The Full Tennis Serving Rules Guide with 10+ Examples

tennis serving rules


The game of tennis is a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends or family. For beginners, it can be difficult to know the rules of serving.

We will go through some of the basics of what makes up each type of serve, as well as how it is different from other serves in specific sports like tennis or volleyball. We’ll also go into detail about how you can prepare your body before serving by warming up properly and then using an easy drill to get your arm ready for that first hit.

What are the rules for serving in tennis? What are some do’s and don’ts while serving in a game of tennis? Do you know how to serve an ace, or what not to do while your opponent is serving? If you’re curious about the rules of serve in tennis, I will answer all your questions. 

If you’re a newcomer or a seasoned player looking to improve your skills and learn the tennis serve rules, I highly recommend that you read up on this post!

Summary of Tennis Serving Basics

A tennis serve is the act of throwing the ball into the opponent’s court in an effort to score points. It can be done overhand, underhand, or with a twist (topspin). There are three types of serves: flat, topspin, and slice. A good serve will put your opponent on their heels and take away time for them to recover after hitting it. Serving well is important because it puts pressure on your opponents to make errors when they return the ball.

This list will summarize some of the most fundamental concepts that go into serving a tennis ball. With these tips in mind, you’ll be on your way to becoming a great server.

  1. It’s also worth noting that while serving, the player must stand behind (without touching) one baseline and can’t cross over before delivering their serve. However, they are allowed to move freely after completing their service motion.
  2. The receiver may position himself wherever he pleases during this time period.
  3. The serve is usually performed overhead.
  4. If a first serve is successful then that point starts automatically. 
  5. However, if it’s not, or fault, the server doesn’t lose the point automatically and they have to try again.
  6. The receiver may position himself wherever he feels comfortable on his side until play begins again with a served ball from the other player.
  7. You have to serve from the right-hand side of the court to the left service box from the first point.
  8. Then move on to alternating between serving right-to-left or left-to-right service box.
  9. A player stops serving once they have won their game.
  10. In order for a serve to count, it must be over the net without bouncing and land within your opponent’s service court.
  11. If it touches anything other than these lines (net, ground outside courts) it will be counted as a fault serve which means you need to re-serve that particular point.
  12. If your serve touches one of the service’s box lines then it still counts as in.
  13. Second serve rules

The rules for the second serve are simple. If your first serve is a fault, you must serve again without delay from behind the same half of the court in which that fault was served, unless it was in the wrong half. 

The rules for a second serve are not different from those of the first. If you’re not careful, and your first serve is faulted, then on your next service there will be no distinction between it being the first or second – both serves can result in points lost if they are faults, but also can result in winning the point if you manage to keep them in. It is crucial for the server to set up a second serve that will not be faulted.

Rules for underhand serve in tennis
  1. Let serve rule

The let serve rule in tennis is a well-known, but very important rule. It’s not about etiquette than it is about the game itself.

This rule, which is strictly enforced by umpires and officials alike at all levels of the game, simply means that if a ball lands in the service box after touching (or grazing) any part of the net or its supports during play it must be re-served. In other words, you’re allowed to re-serve without losing the point.

The let serve rule makes sure to only penalize players who hit before their opponent has had enough time to reach his/her side, no one wants an unfair advantage!

This also ensures fairness across generations as new technology such as larger racquets can make for faster serves than those used decades ago.

If it touches the net and lands in the service box, it is a ‘let serve‘ and must be re-served.

Also, when a player serves, it is important for there to be no distractions. The let serve rule applies when an obvious distraction occurs during play. Distractions can occur on either side of the net and might include anything from loud noises to other people walking onto the court.

The rule of let serves in tennis is that there are no limits to the number of consecutive lets a player can hit. As long as they continue their serve without faulting or making it, then this will continue until either one happens – which makes them lose the point.

  1. When does a serve count as a fault?

The main thing to remember is that the serve must land inside of the service box. If it doesn’t, you’ll lose a point. You can also hit the net once and still be able to continue serving as long as your ball lands inbounds on your opponent’s service box or if it’s caught by an opponent before touching anything else outside of their own side.

What counts as an illegal serve in tennis?

1. Missing a serve two times in one point is called a ‘double-fault’ and results in a point loss.

2. The server loses the point of the serve by letting the ball fall. 

3. If the server swings and misses, it’s not considered a fault and you can do it as many times consecutively.

4. A missed serve is called a “fault”.

5. If you’re serving the ball out of bounds or hitting the net on your way back into play, that’s a fault that means you lose your first serve or the second.

6. If you want to toss the ball again, you can catch it in the air and don’t let it fall, then serve again without fault.

  1. Foot fault while serving

There are many rules that govern the game of tennis with respect to the lines of the court. One rule is if a player’s foot touches the baseline before the ball has left their racket, this is called an “illegal serve” or “foot fault.”

On first serves, if there has been a foot fault, then that player still gets one more chance at serving. For second serves where there is a foot fault on their part, this would be considered as double faults and they have lost two chances of being able to serve again with any mistakes.

This is considered illegal and results in an automatic point lost for that serve attempt. Foot faults are very common and it is important to be aware of this rule if you plan on playing competitively. Watch out for those feet!

  1. Who is the server?

The server is the player which holds the ball and serves it first when the point starts. The identity of the server is determined by a coin toss in the beginning of a match, which alternates between Singles and Doubles play.

  1. Who is the reciever?

The receiver is the player which needs to return the ball which is shot by the server in the point.

  1. Order of serve

In singles tennis play, the order of serving is one player servers for a game, and the other serves in the game after. While in a tiebreak, each player gets 2 points to serve (and 1 in the beginning). In doubles, the same applies only with 4 players.

  1. Receiving in doubles

Receiving in a doubles game can be tricky. The team that is due to receive first will have the opportunity to decide who receives and which partner does so, while the other team has the same options for their second point of service.

This pattern should continue throughout each set with both teams alternating serving every two games. In this way, there are no surprises when it comes to receiving serve from either side! 

Serve clock in tennis

It is important to serve within a time frame. If you exceed the 25 second mark after your previous point ended without starting again, you will receive a time violation from an umpire. This can be detrimental if you are in a tight match and need every possible opportunity at winning. The serve clock in tennis is a tool that helps keep the game moving and prevents long delays.

The way you can tell how long someone is into his service game, and to know how many points they’re about to play to end their service turn, is by watching the scoreboard.

It can be frustrating when you don’t know what your opponent might do during their turn to serve and it becomes difficult to anticipate accordingly. The best way to avoid this problem is through knowing how long each player has before they need to serve again, which leads us to our next point about the service clock in tennis. Is there a serve clock in tennis? There is one!

The serve clock is a perfect way to ensure that the tennis match moves along at a steady pace and doesn’t allow for players to take advantage of their opponents. This clock device makes sure that there’s no downtime during an intense game, and it ensures both teams play with equal time on the court. 

What do you think about adding this type of timer in other competitive sports? Is there any evidence showing how effective these clocks are when used by professional athletes?

Serve rules In tennis:

  1. Toss

Sometimes when you toss you miss the ball and it falls down on the court, or otherwise you just want to retry another serve. The rules say that in case you want to re-serve the point after an unsuccessful toss you must catch the ball in the air and retry to serve. Otherwise (when the ball hits the court) – it would be considered as a fault and you would go to the second serve.

If you want to be a great tennis player, then it is important that your serve is on point. To do this, you need to practice the toss of the ball up for a serve and get more comfortable with throwing or tossing the ball in order to make sure it goes where you want it go.

You’ve practiced the toss or throw up and hit the ball to your opponent, but did you know that it is just as important when practicing a tennis serve? Getting the position of the ball right is also important because different serves require different throws. And if you don’t connect with it at the right point, there will not be enough power in your shot.

Spend time working on how you get the ball in position and then connect with it. It may be without actually hitting it.

  1. Who serves first

It is a common misconception that the person who wins the coin toss has to serve first. In professional tournaments, the umpire performs a coin toss and assigns one side or another based on their preference. 

If you’re playing with your friends at home, it doesn’t matter which of you chooses because there are no rules in place for such situations, and you can set a bet with basically anything to determine who would serve first.

  1. Hitting an opponent

There are some rules in tennis that can be confusing to understand, but they’re there for a reason. For the most part, hitting the ball at another player is not allowed. However, there are a few instances when it’s ‘okay’ to hit an opponent with your serve in tennis. 

If you’re serving and want to know whether or not it’s legal to send your opponents scrambling for their lives on the court, you better not do that. But you will win the point if the opponent is touching the ball before it hits the outside of the service box.

The moment a ball hits your body or clothing, the play is deemed over and the point is awarded to your opponent. In tennis, you can’t score a legal point by simply touching the ball with anything but your racket! This means that if you happen to have been inching closer to an approaching shot when it hit you on its way towards your opponent’s court, then they’ll be able to claim victory for that point.

Keep an eye on your opponent’s play and stay alert so that you don’t lose points unfairly!

  1. Singles

Serving in singles is plain and simple. The first server is determined by a coin toss in the beginning of the match, then the serving turn alternates between the players each game. Each player has to serve until he reaches a game point and wins it. Serving in tiebreak would give each player 2 points to serve each.

  1. Doubles

Serving in doubles is similar to how it is handled in singles with only one change, which is playing with 4 players. The serve is determined by a toss and the team that wins it chooses to receive or serve. If it chooses to serve, they would choose which one would serve. While their opponent would get the opportunity to choose who will return.

After a game, the first player in the opponent’s team will serve, afterwards, the partner of the first server in the match, then the partner of the second server. It looks like this:

Team A and Team BServing sequence
1st gameA1 serves
2nd gameB1 serves
3rd gameA2 serves
4th gameB2 serves
5th gameA1 serves again and so forth
  1. Direction of serve

In tennis, there are two types of service boxes. The first is called the deuce service box and it’s located on the right-hand side from where you stand. For this direction of serve, hit your ball diagonally from the right-hand side into their service box so that they have to move a bit farther for a return shot. 

The second direction is known as an ‘advantage’ service box and it’s found on the left-hand side from which the opponent stands. You can also call this a backhand or crosscourt server because these shots travel across the net in front of one’s body rather than going straight at their opponent like with a forehand shot.

  1. After tie break

You may be thinking that this is a rather straightforward rule. It’s not, though- it can lead to confusion when you’re playing.

Who serves after a tie break? If you are in a tiebreak, it’s important to know who served first in the set. The player that served the last game of the set before the tiebreaker will always serve first in the next set. In other words, the first returner of the set will be the first server of the next set after the tie break.

  1. Crossing the line

The baseline is a horizontal line that extends from the back edge of the player’s side to the front edge of their opponent’s. Crossing it before or after hitting the ball will result in an illegal service, and if you do so during your own serve, you’ll be called for a foot fault.

The center baseline is an imaginary line that extends across the court. It separates the service area from the rest of the tennis court and all players must stay behind this line during a point, including when they are serving or returning serve. A foot fault occurs if you cross over it while you serve. If you violate this rule, be prepared for a foot fault by the umpire.

  1. Serving in a tie break

Here’s how the serving sequence should look in doubles tie break:

1st pointBob serves.
2nd point – Serve changeMax serves
3rd pointMax serves
4th point – Serve changeTaylor serves
5th pointTaylor serves
6th point – Serve changeRoger serves
7th pointRoger serves
8th point – Serve changeNow bob serves again
9th pointBob serves
10th point and onThis sequence continues.

The same goes for singles, only with two players.

  1. Break of serve

Break of serve is considered a major ‘micro’ event within a tennis match because it is quite rare in professional play. When a server loses his service game, he gets ‘broken’, and if his opponent will keep his serve, he will win the set eventually. Breaking a serve can be expressed in a break of the game, or a point in a tiebreak.

  1. Changing sides

Changing sides occurs every pair of games ends. While in a tiebreak there is change of sides every 6 points played.

First pointStarting position
Sixth pointSide change
Points within
12th pointSide change
Points within
18th pointSide change
Points withinContinued play..
  1. Fault rules

 If you’re still unsure of what counts as a fault, read this. When it comes to serving, the most important thing is that your ball lands inside of the service box. If you hit the net or go out of bounds on their side then you’ll lose a point. The only time when this isn’t true is if your opponent catches it before touching anything else outside of their own side.

  1. Double fault

A double-fault is a rare occurrence in the pro tennis level, and it happens when a server fails to deliver two server consequently in one point, then he loses the point. Because in the professional level serving percentages are quite high, it is rare to see more than 3-5 double faults for a quality player in a match.

  1. Hitting the net

Hitting the net while serving can result in two cases. The first case is hitting the net and remaining in the server’s court side, which is a point lost obviously. The second case is hitting the top of the net then landing inside the service box, which counts as ‘let’ serve, which is another opportunity to serve (whether its first or second service). If the ball lands outside the service box after hitting the net, it counts as a fault, which is out.

First Serve vs Second Serve in Tennis

Each player is privileged to get 2 attempts to get his serve in, and start his point, otherwise, he’d lose it.

The best time to play a strong shot is on your first serve, as you get two opportunities. So it’s best if you take risks on your first attempt. For the first one, aim for an opponent’s weaker side or go all out with a powerful and high-arcing shot that carries lots of spin — but make sure it doesn’t fly into the net! 

Playing against the weaker side of an opponent during serves gives them less chance for success and also allows more room to show off power or finesse depending on preference. 

In addition, second serves have high risk which makes it not favorable because if they are faults then opponents will easily gain points from that point onward until another fault happens so being cautious with each turn would be beneficial in maintaining a good serve percentage throughout the match.

Different Types of Tennis Serves

The type of serve you choose to use depends on your skill level, what the other player is expecting and how much risk you are willing to take.

The flat serve is the simplest and most common type of serve in professional play since it’s easy for opponents to return if they read its trajectory correctly. 

Slice serves can be difficult to handle because their spin makes them unpredictable, using this technique will likely force the opponent into an error or a fault. 

A kick server has a topspin that forces the ball down at unexpected angles when hitting the court but also gaining height after making contact with the court. Making it more difficult than other types of servers to return successfully every time. 

Finally, underhanded servers are rarely seen in top-level competition but have been used with success by players like Andre Agassi who had enjoyed playing these sometimes.

Serving in Singles

Can you serve from the tram lines in tennis?

In singles, the server cannot stand on the tram lines and needs to be in a position that will not obstruct the receiver’s ability to play their shot. This means stepping back from the baseline by one or two steps towards where this imaginary extension of center-line would end if it continued across the singles sideline.

This rule is important for service consistency in Tennis. For example, if you’re a right-handed server it would be illegal to serve from your left side baseline or vice versa because this would put you on opposite sides of the center line at different angles which could cause inconsistency with how balls are served across court lines.

It is important that you know where your service zone begins for this rule change or else that serve will be considered fault!

Serving in Doubles

In doubles, The server can choose where he stands behind the baseline, and if he chooses to serve from behind the tramline baseline, he can.

The server can choose to serve from behind the tramline baseline and if he does, there are a few rules that apply. For example, the server cannot touch or stand on the baseline inside of his side of the court until after the ball has connected with his racket. Other than those requirements, servers have freedom as to where they stand before starting their next swing.

Rules for underhand serve in tennis

An underhand serve is a rare technique in professional tennis. To the untrained eye, it may seem like an easy way to win points. In reality, this type of service can be used as a desperate move by players who are injured or want to try something new and different when playing against their opponent. 

If you find yourself wanting to try out some unusual strategies during your next match with friends, make sure you know what kind of risks these moves might carry before using them on someone more skilled than you!

If you’re a tennis player, don’t bother to practice your underhand serve. It’s just not going to happen in the big leagues and it will only get you laughed at by other players.

This is why, when a tennis champion like Nick Kyrgios or others serve underhand, it’s not only shocking and unexpected for the opponent but also highly criticized by commentators. The unspoken rule in tennis states that if you don’t have to use an underhand serve usually. 

It may be more effective as an occasional shock tactic than as a regular strategy.

It might be okay for amateurs to try this kind of serve because it’s easier, accessible, and less embarrassing than missing an overhand shot.

Final Thoughts

When you’re serving in tennis, there are some basic rules that dictate how they serve is played. The first time someone serves, it’s called a “first serve.” A second service happens when they don’t return the ball to their opponent on the other side of the net after one bounce and has two bounces before hitting another player or going out-of-bounds (the court boundary). 

There are different types of tennis serves including an underhand serve which can only be done usually by players who have medical conditions preventing them from making contact with the ball above shoulder level. Other than these few exceptions, all players must use either an overhand or underarm swing while serving in singles matches and doubles matches respectively.

The serve is a tennis player’s chance to score the first point in the game. Knowing when and how to use different types of serves will give you an edge over your opponent with less effort. Knowing the rules of serving and which type of service you want to use will give you a leg up on your competition.

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