Tennis Terms & Safety

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

This lesson explains the basics of tennis terms and how to stay safe while playing. While it may look like a complicated sport, tennis is actually pretty straightforward when you understand the terms. Tennis, anyone?

Tennis Etiquette

You've probably watched a game of tennis or two. Have you noticed there are certain understood rules that seem to be followed on clothing, behavior and game play? Let's take a look at these now.


It used to be that the only acceptable tennis attire was 'tennis whites', which were both expensive and uncomfortable. These days most courts do not have rules that are nearly so strict, but it's still not acceptable to wear clothing that does not adequately cover your body. Wearing basketball or running shoes with colored soles that leave scuff marks on the court shows a lack of respect for the court and other patrons - so avoid these social faux pas.


Using foul or excessively loud language may be common in some contact sports, but it is still unacceptable in tennis. This includes shouting or grunting while hitting the ball - regardless of what you may see some professionals do.

Speed of play

Starting play when your opponent is not ready and taking too long to play are both examples of poor sportsmanship in tennis. The game does have slower periods between points, but overall it should still have a natural flow.

Overly aggressive behavior, such as striking the other person with the racquet, body or ball is outlawed in tennis. Being too competitive for the occasion, like using an overhead smash shot against your grandmother, is also bad news.

Tennis Terms Defined

You may hear players say a few things during a game of tennis that seem a little odd. Tennis has its own set of words that need a little clarifying.

  • Games make up sets, and sets make up a match.
  • Each service game must be won by two points, and the minimum number of points needed to win a game is 4.
  • To win a set in tennis means to have won a minimum of six games with an advantage of at least two games.
  • A match is won by winning the majority of sets, typically two out of three.


Game scoring in tennis progresses in a somewhat illogical manner.

  • Earning a point in a tennis game equates to a certain number of game points - for example, one point is 15, two points is 30, and three points is 40.
  • Any part of the score line that looks like a zero is replaced by love. You might be serving well and be ahead in a game 40-0, but this is called '40-love'. If you are playing poorly, you might be losing a set 6-love. There are a number of theories about where the term came from, with some saying it's a mispronunciation of the 14th century French slang 'l'oeuf' which meant egg. An egg is round like a zero. Others think love was derived from games that were not wagered on, but were played 'for love'.
  • Any time a game is tied at 40-40 or higher, the score is deuce.
  • The next point scored after a deuce is advantage (insert player's last name here). This can get confusing when family members are playing each other, so some other identifier is added, like the first initial.
  • A set score of 6-6 is said to be tied. To break the tie a tie-break is played. To win a tie-break, a player must be the first to win seven points with a minimum winning margin of two points.


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