Playing tennis successfully is ultimately about playing matches and winning more points than your opponent.

Yes, you can have some fun just hitting the ball back and forth (rallying) with a friend for a while, but ultimately the real challenge (and fun) starts when you play against a good opponent and can test out how well your shots perform under pressure.

Playing matches, whether they are friendly weekend practise matches against a friend, or serious competition level matches at an international tournament, there are certain things you can do to help give you a better chance of winning:

1: Run For Every Ball

Short version: Running for every ball puts extra pressure on your opponent, meaning you can pressure them into making more mistakes just by running for every ball.

Long version: Running for every ball may seem obvious, but you would be surprised (or maybe not) at how many people I see stop running for a ball just because they either think they can’t get to it before the 2nd bounce, or they think it will just go out but are then surprised (and not ready) when the ball lands in.

However it’s not just simply running for the ball “just in case” you may reach it, or because you may have misjudged where the ball will land. Those are already good reasons to run for the ball every time. The other reason why you want to chase after every ball is because of the amount of pressure you can put on your opponent just by running after every ball they hit, even those that you know you will not be able to reach.

Imagine hitting your best shot into the corner, knowing that it’s out of reach for your opponent, but they run for it anyway and only miss making contact with it by a foot, or a few centimeters. The next time you go for that shot, whether consciously or subconsciously, you will remember that your opponent ran for the shot and narrowly missed hitting it back… So you try to hit the ball a little harder, or a little wider, just to make sure they don’t reach it.

Now you are taking more risk and are potentially more prone to making a mistake. What you need to do is make your opponent feel that kind of pressure. Run for every ball, show them you are ready to hit that ball back even if they come at you with their best shots.

Just by putting your opponent under this pressure, they will give away more points than they normally would… Meaning that you will be winning points that you normally wouldn’t have won. The more points you win, the more pressure you put on your opponent and the more points you can win.

2: Call The Score

Short version: Call the score so both you and your opponent can easily track it.

Long version: Again, this can seem obvious, but many times I see players playing a match and no one is calling the score. Then something may happen (for example a ball is out but your opponent didn’t hear your call, or one player simply gets confused) and all of a sudden you and your opponent have a different score in your mind. This may not be realised until one player thinks it’s game, and the other player thinks it’s Deuce or 40-15. If you called the score after every point, the confusion wouldn’t be there. This doesn’t mean that everything will run smoothly, because even if you are calling the score your opponent may still dispute your last call. Which brings up the next point…

3: Call the ball out!

Short version: Call the ball out if it’s out, because even though it may be obviously out to you, it may not be so obvious to your opponent.

Long version: Even though it may be completely obviously out to you, your opponent’s perspective may not be as good. Or they may just have bad eyesight. Either way, making sure you call every out ball loudly and clearly will result in less confusion (if you don’t call the ball out, your opponent may assume it was in and that they won the point) and a smoother match. If your opponent thinks you made a bad call, then they can dispute it then and there, rather than having a bigger dispute about the score later on.

4: Cover Every Shot

Short version: Don’t assume your judgement and anticipation levels are 100% accurate.

Long version: Although some people are better at it than others, everyone misjudges where the ball will land from time to time. This becomes an easy point for your opponent. Why would you want to give them a free point like that?

The best thing to do is assume the ball is going in and get into position to hit it back. If it goes in, you are ready. If it goes out, you can hit it back and call it out straight after you hit your shot. Incorrectly, many people assume that if the ball lands out, you have to call it straight away without hitting it back, otherwise you don’t win the point. This is simply not true.

As long as you call it out straight after hitting the ball back – and don’t continue playing after that – then you win the point, even if the ball you hit back went out or into the net.

5: Know your rules

Short version: Knowing the rules can help you get a point that normally you may not get (if you don’t know the rules)

Long version: Tennis has a lot of rules that are either confusing or not that well known. For example, many players get confused about what happens when someone mis-hits the ball and makes contact with it 2 or more times on the same swing. Many mistakenly believe that the player would lose that point, but the rule is that as long as it was 1 continuous swing, the shot is valid.

The same confusion happens when a player makes contact with a ball and then follows through with their racket swinging over the net onto the other players side. Again this is allowed, as long as contact was made with the ball on the first players (the one hitting the ball) side and also as long as they didn’t touch the net with any part of their body or racket…

Which is another rule that people get confused over: no part of your body, clothing or racket can touch the net at any time during a point, otherwise you will lose the point. Once the point is over (ie: the ball has bounced twice, or your opponents shot has landed out) you can touch the net.

There is one instance where you can reach over the net to your opponents side and hit the ball: when they hit a shot that lands on your side first and either due to wind or spin (or both) the ball heads back over to their side of the court. You can reach over the net and hit the ball, just be careful not to touch the net while you are reaching over.

If your opponent swings at their serve but misses the ball, that is considered a fault. Underhand serves are quite legal. If your opponent is serving but you are not ready, don’t attempt to hit the ball back as this will be considered as you being ready: Instead, put your hand up in a “stop” sign (this is important) and let the ball go past.

If a ball from a neighboring court rolls onto your court between your opponents first and second serves, they don’t get a first serve unless you (the returner) think the delay was too long. If your shock absorber comes out during the point and hits the net or ends up on your opponents side while the point is live, you lose the point, but your opponent has to call it while the point is live.

As you can see, there are quite a few complicated and often times confusing rules. The above are just a few examples that you can run into every now and then when playing matches. I will also be doing another post with more examples of some other confusing or lesser known rules which I will link to here when it’s done.