The Rules of Tennis Explained

The rules of tennis are set forth by the International Tennis Federation and are geared specifically to the professional ranks. At that level, all matches in tournaments are fully officiated. The official rules of tennis are abundant, filling 30 pages and far exceeding Major Walter Wingfield's original eight pages of rules set down in the 1870s.

The rules cover everything from the dimensions of the court to the racquet, balls and all the the role of court officials. Professional tennis players don't have to worry about remembering the score, retrieving stray balls, calling a let or calling lines. If there is a dispute, the officials can go to instant replay.

The rest of the tennis-playing world plays their matches without officials. If you've played a match with a friend, played on your high school or college tennis team or even participated in a local club tournament, chances are there wasn't an umpire, linesperson or even any spectators. Since most players don't have sanctioned officials or instant replay at neighborhood racquet clubs or public courts, they must know the fundamental tennis rules that are spelled out in what is known simply as "The Code."

The Code
The Code is a set of unwritten rules and traditions that go along with playing in an unofficiated match. They're also the rules that any tennis player should know and follow when playing in the friendly confines of their local tennis club or public tennis courts.

Principles of The Code
The two main principles of The Code are courtesy and counting the points played in good faith. Courtesy is obvious; a player shouldn't complain about another's shots, throw temper tantrums, use bad language or throw a racquet. Courtesy also includes not pouting when you're losing and not embarrassing a weaker opponent by being overly gracious and condescending.

Counting points played in good faith needs a little more explaining. For example, after a point is played and the net was discovered to be a few inches low, the point would stand. Or, if you realize during a point that you served from the wrong side, the point must be played out to its conclusion, with the problem corrected on the next serve.

The Calling of Lines
The key responsibility of any tennis player is calling their own lines. Most of the rules in The Code deal with this aspect of the game.

When making calls, a player is responsible for his or her own side. If any part of the ball is touching the line, then the shot is good. If a player doesn't know if a ball was in or not, that player has to assume that it was in and the opponent is awarded the point. You must give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. If you realize that you made a mistake making a call, such as calling a ball out when it was in, then the point should be replayed if you returned the ball back to the correct side of the court. If you missed the shot or stopped playing it, your opponent gets the point.

Other Aspects
If you want to know the rule on grunting and when and under what circumstances to call a let, it's in The Code. Another question covered in The Code is who serves first after a tie breaker is completed. To get the full set of rules along with The Code, check out USTA.com.

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