Tennis Etiquette for Players, Spectators, and Parents

Tennis Etiquette

For Players, Spectators, and Parents

You might be surprised to learn family members of Princess Kate Middleton were denied entry to the Royal Box at Wimbledon due to a minor breach of etiquette, but it’s true.

Over the years, tennis has developed a set of unspoken customs, many of which you won’t find in a rulebook, but are taken seriously by a worldwide community of tennis players.

On the surface, tennis etiquette may come off to some as pretentious and outdated. However, in our book, most of the customs that are now widely accepted in tennis are simply good manners that make the sport more enjoyable for everyone involved.

In this guide, we’ll cover a wide range of tennis etiquette from playing a match to attending a tournament as a spectator and watching your child as a parent, so that you can avoid an unnecessary faux pas.

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Etiquette Matters

Even though not everyone abides by these unspoken rules, your awareness and support help the sport retain its positive and courteous culture, which is part of what makes tennis unique.

Unfortunately, if you play for any length of time, you’ll experience your fair share of poor etiquette, and while it may be tempting to fight fire with fire, we’d strongly encourage you to maintain your integrity and do what’s right. You’ll feel better and have more fun while also maintaining the respect of your peers.

If you’re new to the sport and learning how to play or attending your first tournament, congrats, we’re excited to have you onboard and hope this guide helps shed some light on how you can make the most out of your participation.

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.

Warmups

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.

Warmup Serves

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.

Line Calls

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.

Verbal Distractions

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.

Visual Distractions

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.

Helpful Tip
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.

Clearing Balls

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.

Underarm Serve

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.

Celebrating Wins

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.

Non-Marking Shoes

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.

Doubles and Mixed Doubles Etiquette

The same etiquette that applies to singles applies to doubles except for talking, which is acceptable if the ball is traveling toward your team.

However, in recreational or non-competitive mixed doubles, there is some standard etiquette that some players overlook that we feel worth mentioning, which tends to occur when there is a gap in skill levels.

In a perfect world, you’d be playing against somewhat equally matched opponents all the way around, but we all know that’s frequently not the case. In such instances, it’s considered poor etiquette for the superior players to target the weaker players incessantly – male or female.

Instead of considering what’s technically allowed in this situation, we’d ask you to think about what’s fun. It’s certainly not against the rules to play the weaker player, but hopefully, you’re out on the court to have fun, and the more skilled player can usually add to or detract from the fun factor.

If you’re on the receiving end of target practice, it’s likely not going to be pleasant, so instead of addressing the player who doesn’t get it, we’d encourage you to find new opponents.

Of course, if you are playing competitively where the goal is to win, then, by all means, play the weaker player. You’re there to win.

A Note on Line Calls

In doubles, keep in mind that both players are allowed to call the lines for serves and during points, which is good to be aware of so you don’t mistake it for poor etiquette.

Tennis Etiquette for Spectators

As a spectator attending a competitive tennis match, either amateur or professional, there’s tennis etiquette too.

Stay Quite During Points

If you’re watching a tennis match, spectators shouldn’t talk or make any noises during a point, so neither player is distracted.

At a professional tennis match, the same holds. Although you may feel far away from the action and a player may not be able to hear what you’re saying the noise from talking can quickly become loud when thousands of people are talking or even whispering at the same time.

Again, the quite allows both players to focus. It’s the umpire’s job to help control a rowdy crowd, so don’t be surprised if they ask to quiet down before a point begins. You may also see a player pause for a moment before they serve to encourage the crowd to become silent.

Staying quiet is the most common form of etiquette broken by spectators because it’s not typical of any other major sporting events, and it’s natural to want to get involved. However, if you’re talking or making noise, don’t be surprised if another spectator asks you to quiet down.

Cheering & Clapping

Although you should remain quiet during play, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cheering and clapping for a specific player or even more generally for an excellent point.

However, you shouldn’t do so until the point is over. That means you should be sure there is no way a player can return a fair ball placed in bounds before beginning to cheer.

Sometimes the crowd will start to cheer when they think a point is over only to be surprised by a player’s seemingly impossible get. In these cases, you should quiet down again so the remainder of the point can be played, which we admit can be difficult, but it’s the right thing to do.

As for unforced errors, where a player makes an obvious mistake on what is considered an easily makeable ball, it’s acceptable to cheer or clap. However, you’ll usually find the crowd is a bit more subdued because a player made an obvious mistake, which isn’t something that typically warrants celebration vs. a player outright winning the point or forcing an error.

Getting Up from Your Seat

During a professional tennis match, players rotate ends, which occurs at the end of the first, third, and every subsequent odd game in the set. In a tiebreaker, players change ends every six points.

Helpful Tip
You won’t typically see it as often, but in tiebreak games which are played to 10 to help decide a match tied at one-all or two all for five-set matches, you’ll find players change ends after the first point and then subsequently after every four points.

With two exceptions, these are the only times you should leave your seat. The exceptions are after the first game in a set or the first point in a set where players don’t take a break – they simply switch sides.

During these times, you’re free to stand up and stretch, chat with your fellow spectators, run to the bathroom, or grab some snacks. However, keep in mind that the changeovers only last 90 seconds, so you’ll need to be quick to the exit or quick upon your return, so you’re not caught shuffling around when a new point is starting.

Also, be sure to choose your times wisely when you leave your seat. Particularly at the lower levels of the court, ushers will block spectators from entering until a changeover occurs. If you go at the wrong time, you could miss an important end to a set or even the match.

Beyond these general guidelines for spectators, specific tournaments also have some norms to be aware of before attending.

Phones, Photography, & Video

These days everyone’s smartphone serves as a full-featured camera that never leaves their pocket, and it’s no surprise these make their way to amateur and professional tennis matches.

If you do bring your phone, make sure it’s on silent and don’t take any calls during a match, period – there’s never enough time, and it’s going to rub nearby spectators the wrong way.

Photos or videos for that matter are perfectly acceptable during a tennis match, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, make sure your camera is in silent mode. If your camera doesn’t offer silent mode, we encourage you to leave it at home. Beyond that, never use flash photography. Repeat offenses are a quick way to get you thrown out of a match because it’s distracting to the players.

Keep your fellow spectators in mind. Don’t block someone’s view by standing to take photos during a point and keep your arms and camera out of their line of sight. Last but not least, while we all love a good selfie, don’t pose on and off the entire match. It’s distracting for anyone sitting behind you and poor etiquette, and yes, leave the selfie stick at home.

Taunting

In some sports, like baseball or football, taunting the players is widely accepted and part of the competition.

However, in tennis, it’s frowned upon and sometimes gets spectators in earshot of the player they’re taunting thrown out of the match.

It’s poor etiquette, and you shouldn’t be surprised if the crowd turns on you, tells a nearby usher about your behavior, and if it persists, ultimately cheers when they dismiss you from the court.

Wimbledon Etiquette

A common question first time attendees to Wimbledon have is whether or not there is a dress code because many of the people featured around the grounds and in the often filmed Royal Box dress to the nines.

Although many people do tend to dress fancy at Wimbledon, there isn’t a specific dress code for general entry. However, it’s one of the few tournaments where higher-end attire is the norm.

Also, while being quite during a point is the norm at tennis tournaments around the world, the respect for this point of etiquette is next level at Wimbledon. With a center court capacity just shy of 15,000, you can hear a pin drop with a packed crowd, so keep that in mind if attending.

Another point of reference that surprises many is that you are allowed to bring your food and drinks to Wimbledon, but you can’t bring it in a hard-sided cooler.

As for alcohol, you can bring it too, but you’re limited to one bottle of wine or Champagne or two cans of beer/mixed beverages per person. Of course, keep it classy, or they’ll ask you to leave.

French Open Etiquette

Like Wimbledon, there is no official dress code at the French Open, but you’ll find plenty of people dressed up.

You can also bring food and drinks under 1.5 liters, but sorry, you can’t bring alcohol from outside the grounds.

Beyond that, stick to the general etiquette outlined in the spectator’s section, and you should do just fine.

US Open Etiquette

Compared to Wimbledon and the French Open, the US Open is significantly more casual, in part due to the hot weather that tends to accompany the tournament.

Although proper etiquette still reigns supreme, you will find that the US Open is a bit more rambunctious, after all, you’re in New York. However, don’t let other noisy spectators get the best of you, the same customs apply to be quiet between points.

Food and drinks are permitted, but alcohol is not.

Australian Open Etiquette

Like the US Open, the Australian Open runs during their summer with some of the hottest temperatures players will experience on tour, so it’s no surprise you’ll also find attendees dressing more casual and comfortable.

As far as food and drink go, the same rules as the French and US Open apply in Australia. It’s allowed, but alcohol is not, just make sure your bottle is 1.5 liters or less.

Tennis Etiquette for Parents

For the most part, tennis etiquette for parents isn’t all that much different than what it is for spectators. However, there are two areas we hadn’t covered, which are worth mentioning.

First, while we recognize it’s your son or daughter out there competing, make sure you keep your emotions at bay; it’s only going to disrupt the players, and in the worst-case scenario, put unnecessary pressure on your kid. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to cheer for your kids, but you don’t need to go crazy when they hit a winner. You’ll also want to stay away from applauding errors from the opponent.

Similarly, never coach or get involved in the match. If your child’s opponent makes a bad call, it’s not your responsibility to jump in and get on their case. Instead, make sure your son or daughter knows the rules inside and out and then let them handle their business. They should also know what situations are worthy of calling an official, which again, you should let them take care of if necessary.

Also, make sure your kids are familiar with proper tennis etiquette, so they don’t get themselves into trouble either.

Public Court Etiquette

For many, public courts are where we play most of our tennis, but there are a few points of etiquette that are worth noting.

Pay Attention to Posted Signs

Often, public courts have their own set of etiquette that they post on the doors or nearby bulletin boards usually located toward the front of the courts or near the center of all of the courts.

Before you begin playing, make sure to familiarize yourself and then follow them, so you don’t unintentionally get on someone’s nerves.

Helpful Tip
Some public courts have signup sheets or boards, particularly when there is a large number of available courts to help keep track of who’s up next because it might not always be apparent who’s up next. Make sure to check the board and put your name down vs. assuming that you can just wait by one of them until it’s your turn.

One example is that some courts don’t allow people to play shirtless. If signs say that shirts are required, then follow the guidelines. Otherwise, you should be okay, but don’t be surprised if you get a few funny looks.

Entering a Court

Sometimes public tennis courts require players to cross one court to get to another because there is only one door to enter.

If that’s the case and there are players actively playing a match, wait until they change ends before entering the court. Some people will try to sneak in between points, but it’s rarely enough time to open and close the door and get settled on your court, so it’s frowned upon, and you should wait.

If the court you need to pass through has players who are practicing or hitting around for fun, wait until they stop hitting and, as a courtesy, ask if they’re okay with you passing through the court.

Waiting for a Court

There’s nothing wrong with waiting your turn outside of a court, but keep the general etiquette shared in this guide in mind.

It’s okay to ask players how much time they have left during a changeover, but don’t hound them. Ask once and then wait patiently.

Length of Play

Most public courts will post how long you should play if someone is waiting outside the court. It’s common for that period to be 60 minutes for singles and 90 minutes for doubles, but we’ve seen it as short as 30 minutes, so follow the posted guidelines.

As a general rule, don’t go longer than an hour and keep in mind that this generally means your total playing time. If someone shows up and you’ve been playing for 30 minutes, then wrap up after another 30 minutes.

Of course, there’s no way for them to know how long you’ve been playing, but it’s the right thing to do.

Holding a Court

If you’re waiting for a friend to come and play, you should avoid holding the court while others are waiting because during that time, the court is going unused, and you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Ball Machines & Practicing Serves

Ball machines are a great way to get a workout without a partner, but they can cause their own set of issues.

First, not all ball machines are quiet, so they can be distracting to nearby players that have to listen to them. However, more importantly, it’s common for two courts to connect without gates separating them.

If a fence doesn’t separate your local courts and there is someone else playing on the adjacent court, then you should avoid using your ball machine. Invariably you’re going to hit balls that are going to make their way into the nearby court because there is no one fielding your shots. Although this can happen when playing with another person, it’s going to happen more frequently if you’re using a ball machine.

The same is true for practicing serves with a basket. Ideally, in both scenarios, you’ll find a court that’s protected by fences on all sides.

Pick Up Trash

It should go without saying, but when you leave the court, pick up and dispose of your trash. Whether that’s plastic from an overgrip, empty ball cans, water bottles, or any other waste, it’s poor form to leave it for the next set of players.

Wrapping Up

Although it may seem like a lot to take in, for the most part, tennis etiquette is often common sense and good manners.

Beyond that, simply asking yourself how you’d want your opponent to handle the situation will put you on the right track.

Hopefully, our guide helped you learn something new or clarified a piece of etiquette that may have been unclear.

Of course, if you still have questions, you think we left something important out, or perhaps want to share some of your etiquette stories, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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