How hard can it be to serve in tennis? You simply toss the ball in the air and hit it over the net. Knowing the hows of serving is one thing, but you also need to know and abide by the serving rules set forth by the International Tennis Federation. It doesn't matter if you're a tour professional or a recreational Nestie player, you have to play by the rules -- it's just that simple. Knowing the rules helps to keep your matches dispute-free.
Who Serves First?
At the start of a match a coin is tossed. If you win the toss, you have three choices. You can decide to serve or receive in the first game, you can choose the end of the court to play on for the first game or you can choose to have your opponent decide between the first two choices.
In singles, the serve alternates between you and your opponent after every game. In doubles, the team who serves first decides which team member will serve the first game. After that game, the opposing team serves the second game. This team also decides which team member will serve first. The third game is served by the partner of the player who served the first game. The fourth game is served by the partner of the player who served the second game. This service order is maintained for the entire set.
General Serve Rules
As the server, you must stand behind the baseline and to the right of the baseline's center mark for the first point of a game. The ball must cross the net and land within the boundary lines of the service box, diagonally cross-court. You must stand behind the baseline and to the left of the baseline's center mark for the second point. Again, the ball is hit diagonally cross-court and must land in the service box. You continue to alternate the sides of the court until the end of the game. Your serve is considered good if the ball touches any part of the service box boundary lines. You are allowed two serves to start a point. During the service motion, the ball is tossed and must be hit before it touches on the court.
It's a foot fault if any part of either foot touches the baseline or the court inside the baseline before you've made contact with the ball. During your service motion, if your foot touches the imaginary extension of the baseline's center mark, it's a foot fault. It's also considered a foot fault if your foot touches the court outside the imaginary extension of the sideline during your service motion -- the singles sideline when you're playing singles or the doubles sideline when playing doubles.
If you've broken one of the general serve rules or committed a foot fault on your first serve, it's a service fault and you're allowed a second serve. If you fail to get your serve in play on your second attempt, it's a fault and you lose the point. It's a service fault if you toss the ball, swing and miss. On the serve, the ball can't touch any permanent fixture, such as the net post, before it contacts the court. In doubles, if you serve and the ball touches you, your partner or anything you or your partner are wearing, it's a fault.
If your serve touches the net, strap or headband and lands in the correct service box, it is considered a "let" and you are allowed to take the serve over. Another type of let is if you serve and your opponent is not ready to receive the ball.
Time between Serves
The rules state that play must be continuous and players must serve in a timely manner. If you're playing in an official league match or tournament, you're allowed 20 to 25 seconds between points, depending on the type of event. The time starts from the end of the previous point to the moment your racket makes contact with the ball on your next serve.