.
Tennis Slang Terms
- Bagel: When you win or lose a set 6-0/0-6, you either give out a bagel or get bageled! The 0, resembling a bagel hole, gives this term its namesake.
- Breadstick: Similar to the bagel, this is when you win or lose a set 6-1/1-6. It follows that the 1 resembles a breadstick.
- Rally: When players have a long exchange of shots.
- “M or W”: When you hear this before a match, the meaning is like flipping a coin. In this case, it’s twisting your racket until it drops and seeing which side landed up. Wilson rackets have their W logo at the bottom of the racket grip, so if you picked M, and it lands on M, you decide if you want to serve to begin the match or not. When not using Wilson rackets, you may hear “up or down” used.
- Challenge: Usually reserved for the pros, this is when a player thinks the ball may have been incorrectly identified as in/out, and wants to review the footage.
- "No Man's Land": When, as a player, you are caught in between, standing at the baseline or coming to the net. That is called No Man's Land because you don’t have a chance to put away a shot at the net, nor do you have a chance to hit a clean ground stroke from the baseline. Instead you are caught in an awkward position trying to hit the ball.
- Ad-In: When calling out the score, "ad in" is when the player serving is one point away from winning the game, after the game gets to deuce (or 40-all, after each player wins three points in a game and is tied at three).
- Ad-Out: When calling out score, "ad out" is when the player returning is one point from winning the game over the server, after the game got to deuce (or 40 all).
- Hard Courts: Courts made of concrete or asphalt.
- Clay Courts: Courts made of clay.
- Grass Courts: Courts made of trimmed, watered grass.
Professional Tennis Terms
- Golden Slam: When a player wins all four majors/Grand Slam tournaments plus gold at the Olympics. This has rarely been done, and only Steffi Graf has been able to achieve it in one calendar year.
- WTA: Women's Tennis Association
- ATP: Association of Tennis Professionals
- Wimbledon: The most prestigious and traditional Grand Slam tournament on the pro tour. It’s held in London on a grass court surface.
- French Open: The Grand Slam tournament in Paris, which is the only clay court slam of the tour.
- Australian Open: The hard court Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne that kicks off the calendar year.
- US Open: The hard court tournament in New York that’s the last Grand Slam of the calendar year.
- Line Judge: Authorities that stand at the far end of the court in order to call the close line shots in or out.
- Umpire: Authorities that sit on a chair at the net, overlooking the match. They read out the score after every point and can overturn line judge calls.
- Ball Boys and Girls: Usually younger people who kneel on the side of the court and run to pick up balls after each point.
Demystifying Tennis Terms
Tennis can be complicated, but I hope this article helped clear up any confusion you might’ve had. If you have any other questions, feel free to connect with me or one of my fellow Tennis Experts right here on Curated!