Tennis Glossary

Posted by Rebekkah On July - 12 - 2012

Ace — A serve that the opponent cannot return; as a verb, to serve an ace.

Ad — Short for advantage; see entries beginning with that word, below.

Advantage — The player who scores the first point after deuce is said to have the advantage, since winning the next point will also win the game.

Advantage court — The left service court, where the receiver takes service when either player has the advantage.

Advantage in — Indicates that the server has the advantage; also “ad in”

Advantage out — Indicates that the receiver has the advantage; also “ad out”

All — Used in scoring to indicate a tie, as in “40-all.”

Alley — One of the areas outside the singles court that come into play in doubles. The alleys are 4 Ω feet wide.

American twist — A serve that has spin causing it to bounce high and to receiver’s left, off a right-handed player’s racket. Opposite of reverse twist.

Approach shot — A shot hit hard and deep to allow the player to take the net.

Attack the net — See take the net.

Backboard — A wall, usually of wood, that’s used for practice. It’s often marked with a line at the height of the net.

Back court — The area of the court from the baseline to the service line.

Backhand — A shot hit from the “wrong” side of the body, i.e., the side away from the racket; the left side for a right-handed player.

Backspin — Backward rotation on the ball, caused by drawing the racket strings down during the stroke, that results in a low bounce. On some surfaces, the ball may even bounce back toward the net. Also known as underspin. See also chip; chop.

Backstop — A fence, wall, or other boundary behind the end of the court that retains balls within a limited area.

Ball boy/girl — A youngster who retrieves balls, usually from errant serves, to keep the court clear during a match.

Ball toss — The action of tossing the ball into the air to initiate a serve.

Band — The strip of canvas at the top of the net.

Baseline — A line at the end of the court, parallel to the net, that marks the lengthwise boundary of the playing area.

Baseline game — A playing style in which the player hits almost all of his or her shots from near the baseline, rather than taking the net.

Baseline judge — An official, stationed on a line with the baseline, who is responsible for determining whether shots are in or out. The baseline judges are seated on the same side of the court as the umpire.

Baseline player — A player who practices the baseline game.

Block — To return the ball by holding the racket stationary rather than swinging it.

Break — To win a game as receiver; as a noun, a synonym for service break.

Break back — To win a game as receiver immediately after having suffered a service break.

Break point — A point which will result in a service break if it’s won by the receiver.

Bye — The right to advance to the next round of a tournament without playing a match. Top-seeded players are often given byes in the first round. See seed.

Carry — An illegal shot, on which the ball is ball is held and/or carried on the racket, rather being struck. Also used as a verb.

Center court — The main court at a tennis arena, where the championship and other major matches are played.

Center line judge — An official who is responsible for watching the center service line to determine whether a serve has entered the service court.

Center mark — A line, 2 inches wide and 14 inches long, that marks the midpoint of the baseline.

Center service line — A line, extending from the net to the midpoint of the service line, which marks the boundary for both service courts.

Chair — The umpire’s seat and, by extension, the umpire, as in “The chair ruled that the shot was out.”

Changeover — A 90-second period after every odd-numbered game in a set, when players change sides.

Chip — A soft shot, hit with backspin, that just drops over the net; as a verb, to hit such a shot. It’s similar to the drop shot, but is more commonly used against an opponent who is at the net, forcing a difficult volley.

Chop — A shot hit with a sharp, downward chopping motion, resulting in a great deal of backspin; as a verb, to hit such a shot.

Clean winner — A shot that cannot be reached by the opponent.

Closed grip — A grip in which the racket face is tilted downward, toward the court.

Closed racket — A racket held with a closed grip.

Court — The tennis court is 78 feet long and 27 feet wide for singles, 36 feet wide for doubles. It is divided across the middle by the net. Service lines are marked 21 feet from each side of the net and parallel to it. The area bounded by the singles sidelines and the service line is divided into two equal parts, the service courts, by the center service line, which is halfway between the sidelines and parallel to them.

Court tennis — The ancestor of modern tennis, court tennis apparently developed during the Middle Ages in monastery courtyards and then moved into the courtyards of castles, where it was played by kings and nobles. It has a very complicated scoring system, which has been somewhat simplified for modern lawn tennis. Also known as “real tennis,” in which “real” is the Spanish word for “royal.”

Cross-court — Descriptive of a shot that is hit from one side of the court to the other, as well as over the net. For example, the player hits from the right-hand side of the back court to the right-hand side of the opponent’s backcourt.

Cut — To hit the ball with a short, downward slicing motion, often drawing the racket strings across it to give some sideways spin in addition to backspin.

Daisy cutter — A low shot that skids or takes a very low bounce, usually because of backspin.

Default — The failure or refusal of a player to take part in or complete a match, resulting in a victory for the opponent. Also used as a verb, as in “Smith was forced to default because of a knee injury.”

Defensive lob — A high shot, often used against an opponent at or near the net, designed to buy time.

Defensive volley — A volley, usually hit from below the top of the net, simply as a means of returning the opponent’s shot to keep a rally going. See offensive volley; volley.

Deuce — When players are tied at 40 (three points each), the score is called “deuce.” At deuce, a player must win two points in a row to win the game. If the players split the following two points, the score reverts to deuce.

Deuce court — The receiver’s right service court, where he or she receives serve when the score is deuce. The opposite of advantage court.

Double fault — The server is given two attempts at a valid serve. If both attempts fail, it is a double fault and the receiver wins the point. Also used as a verb.

Double hit — The act of striking the ball twice during a single stroke; it results in loss of the point.

Doubles — A match between two teams of two players each.

Doubles court — The playing area for a doubles match, which includes the two alleys as well as the singles court. The area is 78 feet long by 36 feet wide.

Down the line — Descriptive of a shot that is hit straight from near the sideline, as opposed to a cross-court shot.

Drag volley — A volley hit with backspin.

Draw — The process by which matches are arranged and scheduled for a tournament. Generally, seeded players are given byes or scheduled before the draw, and names of the other entrants are then randomly selected to determine match-ups and order of play. The word is also used to mean the schedule itself, after the draw has been completed. See also seed.

Drop Shot — A soft shot that drops just over the net; usually hit with backspin to minimize its bounce. It’s most commonly used against an opponent who is playing deep, as contrasted with the chip shot.

Drop volley — A drop shot that’s hit before the ball has bounced.

Error — A shot that fails to cross the net or lands out of the court, resulting in loss of the point. See forced error; unforced error.

Face — The flat area of the racket formed by the strings and bounded by the frame.

Fault — An invalid service attempt. It is a fault if the serve fails to land in the receiver’s service court; if the server swings and misses the ball entirely; or if the serve is made from beyond the baseline or from the wrong side of the center mark. See also double fault; foot fault; serve.

Fifteen — The first point of a game for either player or side. See point; scoring system.

First flight — The flight of the ball after it leaves the racket and before it bounces.

Flat — Descriptive of a low, fast, straight shot without spin.

Follow through — The motion of the arm and racket after the ball has been struck.

Foot Fault — Usually a fault caused by the server’s foot entering the court before the racket contacts the ball. It is also a foot fault if any part of the server’s foot is on the wrong side of the center mark, or the server is walking or running while delivering the serve. See also serve.

Foot Fault Judge — An official responsible for calling foot faults. The foot fault judge is positioned on a line with the baseline, on the opposite side of the court from the baseline judge.

Forced error — An error resulting from a good shot by the opponent. See error; unforced error.

Forcing shot — A shot that puts the opponent on the defensive; often an approach shot.

Forecourt — The area between the net and the service line.

Forehand — A shot hit from the racket side of the player’s body; the right side for a right-hander.

Forty — The third point of a game for either player or side. If both reach forty, it is called deuce.

Frame — The oval portion of the racket that contains the strings; an unstrung racket.

Gallery — The spectator area at the ends and sides of a court. By extension, the spectators, as in, “The gallery really applauded that shot.”

Game — A contest in which one player or side serves throughout. The first contestant to take four points wins the game, but the margin of victory must be at least two points. Scoring follows the sequence, Fifteen-Thirty-Forty-Game. If both players or sides reach forty, it’s called deuce. See also advantage; deuce; set; match.

Game point — A point that will end the game if it is won by the leading player or side. See also set point; match point.

Game-set — Part of an announcement that a player has won the decisive game in a set, as in, “Game-set to Miss Jones.”

Game-set-match — Part of an announcement that a player has won the decisive game in a match, as in, “Game-set-match to Miss Jones.”

Grand Slam — There are four tournaments in the “Grand Slam” of tennis: The Australian, French, and U. S. Opens and England’s Wimbledon championship. The phrase came from contract bridge by way of golf.

Groundstroke — A shot hit from the back court or behind the baseline after the ball has bounced; the standard shot in tennis.

Half court — The area of the court in the vicinity of the service line.

Half-court line — Another name for the center service line.

Half volley — A shot on which the ball is struck just after it has hit the court. Also used as a verb.

Head — The part of the racket comprising the frame and strings.

Heavy ball — A shot hit with topspin, which drops sharply.

Hit on the rise — To play the ball before it has reached the highest point of its bounce.

Hold serve — To win a game in which the player is serving.

Hopper — A container that holds large quantities of tennis balls.

In — Descriptive of a good shot that lands in the opponent’s court.

Jam — To hit the ball at or near the opponent’s body, forcing an awkward or weak return.

Jump smash — A smash that is hit while the player is jumping into the air.

Kick serve — A serve hit with a great deal of spin, causing it to change direction when it bounces. See twist.

Kill — To hit the ball hard into an area where the opponent can’t reach it. See smash.

Lawn tennis — The original name for modern tennis, based on the fact that it’s played on grass, to distinguish it from court tennis.

Left court — Same as advantage court.

Let — A stroke that doesn’t count and must be replayed. This most commonly happens when a serve touches the net before entering the proper service court. It’s also a let if the serve is delivered before the receiver is ready, if play is interrupted by some unusual occurrence (such as an animal running onto the court), or if a linesman’s decision that resulted in stoppage of play is reversed by the umpire.

Line judge — An official who is responsible for determining whether or not a shot landed in the court. They include the baseline judges, service line judges, and sideline judges.

Lob — A shot that is hit in a high arc, usually over the opponent’s head. See defensive lob; offensive lob.

Long — Descriptive of a shot that is out because it hits the court beyond the opponent’s baseline.

Love — Zero; no points. For example, a score of 40-love means that the server has scored three points and the receiver hasn’t scored any. In a set score, it means that the player hasn’t won any games. Probably derived from the old French word for egg, l’ove, because a zero is egg-shaped.

Love game — A game in which the loser scored no points.

Love set — A set in which the loser won no games.

Match — A tennis contest made up of sets, as a set is made up of games. In major competition, a men’s match is made up of five sets and the winner is the player who first wins three sets. Women usually play best-of-three matches.

Match point — A point that will end the match if it is won by the leading player or side. See also set point; game point.

Midcourt — The area of the court in the vicinity of the service line.

Mini-break — Loss of a point on service during a tie-breaker.

Mixed doubles — Doubles competition in which each team is made up of one female and one male player.

Net — The barrier that divides a tennis court into lengthwise halves. It’s a web, usually made of braided synthetic material, suspended from a steel cable that’s strung between two 3Ω-foot metal posts located 3 feet outside the sidelines. The cable is covered by a band of canvas or synthetic material, 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. A 2-inch wide center strap, also made of canvas or synthetic material, holds the net taut at the center. As a verb, “to net” means to hit the ball into the net.

Net Cord — The cable that supports the net.

Net Cord Judge — An official who is responsible for calling lets on service. This judge sits in front of the umpire’s chair, at one end of the net, and rests one hand on top of the net in order to feel vibrations set up if the ball hits the net cord. Also called net judge. See let.

Net game — A playing style in which the player takes every opportunity to rush the net. To be contrasted with baseline game.

Net man — In doubles, the partner who is stationed near the net during his or her partner’s service.

No-man’s land — The area between the baseline and the service line, so called because a player who is caught there finds it difficult to hit ground strokes and isn’t close enough to the net to hit slams.

Not up — Said of a ball that is hit just as it’s bouncing for the second time. Results in loss of point.

Offensive lob — A lob that is an attempt to score, rather than being purely defensive. It’s typically hit very deep into the opponent’s court when the opponent is at the net. See also defensive lob.

Offensive volley — A volley, usually hit from above the net, that’s meant to score a point. See also defensive volley.

Open tournament — In the early days of tennis, clubs held two types of tournaments: Closed, to which only club members were admitted, and open, which non-members could also enter. With the advent of professionalism, “open” came to mean a tournament that could be entered by amateurs and professionals alike. Today, all major tournaments are opens.

Open grip — A grip in which the racket face is tilted upward, away from the court.

Open racket — A racket held with an open grip.

Out — Descriptive of a shot that lands outside the playing area, wide and/or long.

Overhead — A shot hit much like a serve, when the ball is above the player’s head, usually a smash. It’s often used by a player at net or in the forecourt against a lob that hasn’t been hit deep enough.

Overspin — Topspin.

Pace — The speed at which the ball is hit. It’s commonly used to mean a great deal of speed, but in fact a well-paced shot may be hit rather slowly. A common tactic against a hard-hitting opponent is to vary the pace from one shot to the next.

Pair — A doubles team.

Partner — One of the two players on a doubles team.

Pass — To hit a shot that goes past the opponent, usually when the opponent is at or near the net.

Passing shot — A shot that passes the opponent.

Penalty point — See point penalty.

Pickup shot — Another name for a half volley.

Placement — A shot hit to an area where the opponent cannot reach it.

Poach — In doubles, to hit a ball, usually with a volley, that would ordinarily have been played by the partner.

Point — The basic scoring unit in tennis. The points are numbered “fifteen,” “thirty,” “forty,” and “game.” One player serves throughout a game and the first player to win four points wins the game, with the provision that the margin of victory must be at least two points. See advantage; deuce; game; match; set, scoring system.

Point penalty — A penalty which costs the player a point in the current game. The umpire may assess a point penalty for various kinds of unsportsmanlike conduct, such as verbal or physical abuse of an official, using obscenity, or delaying a game through incessant argument of a call.

Puddler — A player who hits a lot of chip shots and drop shots.

Punch volley — A volley hit with a very short, punching stroke.

Put away — Same as kill.

Racket — The instrument that’s used to hit the ball. It has a long, straight handle and an oval frame strung with natural gut or a synthetic material. Up until the late 1960s, rackets were made of wood, but then steel and aluminum frames were introduced, followed by frames of graphite, fiberglass, titanium, and carbon. Maximum dimensions are 29 Ω inches in overall length, 12 Ω inches in overall width. The hitting surface can be no more than 15 Ω inches long and 11 Ω inches wide. Also spelled racquet.

Rally — An extended exchange of shots between players or sides.

Ready position — The position adopted by the receiver in anticipation of the serve.

Receiver — The player who receives service throughout a game.

Referee — The official who is in overall charge of a tournament. The referee doesn’t officiate at matches, but may be called upon by the umpire to interpret a rule.

Retrieve — To reach and return a shot that’s difficult to get to.

Retriever — A player who tries to wear down the opponent by concentrating on defense, continually chasing down and returning difficult shots.

Return — To hit an opponent’s shot back over the net and in play. After service, every successful shot is a return.

Reverse spin — See backspin.

Reverse twist — A serve that has spin causing it to bounce high and to receiver’s right, off a right-handed player’s racket. Opposite of American twist.

Round — A series of matches in an elimination tournament, the winners of which advance to the next round.

Round robin — A tournament in which each player meets every other player and final standings are determined by the won-lost records. Such a tournament is sometimes a preliminary round to determine seedings and order of play.

Run around the backhand — To make excessive movement in order to play a ball on the forehand rather than on the backhand.

Runback — The area between the baseline and the backstop.

Run down — Same as retrieve.

Scoring system — The scoring system for modern tennis is based on that of its medieval ancestor, court tennis. In court tennis, a game comprised four rounds of 15 points each. That system was imposed on lawn tennis, as it used to be known, with the points numbered 15, 30, 45, and 60 (or game). Somewhere along the line, 45 was abbreviated to 40. The point is the basic building block; a game is made up of points, a set is made up of games, and a match is made up of sets.

Second flight — The flight of the ball after it bounces.

Seed — Before a tournament, certain players are ranked, based on their ability and recent performances. The process is called seeding, the rankings are called seeds, and the top-ranked player is called the top seed. Matches are then arranged so that the top-seeded players will not meet until the later rounds of the tournament.

Serve — The shot that begin each point. Standing behind the baseline, the player must toss the ball into the air and hit it into the diagonally opposite service court. The server is given two chances to make a valid serve. A failure is called a fault and a double fault results in loss of the point. On the first point, the server must be to the right of the center line, and then alternates sides with each point. In singles, the players alternate service throughout a match. In doubles, service alternates between the sides, and all four players serve in turn.

Serve and volley — A style of play in which the server takes the net after each successful serve in order to volley the opponent’s return.

Server — The player whose turn it is to serve.

Service — See serve.

Service court — One of the two rectangles on each side of the net bounded by the service sideline, the service line, the center service line between them, and the net itself. Each service court is 21 feet deep and 13 Ω feet wide.

Service line — The line that marks the back boundary of the service courts on each side of the net.

Service line judge — An official who is responsible for determining whether a serve hits the court beyond the service line. The service line judges are stationed on the same side of the court as the umpire and on a line with the service lines.

Service sideline — That part of the singles sideline, between the net and the service line, that marks the outside boundary of the service court.

Service winner — A serve that the receiver hits without making a legal return.

Set — A set is a group of games that is won by the player or side that first wins at least six games with a two-game margin, unless a tie-breaker is employed. In major tournaments, there are usually five sets in a men’s match and three in a women’s match. See scoring system; tie-breaker.

Set point — A point that, if won by the leader, will result in winning the set. See also game point; match point.

Shot — The act of hitting the ball with the racket.

Sideline — The line that marks the side boundary of the court. The sidelines are 27 feet apart for singles and 36 feet apart for doubles.

Sideline judge — An official who is responsible for determining whether a shot lands outside the sideline or in the court. There are four sideline judges, two at each end of the court.

Sidespin — Spin around the ball’s vertical axis, applied by drawing the racket strings horizontally across the ball at the moment of contact.

Singles — A match between two players.

Singles court — The court used for a singles match, which is 27 feet wide.

Singles sideline — One of the two lines that mark the side boundaries of the singles court.

Slice — A shot hit with both backspin and sidespin; as a verb, to hit such a shot.

Smash — An overhead shot that is hit very hard and down into the opponent’s side of the net.

Snap volley — A volley given extra velocity by wrist action at impact.

Stop volley — A volley, hit with little motion of the racket, that drops just over the net.

Straight sets — Descriptive of a match in which one player wins all the sets.

Strings — The hitting surface of the racket, made up of interlaced strings of gut or synthetic material.

Stroke — A swing at the ball; a shot.

Sudden death — A tie-breaker of predetermined length. The most commonly used are the 9-point tie-breaker, in which the first player to score 5 points is the winner, and the 13-point tie-breaker, which is won by the first player to score 7 points.

Sweet spot — The optimum hitting area, around the middle of the racket face.

T — The midcourt area, where the service lines meet the center service line.

Take the net — To move into the forecourt and toward the net in order to be able to hit volleys into the opponent’s side of the court.

Tandem — A doubles formation in which each partner is responsible for one half of the court, as divided by the center line. Compare up and back.

Tape — The band of white canvas or synthetic material, 2 to 2 Ω inches wide, that covers the top of the net.

Team tennis — A type of competition between teams of players, involving singles and doubles matches, in which the victory is the team that takes the most games.

Tennis ball — The ball used in tennis is a hollow rubber sphere, 2 Ω to 2 5/8 inches in diameter and weighing between 2 and 2 1/16 ounces, filled with pressurized air and covered with a nap of wool and nylon.

Tennis elbow — Tendinitis of the elbow, often caused by the strains placed on the joint by playing tennis, though it may have other causes.

Thirty — The second point scored by a player or side in a game. See point; scoring system.

Throat — The thin area of a racket handle, where it meets the head.

Tie-break — A tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker — A method of determining the winner of a set that’s tied. The most commonly used is the 13-point tiebreaker, which is won by the player who first wins 7 points, provided that the margin of victory is at least 2 points. This is sometimes called a “lingering death” tiebreaker, on contrast to the sudden death tiebreaker.

Top seed — The player judged to be the best in a given tournament, usually on the basis of computer rankings. See seed.

Topspin — Forward spin, around the ball’s horizontal axis, that’s applied by drawing the racket strings up and over the ball at the moment of impact. A shot hit with topspin is more likely to stay in play, because it drops sharply after reaching its highest point, and it takes a high bounce.

Touch — Precise control of a shot, often resulting in a placement, as in “She hit that shot with perfect touch.”

Triple — The feat of winning the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships at a tournament.

Twist — A combination of topspin and sidespin on a serve. See, for example, American twist and reverse twist.

Two-handed backhand — A backhand shot on which the player has both hands on the racket handle.

Umpire — The official who is in overall charge of a match. The umpire sits in a raised chair at one end of the net, calls the score after each point, and has final responsibility for all questions of judgment and fact. He or she may reverse the decision of a judge or linesman if it is clearly in error and may impose point penalties or even default a player for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Underspin — See backspin.

Unforced error — Loss of a point caused by a poorly hit shot that goes into the net or out of the court. Compare forced error.

Up and back — A doubles formation in which one partner plays in the forecourt, the other in the backcourt. Compare tandem.

VASSS — Acronym for the Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System, developed by James Van Alen. The main intent is to avoid the very long matches that can arise under the traditional scoring system. The Van Alen numbers the points from zero through four and awards a game to the first player to score four points, even if the other player has three points, thus eliminating deuce. Most important, Van Alen introduced the tiebreaker, which is now commonly used.

Volley — A shot on which the ball is hit before it bounces. As a verb, to hit such a shot.

Walkover — A victory that results from the opponent’s default.

Wide — Descriptive of a shot that lands beyond the sideline, or beyond the service sideline in the case of a serve. See also long.

Winner — A shot that wins a point.

Wood shot — A shot on which the frame of the racket strikes the ball.

Wrong-foot — To hit a shot to the side of an opponent who is moving or turned in the other direction.