Tennis Serving Rules: How To Serve Properly

Serving in tennis is the most controlled shot in the game. It can also be one of the most frustrating, as plenty of people have struggled to get everything flowing just right. It is a physical, violent motion, but just as important is the mental aspect of the serve. A player has time to get in their own head and not serve the way they should.

Below is a look some of the standard tennis serving rules to keep in mind when playing the game. It is crucial to know all the rules so that there are no discrepancies during a match. Later, the serve is examined to provide tips on how to correct any mistakes and play a better overall game.

The Basics Of The Tennis Serve

Take a look at this picture. I drew a blue line on the right side that shows you where you are allowed to stand when serving. The other blue line on the left shows you where you are supposed to hit the serve. If you don’t hit the serve inside the blue line, it will count as a fault.

  • You serve from behind the baseline (anywhere between the singles sideline and the centre mark of the court)
  • You have 2 chances to make a proper serve each point
  • If you didn’t make a proper serve on neither of them, it counts as a double fault (point goes to your opponent)

Each game starts with a server on the right side of the court, serving cross court and into the diagonal service box. The player alternates between the two sides throughout the game.

  • When the score is even: You serve from the right side of the court into the opponents left side.
  • When the score is odd: You serve from the left side of the court into the opponents right side.

Before the start of any match, the first thing two players must decide is who actually serves first. That usually is decided by either a coin toss, or a racquet spin (here are 5 more ways to decide). The winner gets the choice to either serve first, or pick the side they want to play on. After that is determined, the two sides alternate serving throughout the rest of the match.

First & Second Serve

Most players take more risks on the first serve, and then hit a higher percentage serve on the second serve. It is always a calculated risk to an extent, as no player wants to give away free points. At the same time, hitting the ball softly just to get a serve in can result in players having a tough time ever holding serve.

If a player fails to get the serving with either of the serve, it results in a double fault. This means that the other player automatically receives the point.A player has two opportunities to serve the ball in to start every single point. If a player does not hit the first serve inside the service box, they take a second serve.

The only variations of this rule is if the ball hits the net before falling into the service box. This is when a let is called, and the player gets to redo that serve. For example, a player could hit three consecutive lets, but it would not count as a missed serve in this scenario.

Other Faults

Along with missing the service box altogether, there are a few other ways for people to fault as the server. It can sometimes be hard to call in more casual matches, but when there are plenty of umpires around, faults are easier to spot.

Perhaps the biggest infraction is a foot fault, which happens when a player hits their serve while crossing over the baseline. It is usually done completely by mistake, but there have been some infamous calls throughout tennis history that have caused a lot of controversies. At the local level, it is almost impossible to call a foot fault on an opponent, unless they are doing it consistently and rather over the top.

There are also illegal serves that could result in a fault if a person wants to play by the book. Running up to the line, sliding over, and other unusual moves can lead to something like this.

The Order Of Serving In Tennis

Understanding the order of serve in tennis before each match is crucial. It is pretty straightforward in a singles match, as players alternate service games, switching sides after the completion of an odd number of total games. That means switching after one game, three games, five games, and on.

However, when it comes to tiebreak (when the score is 6-6), the serving order isn’t as self explanatory.

The serving order in tiebreaks are as following:

  • Point 1=Player A Serves
  • Point 2=Player B Serves
  • Point 3=Player B Serves
  • Point 4=Player A Serves
  • Point 5=Player A Serves
  • Point 6=Player B Serves
  • Point 7=Player B Serves

With doubles, the teams alternate, but so do the teammates. To start the match, each doubles team can decide which person serves first. That order is locked in for the rest of the set, but can be shuffled at the start of each additional set.

The server must always start on the right side of the court, alternated until the game is over. However, if the match is being played with no-ad scoring, the final point might be served on either side. Most of the time, the rule is that the receiving team picks the side.

Other Random Serving Rules

Finally, here are a few rarely used rules, but rules that are good to know. When serving, these might not come up that often, but it is nice to know so that there is a proper ruling if they do happen.

1. A swing and a miss still counts as a serve

One of the most embarrassing things to happen to any tennis player is to swing and miss on a serve completely. Not only is it embarrassing, but it counts as a fault. The service motion itself is considered an attempt at the ball, so keep that in mind. However, if a server tosses the ball and decides not to swing, it is not a fault. That is why on windy days, professional players will toss the ball up and not swing a few times a set. It is better to just not go after a ball if the toss is subpar.

2. A player can hit the ball twice in one swing, as long as it is one fluid motion

Players who shank the ball while serving might occasionally get lucky and see it fall into the court. As long as it is not intentionally a double hit, it is perfectly fine to hit the ball twice with a serve.

3. Servers can stand anywhere on the baseline

Looking for an extreme angle? Tennis players can serve on any part of the baseline, as long as those lines are being used. That means the baseline to the inner side line for singles, and the baseline to the outer side line for doubles.

While it might seem like an advantage in some cases, singles players usually tend to serve near the middle of the court. It is just too difficult to get to the other side of the court if the opponent can hit a ball that way.

4. Underhand serves are allowed

Throughout the history of tennis, there have been some memorable underhand serves. Even in the modern game, players will use it occasionally to surprise their opponents. The ball just needs to be hit in the air before it hits the ground. There are no special rules as far as where the ball needs to be released, but a player must be up on the baseline instead of trying to quick-serve.

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