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tennisballIf you find yourself all fired up to play tennis watching the U.S. Open, remember that watching elite athletes can be really deceptive.  It may appear as if they hit,  jump and lunge with ease, but tennis is one tough game.

So while Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova are showing us how it’s done during this week’s  tournament,  here’s  a primer for those who want to learn the basics of the game.


  • Each women’s tennis match is made up of two to three sets (guys play five sets). To win a set, you must win at least six games.
  • The games are scored starting at “love” (or zero). From love, the first point is 15, then 30, then 40, which wins the game.

Scoring the Game

  • Before serving the score is announced, with server’s score first. So if you’re serving and you have zero and your opponent has 30, say “love-30.”
  • The server gets two tries. The serve must go over the net, land in the opposite service box, and bounce once before the opponent returns it.
  • If it doesn’t land in the service box,  a second serve is taken. If the second serve also misses, the point is lost.
  • If the serve grazes the net but still lands in the service box, the serve doesn’t count, and the server gets a do- over. This is called a “let.”
  • If the serve goes in and the opponent returns it, players continue hitting back and forth until someone hits the ball into the net, hits it out of bounds, or misses a shot. The other person gets the point.
  • Whoever is serving continues serving until the score reaches 40.
  • If the score is tied at 40 (“40-all”), that is “deuce,” which is  another word for tie. To break the tie, someone must win two points in a row.  If  a server at deuce wins the next point, then it’s  ” ad-in” which means “server’s advantage.” If the opponent wins, it goes back to deuce, and someone again must win by two points in a row. Yes, this could go on forever.
  • Once the game is over, the serve switches to the opposing player. After even numbered games  players switch sides of the court.

Scoring a Set

  • Before the first serve in each new game,  the score in sets is announced with the server’s score first.
  • To complete a set, someone must win six games; the first person to win six games wins the set.
  • However, as with “deuce,” players must win a set by at least two games. So, if the score is 6-5, the person with 5 must win by two games. If the score ties at 6-6, a tiebreaker is played.

Scoring the Match

  • The match is determined by the best two out of three sets. So whoever wins two sets, wins the match. If each player wins a set,  a third set is played to determine the winner.


Want to know the difference between a drop shot and a foot fault?  You can learn all you need to know to speak tennis here.

And if you’re ready to jump onto the court and play, here are a few tips to help your game.

What to wear

The right kind of shoes are important.  Though running shoes offer a cushioned sole, they don’t offer enough support for the side-to-side movement demanded in tennis.

You may not want to immediately  splurge on a new pair of tennies, but check the regulations at the court where you’ll be playing, since many don’t allow dark-soled shoes that could scuff the court.  If you own a pair of cross trainers, wear those instead of running shoes, as they offer better support.


  • Warm up before playing.  Jog for five to ten minutes to get your blood flowing. Your body should feel warm.  Do a few grapevines the length of the court to wake up your coordination.
  • Walking lunges are a great way to prepare your legs for tennis. This simultaneously lengthens and activates muscles in your legs, priming them for the court.
  • Twisting is the major action of the torso when hitting the ball. A standing twist stretch is easy to do against the fence of the court. Follow with some basic twisting from side to side to lubricate the joints in the back. You can try this with your racquet tucked under your arms, behind your back.
  • Warming up your shoulders is also essential. Move your arms as if you’re doing the backstroke, circling your arms overhead slowly at first and building up speed for 20 repetitions. Follow this by clapping your hands in front and in back of your body.

How do you get to centre court?

It’s sometimes hard to hear but there is no substitute for practice.  The more you practice, the easier it is to play well when it counts. Remember to get to the court early so you can prepare your body before you start to play and don’t get discouraged.


Remember that tennis has a reputation for being a very polite sport.  While it’s less stuffy than it used to be, there are many niceties you need to know so be sure to learn the proper etiquette before you start batting the balls over the night.  Here are a couple must-know rules:

  • If you arrive while other people are playing, wait until the point is over before passing behind to get to your court.
  • If your ball rolls into the adjacent court, don’t run after it. Wait for your neighbor to return the ball when it’s convenient. If a ball rolls onto your court, toss it back to the player it belongs to.
  • If you have any doubt about whether a ball is out, make the call in favor of your opponent.
  • At the end of the game, shake hands with your opponents.

Game on!

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