Tennis Etiquette for Players
Good sportsmanship, or the fair and generous behavior and treatment of others, is at the core of tennis etiquette.
The following are some essential tips to keep in mind for players as they participate in the sport.
Silence Your Phone
If your cell phone rings during a match, the opponent can automatically claim the point as an intentional hindrance because it was under your control. Before a match begins, make sure you turn your phone off or, at the very least, put it in silent mode.
The official rules of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) state that a warmup should be no longer than five minutes unless otherwise decided by organizers.
First and foremost, you should keep time and avoid abusing the length of the warmup period. If you require more time, you should work a separate warmup into your schedule before the match starts.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the warmup is a brief period intended to allow players to get comfortable before play commences, and therefore you should not treat it like practice. Instead, players should hit the ball back to their opponent and avoid going for winners or put-away shots, which waste time and reduce the efficacy of the warmup.
Also, plan for your opponent to want to hit a variety of different shots, i.e., groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, and serves. Help your opponent get the most out of their warmup, and they’ll return the favor.
Typically, the serve is the last stroke to warm up. As your opponent serves, catch the balls instead of firing returns back at them.
It’s a quick way to get on their nerves before the match even starts. In the worst-case scenario, you might hit them if you catch them off guard in between serves, which isn’t good form.
The vast majority of tennis matches played across the globe are without officials, so players are required to make the line calls.
More specifically, each player is responsible for calling the lines on their side of the court because they have the best vantage point.
As a result, poor line calls are one of the major causes of disputes on the court. However, just because you’re making the call, doesn’t mean you can or should make calls in your favor.
Instead, in all cases where you are not 100% sure of the correct call, you should give your opponent the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, this system works best when players on both sides of the net follow suit. The most reliable way to ensure that happens is by giving the opposing player credit if you’re unsure of the right call at all times, which will build trust and encourage the same behavior in return.
To help, you should make your calls quickly and loudly enough so your opponent can easily hear you. There should be no question, and a quick audible call is a confident call, which all players appreciate.
On rare occasions, you may find yourself in a situation where you quickly called a ball out almost by reflex, but just as quickly feel unsure in your decision. If this is the case, it’s perfectly fine to correct your call and apologize for the mistake.
Lastly, although your opponent is responsible for calling their side of the court, there will be some circumstances where you have a better vantage point. If they think the ball was in, but you saw it was out, then you should give them the point or if it was your serve take a fault.
Calling Out the Score
In professional tennis, the umpire calls out the score after every point, so everyone remains on the same page, and there is no question.
However, in recreational and amateur tennis, the players are responsible for calling out the score. The score of the set should be called out by the server before each game, and the score of the game called out before each point.
Doing so helps mitigate disputes, but it’s also good etiquette.
During a singles match, you should not talk or make any unnecessary noises, such as shouting, during a point. It’s against the rules and can cause you to forfeit the point as a hindrance.
Silence during play allows both players to concentrate. If you’re playing doubles, you’re allowed to communicate with your partner if the ball is traveling toward you. However, if the ball is moving back toward your opponent, you should be silent.
Similarly, you should avoid unnecessary or intentional movements meant to distract the player, such as waving your arms before your opponent hits the ball, which would also be considered a hindrance and result in the loss of the point.
Where we frequently see this becoming an issue that falls into a grey area is when the player returning serve intends to distract their opponent by making unnecessary movements.
The distinguishing factor here is whether or not you are intentionally trying to distract your opponent. It’s perfectly natural to move forward, bounce on the balls of your feet, and split step when returning a serve, but you shouldn’t be making unnecessary distracting movements.
Many players will abuse what’s necessary before their opponent serves to try and get in their head, and if it’s not flagrant, it’s going to be difficult to call as a hindrance, but it’s poor etiquette.
Unintentional distractions outside each player’s control, such as a ball entering the court during a point, are not considered a hindrance. Instead, players should call a let, and the point replayed.
In a professional setting, an umpire can easily distinguish what’s typical of a player’s preparation before returning the ball and what would be considered an intentional hindrance, which is why you don’t see this in professional tennis very often if ever.
Returning Misses Serves
If your opponent misses their serve by a large margin, don’t return it and take practice swings at it. Instead, block the ball to the side or the back of the court.
It’s annoying if you’re the server, plus they may have to chase the return you hit down to clear their side of the court before their second serve, which can throw their rhythm off.
Before the start of each point, both players should make sure the court is clear of balls, so there are no visual distractions present.
After the first serve, the server should also clear the ball if it landed on their side of the court. The only exception that most players won’t have an issue with is if your serve gets caught at the bottom of the net, where it’s out of the way and not much of a visual distraction. However, if your opponent asks you to remove it, you should honor their request.
Retrieving Balls from Nearby Courts
If one of your balls ends up at the back of a nearby court, it’s perfectly fine for you to retrieve it.
However, never do it during a point. Instead, wait until the players finish their point before running to grab it or asking a player to return it.
Net Chords & Mishits
Now and then, you’re going to hit a shot that clips the net chord and purely based on luck will land on your opponent’s side of the net, making it impossible for them to return. Likewise, you may shank or mishit the ball sending it in an unexpected direction or with an absurd spin that catches your opponent off guard and wins you the point.
When this happens, it’s common courtesy to wave to your opponent out of recognition for the lucky shot. There’s no doubt that luck is part of the sport, but no one likes to get beat by luck.
If you step into your opponent’s shoes, it’s incredibly frustrating, especially after fighting hard for a point at a critical moment, and it can get under a player’s skin. Waving to your opponent is a non-verbal cue that says, I get it; it was luck. However, you don’t need to be sorry about it – that’s not the point. It’s merely good sportsmanship.
Many will argue or debate the validity of the hand wave in these situations, but we appreciate the tradition.
Targeting Your Opponent
There will come a time when you and your opponent are both at the net, and they pop the ball up, giving you the perfect opportunity to hit them.
As far as the rules go, anything goes, and you could go ahead and take aim at your opponent, but it’s poor etiquette. For one, at proximity, you can legitimately injure a player, especially if you hit them in the head, which is not out of the realm of possibility.
Instead, you’d ideally aim at the open court or your opponent’s feet if it’s reasonable to do so, however, you should not do so at the expense of winning the point.
It’s a fine line, and sometimes it’s more obvious what is considered fair play. For example, if your opponent turns away because they don’t want to get hit, then there’s certainly no reason to aim, just put the ball in play and be done with it.
Other times, such as an overhead that’s nearly out of reach, you’re going to do anything possible to get your racquet on the ball, and the direction you hit may come as an afterthought or be out of your control.
In this scenario, if you accidentally hit or come close to hitting your opponent, it’s good etiquette to wave and apologize to the player and let them know that it wasn’t intentional. After all, it wasn’t on purpose, right?
Drop Shots and Lobs
A common question we get is whether or not repeated attempts at drop shots and lobs are poor etiquette in tennis. To an extent, we think there are two sides to this coin.
First, if it’s a formal competition, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with hitting 100 drop shots or lobs in a row. Both are legal, and players need to learn how to defend against it, so you shouldn’t complain. In most cases, a player that attempts too many drop shots or lobs will unnecessarily put themselves in a defensive position, so take advantage of it.
However, during a casual tennis match where both players are looking to get out and have a good time, repeated drop shots or lobs can quickly zap the fun factor out of playing. Yes, it’s legal, but more often than not, it’s going to be offputting and probably won’t help you make any friends.
Another scenario during a casual match might be taking advantage of a player who has a glaring weakness or injury that you’re looking to exploit, such as bad knees. Sure, you might be able to beat that person by hitting drop shots all day, but is it any fun? If you’re the person with the injury, we encourage you to find another hitting partner.
Although the underarm serve is perfectly legal, it gets a bad wrap, and many players consider it poor etiquette. That’s because it’s frequently interpreted that the serving player is slacking, not taking the match seriously, or trying to trick a player by catching them off guard.
However, like the player who tries to hit too many drop shots or lobs, the underarm serve typically becomes less effective the more a player uses it and ultimately can put the server on the defense when they should be starting the point on the offense.
If an opponent hits an underarm serve, don’t let it get under your skin. Instead, make sure you’re prepared for anything and keep in mind that if you’re standing far back for a return, you may be more likely to see it.
Part of good sportsmanship involves being a humble winner and a graceful loser. If you win, it’s perfectly fine to celebrate, but be thoughtful about the fact that the player on the other side of the net suffered a loss.
There’s a fine line between celebration and gloating.
Shaking Hands After a Match
Regardless of the outcome of a tennis match, it’s proper etiquette to meet your opponent at the net and shake hands. The winner should commend their opponent on a well-fought match while the loser should congratulate the player on their win.
There’s a trend in professional tennis for embraces after an intense tennis match, especially between two players who are friends off the court and have a lot of respect for each other. However, it’s not at all necessary, and a simple handshake will do the trick.
When you go to shake your opponent’s hand, don’t be lame about it. Give them a solid handshake and look them in the eye. It’s a sign of respect on both ends, and although many players won’t look their opponent in the eye, don’t let that player be you.
The outsole of tennis shoes features abrasion-resistant soles that won’t mark the court. Tennis clubs always have policies in place for their members that require the use of non-marking soles. Similarly, many public courts have signs that state they are required.
However, it’s common for recreation players who don’t frequently play to show up to the court with running or cross-training shoes that have softer outsoles and leave scuff marks. Not only is it poor etiquette, but your shoes are taking an unnecessary beating in the process.
If you’re hitting the court, be sure to pick up a pair of tennis shoes that are non-marking. You don’t need to spend a lot as there are plenty of affordable options, and you’ll also get the additional benefits tennis shoes offer, such as stability to protect your feet and ankles.