The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Tennis

Tennis Court

If you’re looking for a fun sport that you can learn at any age, tennis is the sport for you. It is very simple to learn, the equipment is inexpensive, and tennis courts are easy to access in many public parks. It’s the ideal sport for people looking to improve their fitness without the cost of a gym membership. Over 87 million people play world-wide, and there is a robust professional league that draws a massive viewership. Tennis is an immensely popular game. Despite its beginnings as a sport played among royalty and the upper class, it is currently one of the least exclusive sports- anyone can pick up a racquet and play!

In this article you will learn:

  • If tennis is right for you
  • How long it takes to learn
  • What equipment you need to get started
  • The rules of the game
  • Tennis skills

By the end of this guide, you will have all the information you need to pick up a tennis racket and get going!

Is tennis right for you?

Tennis has always been played as a social sport. It was often played at social gatherings, and the idea was that anyone could play. This is still true today. Tennis is the ideal sport for people of all ages. Once you know the basic rules, and have the necessary equipment, you’re set! 

You can grab a friend and find an empty tennis court in a park near you. You don’t have to know all the rules to start off- you can learn as you go and refer back to this guide when you need to. It might help to start out playing with a more advanced player who can give you tips along the way. You also don’t need to be in excellent shape! Tennis is a great way to improve your fitness at any level, and it doesn’t take long to learn.

There are many benefits to playing tennis. In addition to being an excellent form of cardio, tennis also improves strength and muscle mass. But it’s not only good for your physical health! Tennis can improve your mental wellbeing, too. Exercise has been shown to reduce depression and help manage anxiety. It also improves energy levels and leads to more restful sleep. And because tennis can be played with friends, it will increase your sense of connectedness, which also has mental health benefits.

But best of all, tennis is fun! It’s a fast-paced, exhilarating game, with lots of footwork. Once you get going, you’ll find that your motivation to learn only increases. It takes about a year to go from being a complete beginner to an advanced-beginner or intermediate skill level. This can be accomplished by practicing 2-3 times a week. Whether you’re playing at a tennis club, or in public courts, all it takes is a little dedication. And with the help of a certified tennis coach, you’ll be playing tennis in no time!

Tennis - The Origin Story

Tennis developed in the Middle Ages, around the year 1500. It evolved over the course of three centuries from another sport. This sport was played in the 12th century monastic cloisters of France. Back then, the game was called jeu de paume or “game of the palm”. The players used a bare hand to hit the ball. The players would volley the ball back and forth between them, much like in handball. Eventually, the players began wearing leather gloves. As the sport advanced, a racquet was added.

In its early days, tennis was a game played mostly among the upper classes. Lawn tennis exploded in popularity shortly after the release of a book by Welsh man named Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, in 1874. The book set out the rules for the game, and Wingfield introduced a defining element of the new game: the rubber ball, which could bounce on grass. By 1875, lawn tennis had virtually replaced badminton and croquet in popularity. 

Lawn tennis was first played in the Olympics in 1896, with a professional competitive tour introduced in 1926. The rules have remained virtually the same, save for the introduction of the tiebreak rule in 1971. It is now one of the most widely played and lucrative sports in the world.

Now that you know a bit about the history of tennis, let’s look at what you need to get started, before we move on to the rules of the game.

What You’ll Need to Get Started

The bare essentials for playing beginner tennis are a court, an opponent, tennis balls (always have a few extra on hand!), a good pair of tennis shoes, and a racquet. Almost all of these are simple to procure and require little explanation, but it’s worthwhile to take an in depth look at racquets, so that you can decide which racquet might work best for you.

Racquets consist of a shaft and a head. The shaft contains the grip, and the head consists of the beam and the strings. There are three types of racquets: power racquets, control racquets, and tweener racquets.

A Tennis Racquet
Diagram via

Power Racquets are an ideal racquet for beginners, since they allow the player to hit the ball hard and farther, with less effort than other racquets. These racquets help compensate for some of the skill beginners might be lacking, as they learn to refine their technique. These racquets are also ideal for smaller players, and players who may have less strength. Characteristics of these racquets include a larger head, greater length, stiff frames, and a more lightweight construction.

Control Racquets provide the opposite benefit to power racquets. This means players give up some power for the ability to hit the ball with more accuracy, providing them with better control over where the ball goes. This means that they require more advanced technique to operate, and the player needs to possess great enough fitness to provide a powerful swing. These racquets have a small head, standard length, flexible frames, and a heavier construction.

Tweener racquets are so named because they fall somewhere in between power racquets and control racquets. They provide an ideal blend of power and control, and are therefore ideal for intermediate players, or beginners who want to invest in a higher quality racquet. They have a mid-size head, mid-size length, mid-range flexibility, and are a mid-range weight.

If you’re a beginner, buying a power racquet is a good place to start. If you’re an intermediate player, or if you’re an athlete in another sport that provides you with excellent strength and coordination, a tweener racquet might be a better option. And with practice and dedication, you might find a control racquet suits you before too long. But when you’re starting out, it’s not necessary to spring for a more expensive racquet, especially if you’re not sure whether or not you’ll love playing as much as you love watching the game. $20-40 is a reasonable price for your first racquet.

Learning the Court

Tennis Courts
Photo by Angela Bailey on Unsplash

So, you’ve decided on a racquet, and you’re ready to step onto the court. In order, to play tennis, an important first step is to learn the court. In person lessons are a great way to get started.

Although a tennis court may look complex, it’ll become second-nature to you in no time!

So what do those lines mean?

The lines on a tennis court all tell you where on the court is in and out of bounds. Sometimes different shots have to land within different bounds. Sometimes players have to stand on specific spots in the court. We’ll learn more about that in the rules! 

Understanding the Court
Diagram by Gabriel Munro

At the centre of the court is the net, which divides the two sides. You will always stay on one side of the net, and your opponent will always stay on the other. 

Running along the sides of the court are the doubles sidelines. That marks the edge of the court when playing doubles, with two players on each team. 

Within the doubles sideline is the singles sideline, which (you guessed it!) marks what’s out of bounds when playing with one player on each side. 

Within the singles sideline, on the half of your side that’s closest to the net, there are two boxes. These are called service boxes. These dictate where a tennis serve is allowed to land. The line that divides the two boxes is called the service centre line

At the back of the service boxes is the service line. This line separates the forecourt from the back court. 

The line farthest from the net is the base line. Beyond the base line is out of bounds. The baseline is also the line behind which players will serve the ball. 

The area between the service line and the base line is called no man’s land. This name refers to the fact that no man’s land is a strategically disadvantageous place to stand during a game. 

In the middle of the base line is the centre mark. The centre mark divides the two halves of the base line. This is useful because when you’re serving, you will always be doing so from one of the sides of the base line, never the centre. 

What happens if the ball lands on a line? A ball that lands on a line is always counted as being within the bounds of that line.

Now that you know what all those lines are for, let’s talk about the rules. You’ll be playing in no time!

The Rules of the Game

Learning the fundamentals of a new sport can always seem a little intimidating at first. But you don’t need to memorize all these rules! A certified Tennis Pro Now instructor will guide you!

The important thing is just to start practicing. 

The more you practice, the more intuitive the rules will become!

You don’t need to have perfectly memorized the rules of play to start having fun with tennis, but there are a few basics that are essential to even the most informal of games. 

Playing the Game
Photo by Chino Rocha on Unsplash

The Basics 

First of all, the ball has to stay within bounds. While the ball is within bounds, it is live. If you hit the ball and it lands out of bounds, your opponent will gain a point. Likewise, if they hit the ball out of bounds, you will gain a point. 

The ball must be hit only once to return it to your opponent’s side. When you hit the ball back to your opponent, that is called a return

A live ball must be returned before it bounces twice, or you will lose a point.

A serve must be allowed to bounce once before it is returned. 

Players cannot touch the net, the posts, or cross the net onto their opponent’s side.

It’s against the rules to catch or carry the ball with your racquet. Racquets are only for hitting!

It’s also against the rules to return the ball before it has passed the net to your side of the court.

There are also rules of conduct. These will result in a penalty. If your ball hits the other player, that’s a penalty. If you drop your racquet, that’s a penalty. And if you yell, or threaten the other player, that’s a penalty. 

If the rules seem confusing, you can always ask an expert for advice!


What’s the point of all this, other than having fun, getting some exercise and enjoying some fresh air? The score, of course!

Scoring in tennis may seem a little tricky at first. It works differently than it does in many other sports. 

Scoring is done with a combination of points, games, sets, and matches. 

Points are the smallest unit of the four.

Each game only consists of four points. A point is achieved when a player fails to successfully return a hit. 

You start with zero points.

After you score your first point, you have a score of 15. Your next point brings you to 30. The next point brings you to 40, and the point after that brings you to game!

So, let’s review. First you have 0, then you have 15, then you have 40, then you have game!

Does that mean you’re finished playing tennis? No way!

Games are won when a player reaches game with a lead of at least two points. 

Sets are won by the player who first wins at least six games with at least a two game lead

So if your opponent has won five games, you will need to win at least seven in order to beat them.

A tennis match is a group of sets. Often, players will play “best of three” or “best of five” sets.

How To Start a Game

Making the Serve
Photo by Julian Schiemann on Unsplash

Now that you know the basic rules, and how points are tallied, it’s time to look at how a tennis game plays out on the court. After a good warm-up, you’re ready to serve.


A game is started with a serve. You may toss a coin to determine who serves first. Whoever didn’t win the coin toss usually gets to decide which player takes which side of the net. After every point, the same player will serve the ball until the end of the game. Then it will be their turn to receive the ball for the subsequent game. 

Let’s say it’s your lucky day, and you get to serve first! The first thing to pay attention to is where you’re standing. You must pick one side of the centre mark to serve from (left or right), and you may not step over the baseline until your serve is complete. Your opponent, who is receiving the serve, may stand wherever they wish. 

After each successful serve, on every subsequent serve you will alternate which side of the centre mark you serve from, without stepping over the baseline. If you step over the baseline, the serve will count as missed.

If you’re serving from the left side of the centre mark, your serve must hit the service box that is diagonal from you; the one on the right. Likewise, if you’re serving from the right, the ball must land within the right service box. 

Don’t worry – you get two tries!

If your first serve does not land within the correct service box, you may take a second serve. If your second serve is also unsuccessful, however, you lose the point.

If your serve hits the top of the net, then lands into the correct service box, this is known as a let. You may retry after a let with no consequence – if you hit 10 lets in a row, it still wouldn’t affect the score.

If your opponent returns your serve without letting it bounce first, you will score a point. 


Once a successful serve has been landed, a rally begins. You and your opponent will return the ball to one another until one of you fails to do so, and the ball is no longer live. That’s how a point is scored. There are different ways to fail to return the ball:

  • If your opponent lets the ball bounce more than once before returning it, you will gain a point.
  • If your opponent returns the ball but it goes out of bounds before your racquet makes contact with it, you will gain a point.
  • If your opponent fails to return the ball, you will gain a point.
  • After a point is scored, it’s time for another serve to start the next rally!

Tip: Avoid standing in no man’s land while waiting for your opponent’s return, as it’s an awkward distance from the net. From this area, you’re too close to the net to effectively respond to a groundstroke, and too far from the net to effectively volley.



It’s important to understand the different types of shots in tennis. There are seven essential shots to know:

  • Serves are the first shot in any game, and the first shot after each rally ends. Serves are often powerful and aggressive in an attempt to gain an advantage over the other player. Serves are typically overhead shots, as an overhead swing allows for the greatest power and precision.

  • Ground Strokes are shots that bounce once before being returned. A serve is always intended to be a ground stroke.

  • Volleys are shots that are returned without bouncing first. Many volleys are lighter, shorter shots that do not reach beyond the forecourt.

  • Lobs are shots that aim high and far into the opponent’s court. Using a lob can be very advantageous while your opponent is in their forecourt. 

  • Overheads are shots that are taken by hitting the ball while it’s over your head. An overhead shot often affords the greatest amount of power, and are therefore advantageous in competitive play.

  • Drop Shots are light, soft shots that return the ball with very little force, so that it isn’t likely to bounce. With drop shots, timing is everything: making a drop shot while your opponent is in the back court will be very difficult for them to catch in time to return. 

  • Tweeners are shots made from between the legs. A tweener is a disadvantageous shot to make and should be avoided. Tweeners are most likely to happen when a player is cramped and rushed while close to the net, or when they’re chasing a lob without having enough time to properly turn and face it. 

Time to Find a Court!

So now you’ve learned a lot about tennis! You’ve found out that tennis can be right for you. You’ve learned about what you need to get started. You’ve seen the different types of racquets and how to use them. We’ve discussed the rules, the scoring, and even the terminology! You’re all ready to start beginner lessons with your own instructor. Get started on tennis lessons today, by enrolling in Tennis Pro Now!

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You’re going to have a blast with this fast-paced game! Happy serving!

Jonathan Stanfield

Jonathan got his tennis start in Saskatoon, waking up early each morning to practice before anyone else could reserve the free courts. Since then, his interests have widened: he works professionally for a Canadian ad agency, has several published short stories, and has recently taken up photography. Tennis remains a passion for Jonathan and he always feels most at home on a tennis court.