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Serving Terminology Explained

To continue the discussion on the serve swing in the game of tennis, let’s now examine each term used to describe certain aspects of this shot. Since the serve is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of any serious or even casual tennis player, it is important to go over some terms and various techniques that go into the totality of the swing. Understanding each term and technique can better equip each player to play well.


The most decisive type of serve is called an Ace. This is an explosive type of serve that every player wishes for every time they throw the ball up to slam at their opponent. This is when the ball rips across the court, lands in a legal spot in the opposing player’s side, the service box, and is not touched by the opposing player at all. There is no chance for a return and the serving player gets a point.

The next type is the Break where the serving player has lost his or her game and one related to this called Break Point is where it is only one point away from the Break. Players that serve are expected to win the games in which they serve so Breaks can be set changers as this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the player loses their serving game.

The Challenge serve, one where legendary tennis hall of famer John McEnroe had his share of screen time during every imaginable tennis tournament, is where either player may dispute whether or not the ball landed in or out of a legal spot. This is tough one for judges to call and often times many players, like McEnroe, are not happy about the decision.

The Fault is where the ball hits an area outside the designated area of play, called the service box. This does not start any particular point and the server is allowed to serve again; however, if they Fault again, called a Double Fault, they lose that point to the opponent. These are different from a Foot Fault, which is where the serving player steps over his base line or the center line before their racquet strikes the ball.

A Hold Serve is where the serving players wins the game. This is what most players aspire to because the serve is such a powerful tool for tennis victory.

A Let serve is where the ball is struck by the serving player but hits the net before it lands in the service box of the opposing player. This kind of serve is not considered a complete Fault and the serving player is allowed to try again and repeat the service attempt. This is not to be confused with a Let serve that hits the net but still lands inside the service because this would still be considered a Fault and not a pure Let serve.

On Serve, or when players are “back on serve”, is when both players have held each of their service games in the set, which is common for skilled players, or they have had an equal number of service breaks in the set.

Service Winner is when a serve is touched by the opposing player but not returned over the net into a legal play space. This is similar to a foul ball being struck in baseball with the difference being that in tennis the player loses that point and does not “stay alive” as a baseball batter would after an infinite number of foul balls.

It is important to understand both the types of serves as discussed in a previous article and the stances that players use with them. This knowledge, added together with the terms discussed above, with help players begin to understand the game of tennis better and thus improve their overall play on the court. Even veteran players would do well to revisit these concepts.

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