The Tennis Code



When your serve hits your partner stationed at the net, is it a let, fault, or
loss of point? Likewise, what is the ruling when your serve, before touching
the ground, hits an opponent who is standing back of the baseline. The
answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who knows the funda-
mentals of tennis, but it is surprising the number of players who don’t know
these fundamentals. All players have a responsibility to be familiar with the
basic rules and customs of tennis. Further, it can be distressing when a play-
er makes a decision in accordance with a rule and the opponent protests
with the remark: “Well, I never heard of that rule before!” Ignorance of the
rules constitutes a delinquency on the part of a player and often spoils an
otherwise good match.

What is written here constitutes the essentials of The Code,a summary of
procedures and unwritten rules that custom and tradition dictate all players
should follow. No system of rules will cover every specific problem or situ-
ation that may arise. If players of good will follow the principles of The Code,
they should always be able to reach an agreement, while at the same time
making tennis more fun and a better game for all. The principles set forth in
The Code shall apply in cases not specifically covered by the ITF Rules of
Tennis and USTA Regulations.

Before reading this you might well ask yourself: Since we have a book that
contains all the rules of tennis, why do we need a code? Isn’t it sufficient to
know and understand all the rules? There are a number of things not specif-
ically set forth in the rules that are covered by custom and tradition only. For
example, if you have a doubt on a line call, your opponent gets the benefit
of the doubt. Can you find that in the rules? Further, custom dictates the
standard procedures that players will use in reaching decisions. These are
the reasons we need a code.
—Col. Nick Powel

Note: The Code is not part of the official ITF Rules of Tennis. Players shall fol-
low The Code in all unofficiated matches. Many of the principles also apply
when officials are present. This edition of The Code is an adaptation of the
original, which was written by Colonel Nicolas E. Powel.


Courtesy. Tennis is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy from
all participants. Make tennis a fun game by praising your opponents’ good
shots and by not:
•conducting loud postmortems after points;
•complaining about shots like lobs and drop shots;
•embarrassing a weak opponent by being overly gracious or
•losing your temper, using vile language, throwing your racket,
or slamming a ball in anger; or
•sulking when you are losing.
Counting points played in good faith. All points played in good faith
stand. For example, if after losing a point, a player discovers that the net was
four inches too high, the point stands. If a point is played from the wrong
court, there is no replay. If during a point, a player realizes that a mistake
was made at the beginning (for example, service from the wrong court), the
player shall continue playing the point. Corrective action may be taken only
after a point has been completed.
Shaking hands at end of the match is an acknowledgment by the
players that the match is over.


Warm-up is not practice. A player should provide the opponent a
5-minute warm-up (ten minutes if there are no ballpersons). If a player refuses
to warm up the opponent, the player forfeits the right to a warm-up. Some
players confuse warm-up and practice. Each player should make a special
effort to hit shots directly to the opponent. (If partners want to warm each
other up while their opponents are warming up, they may do so.)
Warm-up serves and returns. A player should take all warm-up serves
before the first serve of the match. A player who returns serves should return
them at a moderate pace in a manner that does not disrupt the server.


Player makes calls on own side of the net. A player calls all shots
landing on, or aimed at, the player’sside of the net.
6. Opponent gets benefit of doubt. When a match is played without offi-
cials, the players are responsible for making decisions, particularly for line
calls. There is a subtle difference between player decisions and those of an
on-court official. An official impartially resolves a problem involving a call,
whereas a player is guided by the unwritten law that any doubt must be
resolved in favor of the opponent. A player in attempting to be scrupulously
honest on line calls frequently will find himself keeping a ball in play that
might have been out or that the player discovers too late was out. Even so,
the game is much better played this way.
Ball touching any part of line is good. If any part of the ball touches
the line, the ball is good. A ball 99% out is still 100% good.
Ball that cannot be called out is good. Any ball that cannot be called out
is considered to have been good. A player may not claim a let on the basis of
not seeing a ball. One of tennis’ most infuriating moments occurs after a long
hard rally when a player makes a clean placement and the opponent says: “I’m
not sure if it was good or out. Let’s play a let.” Remember, it is each player’s
responsibility to call all balls landing on, or aimed at, the player’sside of the net.
If a ball can’t be called out with certainty, it is good. When you say your oppo-
nent’s shot was really out but you offer to replay the point to give your opponent
a break, you are deluding yourself because you must have had some doubt.
Calls when looking across a line or when far away. The call of a player
looking down a line is much more likely to be accurate than that of a player
looking across a line. When you are looking across a line, don’t call a ball
out unless you can clearly see part of the court between where the ball hit and
the line. It is difficult for a player who stands on one baseline to question a
call on a ball that landed near the other baseline.
Treat all points the same regardless of their importance.All points in
a match should be treated the same. There is no justification for considering
amatch point differently than the first point.
Requesting opponent’s help. When an opponent’s opinion is request-
ed and the opponent gives a positive opinion, it must be accepted. If neither
player has an opinion, the ball is considered good. Aid from an opponent is
available only on a call that ends a point.
Out calls corrected. If a player mistakenly calls a ball “out” and then
realizes it was good, the point shall be replayed if the player returned the ball
within the proper court. Nonetheless, if the player’s return of the ball results
in a “weak sitter,” the player should give the opponent the point. If the player
failed to make the return, the opponent wins the point. If the mistake was
made on the second serve, the server is entitled to two serves.
Player calls own shots out. With the exception of the first serve, a
player should call against himself or herself any ball the player clearly sees
out regardless of whether requested to do so by the opponent. The prime
objective in making calls is accuracy. All players should cooperate to attain
this objective.
Partners’ disagreement on calls. If one partner calls the ball out and
the other partner sees the ball good, they shall call it good. It is more impor-
tant to give your opponents the benefit of the doubt than to avoid possibly
hurting your partner’s feelings. The tactful way to achieve the desired result
is to tell your partner quietly of the mistake and then let your partner concede
the point. If a call is changed from out to good, the principles of Code §12
Audible or visible calls. No matter how obvious it is to a player that
the opponent’sball is out, the opponent is entitled to a prompt audible or
visible out call.
. Opponent’s calls questioned. When a player genuinely doubts an
opponent’s call, the player may ask: “Are you sure of your call?” If the oppo-
nent reaffirms that the ball was out, the call shall be accepted. If the opponent
acknowledges uncertainty, the opponent loses the point. There shall be no
further delay or discussion.
Spectators never to make calls. A player shall not enlist the aid of a
spectator in making a call. No spectator has a part in the match.
Prompt calls eliminate two chance option. Aplayer shall make all
calls promptly after the ball has hit the court. A call shall be made either
before the player’s return shot has gone out of play or before the opponent
has had the opportunity to play the return shot.
Prompt calls will quickly eliminate the “two chances to win the point”
option that some players practice. To illustrate, a player is advancing to the
net for an easy put away and sees a ball from an adjoining court rolling
toward the court. The player continues to advance and hits the shot, only to
have the supposed easy put away fly over the baseline. The player then
claims a let. The claim is not valid because the player forfeited the right to call
alet by choosing instead to play the ball. The player took a chance to win or
lose and is not entitled to a second chance.
Lets called when balls roll on the court. When a ball from an adjacent
court enters the playing area, any player shall call a let as soon as the player
becomes aware of the ball. The player loses the right to call a let if the player
unreasonably delays in making the call.
Touches, hitting ball before it crosses net, invasion of opponent’s court,
double hits, and double bounces. A player shall promptly acknowledge if:
•aball touches the player;
•the player touches the net;
•the player touches the player’s opponent’s court;
•the player hits a ball before it crosses the net;
•the player deliberately carries or double hits the ball; or
•the ball bounces more than once in the player’scourt.
Balls hit through the net or into the ground. A player shall make the
ruling on a ball that the player’s opponent hits:
•through the net; or
•into the ground before it goes over the net.
Calling balls on clay courts. If any part of the ball mark touches the line
on a clay court, the ball shall be called good. If you can see only part of the mark
on the court, this means that the missing part is on the line or tape. A player
should take a careful second look at any point-ending placement that is close
to a line on a clay court. Occasionally a ball will strike the tape, jump, and then
leave a full mark behind the line. This does not mean that a player is required
to show the opponent the mark. The opponent shall not cross the net to
inspect a mark. See USTA Regulation I.N.8.If the player hears the sound of
the ball striking the tape and sees a clean spot on the tape near the mark, the
player should give the point to the opponent.


Server’s request for third ball. When a server requests three balls,
the receiver shall comply when the third ball is readily available. Distant balls
shall be retrieved at the end of a game.
Foot Faults. Aplayer may warn an opponent that the opponent has
committed a flagrant foot fault. If the foot faulting continues, the player may
attempt to locate an official. If no official is available, the player may call fla-
grant foot faults. Compliance with the foot fault rule is very much a function
of a player’s personal honor system. The plea that a Server should not be
penalized because the server only just touched the line and did not rush the
net is not acceptable. Habitual foot faulting, whether intentional or careless,
is just as surely cheating as is making a deliberate bad line call.
Service calls in doubles. In doubles the receiver’s partner should call
the service line, and the receiver should call the sideline and the center service
line. Nonetheless, either partner may call a ball that either clearly sees.
Service calls by serving team. Neither the server nor server’s part-
ner shall make a fault call on the first service even if they think it is out
because the receiver may be giving the server the benefit of the doubt. There
is one exception. If the receiver plays a first service that is a fault and does
not put the return in play, the server or server’s partner may make the fault
call. The server and the server’s partner shall call out any second serve that
either clearly sees out.
Service let calls. Any player may call a service let. The call shall be made
before the return of serve goes out of play or is hit by the server or the server’s
partner. If the serve is an apparent or near ace, any let shall be called promptly.
Obvious faults. Aplayer shall not put into play or hit over the net an
obvious fault. To do so constitutes rudeness and may even be a form of
gamesmanship. On the other hand, if a player does not call a serve a fault and
gives the opponent the benefit of a close call, the server is not entitled to
replay the point.
Receiver readiness.The receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of
the server. The receiver should make no effort to return a serve when the
receiver is not ready. If a player attempts to return a serve (even if it is a
“quick” serve), then the receiver (or Receiving team) is presumed to be
Delays during service. When the server’s second service motion is
interrupted by a ball coming onto the court, the server is entitled to two
serves. When there is a delay between the first and second serves:
•the server gets one serve if the server was the cause of the delay;
•the server gets two serves if the delay was caused by the
Receiver or if there was outside interference.
The time it takes to clear a ball that comes onto the court between the first
and second serves is not considered sufficient time to warrant the server
receiving two serves unless this time is so prolonged as to constitute an
interruption. The receiver is the judge of whether the delay is sufficiently
prolonged to justify giving the server two serves.
Server announces score. The server shall announce the game score
before the first point of the game and the point score before each subsequent
point of the game.
Disputes. Disputes over the score shall be resolved by using one of
the following methods, which are listed in the order of preference:
•count all points and games agreed upon by the players and
replay only the disputed points or games;
•play from a score mutually agreeable to all players;
•spin a racket or toss a coin.


Talking during a point. A player shall not talk while the ball is moving
toward the opponent’s side of the court. If the player’s talking interferes with
an opponent’s ability to play the ball, the player loses the point. Consider the
situation where a player hits a weak lob and loudly yells at his or herpartner
to get back. If the shout is loud enough to distract an opponent, then the
opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. If the oppo-
nent chooses to hit the lob and misses it, the opponent loses the point
because the opponent did not make a timely claim of hindrance.
. Body movement. A player may feint with the body while the ball is in
play. Aplayer may change position at any time, including while the server is
tossing the ball. Any other movement or any sound that is made solely to dis-
tract an opponent, including, but not limited to, waving the arms or racket or
stamping the feet, is not allowed.
Lets due to hindrance. A let is not automatically granted because of
hindrance. A let is authorized only if the player could have made the shot had
the player not been hindered. A let is also not authorized for a hindrance
caused by something within a player’s control. For example, a request for a
let because the player tripped over the player’s own hat should be denied.
Grunting. A player should avoid grunting and making other loud
noises. Grunting and other loud noises may bother not only opponents but
also players on adjacent courts. In an extreme case, an opponent or a play-
er on an adjacent court may seek the assistance of the Referee or a Roving
Umpire. The Referee or official may treat grunting and the making of loud
noises as a hindrance. Depending upon the circumstance, this could result
in a let or loss of point.
Injury caused by a player. When a player accidentally injures an
opponent, the opponent suffers the consequences. Consider the situation
where the server’s racket accidentally strikes the receiver and incapacitates
the receiver.The receiver is unable to resume play within the time limit. Even
though the server caused the injury,the server wins the match by retirement.
On the other hand, when a player deliberately injures an opponent and affects
the opponent’s ability to play, then the opponent wins the match by default.
Hitting a ball or throwing a racket in anger is considered a deliberate act.

Withdrawing from a match or tournament. A player shall not enter a
tournament and then withdraw when the player discovers that tough oppo-
nents have also entered. A player may withdraw from a match or tournament
only because of injury, illness, or personal emergency. A player who cannot
play a match shall notify the Referee at once so that the opponent may be
saved a trip. A player who withdraws from a tournament is not entitled to the
return of the entry fee unless the player withdrew more than six days before
the start of the tournament.
Stalling. The following actions constitute stalling :
• warming up longer than the allotted time;
• playing at about one-third a player’s normal pace;
• taking more than 90 seconds on the odd-game changeover; or more
than 120 seconds on the Set Break.
• taking longer than the authorized 10 minutes during a rest period;
• starting a discussion or argument in order for a player to catch his
or her breath;
• clearing a missed first service that doesn’t need to be cleared; and
• excessive bouncing of the ball before any serve.
Aplayer who encounters a problem with stalling should contact an official.
Stalling is subject to penalty under the Point Penalty System.
Requesting an official. While normally a player may not leave the
playing area, the player may contact the Referee or a Roving Umpire to
request assistance. Some reasons for visiting the Referee include:
•chronic flagrant foot faults;
•a Medical Time-Out
•a scoring dispute; and
•a pattern of bad calls.
A player may refuse to play until an official responds.


Retrieving stray balls. Each player is responsible for removing stray
balls and other objects from the player’s end of the court. A player’s request
toremove a ball from the opponent’scourt must be honored. A player shall
not go behind an adjacent court to retrieve a ball, nor ask a player for return
of a ball from players on an adjacent court until their point is over. When a
player returns a ball that comes from an adjacent court, the player shall wait
until their point is over and then return it directly to one of the players, prefer-
ably the server.
Catching a ball. If a player catches a ball before it bounces, the player
loses the point regardless of where the player is standing.
New balls for a third set. When a tournament specifies new balls for
athird set, new balls shall be used unless all players agree otherwise.


Clothing and equipment malfunction. If clothing or equipment, other
than a racket, becomes unusable through circumstances outside the control
ofthe player, play may be suspended for a reasonable period. The player may
leave the court after the point is over to correct the problem. If a racket or
string is broken, the player may leave the court to get a replacement, but the
player is subject to code violations under the Point Penalty System.
Placement of towels.Place towels on the ground outside the net post
or at the back fence. Clothing and towels should never be placed on the net.

Tennis a game for life 

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