Chapter 20: General Rules And Competition

Tennis is governed by an international set of rules laid down by the International Tennis Federation and adopted by the United States Tennis Association.

Called Rules of Tennis and Cases and Decisions, these rules, together with The Code, cover every aspect of the game of tennis, from size and make of courts, tennis balls and racquets, to scoring, competition, and correct behavior.

The Rules of Tennis and Cases and Decisions have been extended with U.S.T.A. comments that clarify them to a far-reaching extent. These Rules and the Code can be seen for free at the U.S.T.A.’s website.

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 2.41.47 PMFriend at Court is the book of rules and regulations under which tennis is played in the United States. It includes the ITF Rules of Tennis, The Code, and USTA Regulations. It is recommended reading for players, parents, coaches, teachers, tournament directors, league officials and anyone who wants a finer understanding of the game. The Illustrated Introduction To Tennis is a simplified version of the basic rules, very useful for children and beginner adults.



Some of these rules have been covered in earlier chapters in a simplified manner. This chapter deals with additional general aspects of the rules.

The server shall not serve until the receiver is ready, whether it is a first or a second serve. If the receiver attempts to return the serve, he shall be deemed ready. Otherwise, should he indicate that he wasn’t ready, a “let” will be played, repeating the same serve.

A “let” can be called for a hindrance in making a shot, outside the player’s control, but not the result of a permanent fixture of the court. For example, if a ball from an adjacent court comes into your court while the ball is in play, a “let” is called and the whole point is replayed, with the server getting a first serve.

A player may toss the ball up to serve, then decide to catch the ball instead, directly or after hitting the ground. Unless he attempted to strike it, he can replay the serve.

Any ball touched by a player before it lands outside his court is deemed to have landed in. Many players catch the ball outside the court during friendly competition, calling it out, but in any argument, remember that the rule states that if it touches you before landing, it is good.

A ball touching a line is deemed to have landed in the court of which that line is boundary. Any ball that you cannot call out with certainty should be regarded as good.

The Code determines further rulings on decisions not covered by the Rules of Tennis and Cases and Decisions.

In the event a match is played without officials, each player calls the balls on his side, but should be scrupulously honest and fair to his opponent. If he can’t call it out, there is no maybe. It is good.

The calls should also be instantaneous.

If you missed seeing the ball’s landing well, and the ball you called out was actually good, you should immediately correct your call.

The server should announce the score in points prior to serving each point. (This is a tradition kept by good players since the beginning of time.)

Obscenities and bad language are considered “unsportsmanlike” conduct, as are abusing the ball or tennis equipment. In officiated matches such infractions are penalized.

Making loud noises, although allowed by the Women’s Tennis Association (“WTA”), can be the basis for a “let” or a hindrance, and should be avoided.

If you become a serious player, ready to compete, realize that there are innumerable situations not covered here that you may need to resolve quickly. Knowing the answer in advance is the best solution to avoiding problems in your matches that can result in an impaired performance.


The U.S.T.A. is an exceedingly well-managed organization, dedicated to controlling, promoting, and developing all aspects of the game in the U.S.

The U.S.T.A. has members distributed over seventeen Sectional Tennis Associations, some of which comprise several states. Each section is a separate tennis organization, divided into districts, each with its own representatives and affiliated tennis facilities.

As an example, one of the U.S.T.A. sections, the Florida Tennis Association (F.T.A.), has close to 500 affiliated tennis facilities in its sixteen districts. The F.T.A. has a year-long calendar of tournaments in all age categories, plus major tournaments involving top professionals as well, including the Miami Open, which brings almost every pro in the game to Florida. Altogether, over 600 sanctioned tournaments are played in Florida each year.

Age categories in tournaments are 10 and under, 12, 14, 16, and 18 for boys and girls. For adults, the age categories are 25 and over, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, and 85. There are also some special doubles divisions, like husband and wife, father and daughter, father and son, mother and daughter, mother and son, brother and brother, brother and sister, and sister and sister.

Senior tennis is extremely popular, not only at the local, state and national level, but around the world as well. There are international tournaments in age categories above 35, 45, 50, and older. The U.S.T.A. is increasingly associating some of this competition with the most serious tournaments. Where years ago pro players were washed up, competitively speaking, in their early thirties, today you see former world champions in their forties and fifties playing for prize money in front of enthusiastic crowds.

Each section publishes its own yearbook, in which every affiliated tennis facility is listed, with address and phone number if available, a complete schedule of tournaments, leagues, rankings, offices, and officials to contact, and a host of services such as recreational tennis programs, U.S.T.A. school programs, teacher training workshops, programs for the disabled, video and film libraries, and many more.

Another publication you might want is the U.S.T.A Tennis Yearbook. This is a marvelous documentation of the incredibly complex but organized role of the U.S.T.A. in the tennis game, as well as a historical record of major championships and events. It also lists all its offices, officers, committees, representatives, rankings, champions, the season’s results (both professional and amateur), awards, prize money, sketches of the top U.S. players, official rules of tennis, constitution and bylaws of the U.S.T.A., tournament regulations, and much more.

The U.S.T.A. has several player development programs. A typical “roots” program is the U.S.T.A./National Junior Tennis League, designed to bring tennis to those eight to eighteen years old. It has 280 chapters spread throughout the U.S., with an enrollment above 100,000, from novice to intermediate levels.

The U.S.T.A. Tennis Yearbook can be ordered from the U.S.T.A. The U.S.T.A. phone number is (914) 696 7000.