May 1, 2005
Swanberg is a former collegiate player at Livingston
University and each month he will give us a new tennis
Alright, people, this week we're stepping off the court and into the classroom. I know, this sounds like work all
of a sudden, but trust me. You will want to learn this stuff. We are going to talk this month about
many tennis terms and what they mean, and afterwards you will be able to dazzle your friends with your vast
knowledge of tennis terminology. As well, people like Mary Carillo won't confuse you anymore.
Well, at least her commentary won't.
Most advanced players already know most or all of this, but they may want to see if their ideas jibe with mine.
Beginners and intermediate players will most likely see a lot of terms here that they've heard on the courts or
on TV, but just don't yet know what they mean. Feel free to print this article out to use for your own
reference. Just don't let your friends catch you cribbing with it.
So, without much further ado, I present you:
Stuff You May Not Know
Alternate Title: Tennis Dictionary
Another Title I Was Thinking About: Dictionary of Tennis Terms
- Ad court
- The left side of the court. Sometimes used to refer
to the left-side service box.
- In regular scoring (not no-ad), if the server wins
the point when the score is deuce, the score becomes
ad-in. Sometimes, the score is called "my ad" by the
server, but "ad-in" is the proper term for the score.
- Same as "ad-in" except that the advantage is to
the receiver or receiving team. Players frequently
call this score out as "your ad," but "ad-out" is
the proper term for the score.
- All (as in 30-all)
- When the server and the receiver are tied in any
score, it is called using "all" as the last word.
Examples: in a game, if both players have 2 points,
the score is "thirty-all." This can go for set scores
and match scores, as in "we are 3-all in this set"
or "sets are one-all."
- American Twist, or Kick Serve
- For us older players, the "kick" server used to
be called the "American Twist." Don't ask me why because
I don't know. I could make something up, of course,
like it was first hit by an American player by the
name of Donald Tilden McEnnewcome, but you, my faithful
readers, are much too smart to fall for that. But
the kick serve is one that is hit with some top spin
and some side spin so that the ball arcs and angles
and then jumps to the side in the direction of the
servers racquet arm. In other words, if a right hander
hits a kick serve to the ad (backhand) court, it will
jump out away from the center of the court. This serve
is effective as a second serve or also to pull an
opponent off the court allowing for a serve-and-volley
- Association of Tennis Professionals. This is the
organization that handles the profesional men's tour.
Visit atptennis.com for more information.
- Player who prefers to stay back as his or her primary
tactic. These players tend to be very steady, make
few mistakes, and can run for hours without getting
tired. They can confound serve-and-volleyers. Best
tactics against baseliners include vertical movement
(drop and lob) and conservative net-rushing (i.e.
stay back until you get a really good opportunity
to come in). Baseliners tend to hail from areas where
slower court surfaces are prevalent, such as Florida
- Buster (or Breaker)
- Shorthand for tie-breaker. When a set score reaches
6-all, a tie-breaker is played. The standard tie-breaker
played today is the 12-point tie-breaker, where the
victor is the first to reach 7 points with a minimum
margin of 2 points. Back in the day (yeesh, I'm old)
we had the 9-point tie-breaker where the winner would
only need 5 points with a margin of 1. I recall a
match when I was but a little birdling where the third
set tie-breaker went to 4-all in the tie-breaker meaning
that the entire match hinged on the final point. Now
- Chip and Charge
- During a baseline exchange when one player gets
a short ball, hits an approach shot, and follows it
to the net, this is frequently called "chip and charge"
because the standard approach shot has slight backspin
on it. Also because "chip and charge" is fun to say.
Some similar variations on this alliterative behavior
are "pound and pray," "hack and hope," and "wail and
- Compact Swing
- Players who do not take a large wind-up on their
groundstrokes are said to have a "compact" swing.
These players typically cannot generate a lot of power
on their own (but be careful, some can hit the ball
deceivingly hard) but it is difficult to force them
to hit late. Many baseliners prefer a compact swing
to increase their consistency. If you ever see an
old tape of Borg v. McEnroe, notice Mac's compact
strokes versus Borg's large looping backswings.
- Continental Grip
- Back in the day (there's that phrase again), instructors
used to teach grips by identifying where the V of
your hand (the V-shaped part of your hand formed by
your thumb and index finger) was placed on the racquet's
grip. Nowadays, most instructors use the "pad" of
your index finger (the part of your hand just at the
base of the index finger, otherwise known as the backside
or inside of your knuckle) as a guide. Hold your racquet
vertically (racquet face pointing level) and look
at the butt cap. Imagine the 4 faces and 4 bevels
of the grip as the points of a compass: N, S, E, W,
NE, NW, SE, SW. If you are right handed and your index
pad is on the NE bevel, this is a continental grip.
Lefties will have their pad on the NW bevel. This
grip is used most often for serves and occasionally
for volleys (although I find it makes the wrist too
flimsy to volley effectively).
- When the game score is 40-all, the score is said
to be "deuce." From that point on, every second point
is called "deuce" until the game is over. Some players
call 30-all deuce, which it effectively is, but technically
is not. So it's not. End of story.
- Deuce Court
- The right side of the court, so named because when
the score is deuce the ball is served from the right
side into the opponent's right-side service box. Exception:
in "no-ad" scoring, the receiver/receiving team can
choose which side they want to receive on, deuce or
ad. The deuce court is sometimes called the forehand
side of the court, but I surmise lefties don't call
- When two players compete against two other players.
Singles is when one person plays against one other
person. Sometimes, when there are three people that
want to play, they will play 2-on-1, which is called
"Australian Doubles." Oh, those kookie Aussies...
- Eastern Grip
- When the pad of your index finger is on the East
face of the grip (West for lefties), this is said
to be the Eastern Forehand Grip. There is, however,
a distinction between this grip and the Eastern Backhand
Grip, which is when the pad of your index finger is
on the North face.
- Fifteen. Many players shorten the saying of "fifteen"
in the game score to "five," as in "five-all" or "five-forty"
instead of "fifteen-all" or "fifteen-forty."
- When the ball is hit just after its bounce when
it is still just a few inches off the ground, this
is a "half-volley."
- Heavy Ball
- This is a tough one. It is very difficult to truly
define a "heavy" ball. All I can say is you just know
it's heavy. Typically a heavy ball is one that is
hit hard, not very high, deep, and has a modicum of
top spin on it. These are the balls that when one
is hit your way, you feel like the ball is hitting
your racquet more than vice-versa. People who hit
heavy balls are generally advanced players who play
a power game, but pretty much anyone can hit one from
time to time.
- Cheat, typically on a line call. If your opponent
calls your in shots out on purpose, he or she is said
to be "hooking" you. Popular phrases include, "that's
a hook, Mark! You #@&%$!" and "HOOK! Did you see that
hook? Man, that guy is hooking the tar out of me!"
- Inside-out Backhand
- When a backhand is hit from the forehand side of
the court toward the opponents opposite side, it is
termed inside out. The reason for this term is that
the destination of the ball is the same as if the
ball were hit down-the-line, but the ball is actually
angling crosscourt. So, in describing the shot, neither
crosscourt nor down-the-line really applies, so the
inside-out term was invented. Very few players monkey
around with inside-out backhands.
- Inside-out Forehand
- Inside-out forehand, on the other hand (get it?),
are very common. Since most players are right-handed
and since most players have stronger forehands than
backhands, lots of players will run around their backhands
to hit forehands to their opponent's backhands to
gain a tactical advantage. By the way, if you are
serving to my forehand in the ad court (I am right-handed)
and I return to your backhand side, this is generally
not called an inside-out forehand since I didn't move
to that side on purpose to hit that shot; I was there
to return serve. Basically, that's just a forehand
return to your backhand side.
- Lob (offensive lob and defensive lob)
- Any shot that crosses the net high up in the air
is a lob. Of course, just how high it has to be to
be considered a lob is debatable. There are offensive
lobs and defensive lobs. Offensive lobs are intended
to go over a netplayer's head to win the point. Defensive
lobs are generally used to give a player more time
to get into position.
- Looping Swing
- Opposite of Compact Swing. When a player uses a
looping motion in the backswing of their groundstrokes,
it is said to be a looping backswing or just a looping
swing. This can generate more power on a groundstroke
but can also land you in trouble if the ball is coming
so fast that you can't complete the loop in time to
meet the ball properly.
- Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. When giving the score,
a player that has zero has his score given as "love."
This applies to game, set, and match scores. Examples
are "30-love," "we are 4-love in the set," and "I
am leading one set to love."
- Mixed Doubles
- When a male and a female play doubles against another
male and female, this is called mixed doubles. It
is also the cause of many divorces.
- A player who prefers to stay back and hit non-aggressive
shots is called a "moon-baller." This is because their
shots tend to be high looping affairs that one would
swear cross the moon before coming back down to earth.
There is a big distinction between moon-ballers and
baseliners. Bjorn Borg: baseliner. My old college
teammate Jesse (nicknames: "Treats," "Jughead," and
"Jesster the Molester"): moon-baller. Moon-ballers
are also sometimes called "fluff-ballers" or "pushers."
These players can confound even the most advanced
players because it is difficult to establish a rhythm
against them. They also tend to have wickedly accurate
passing shots so if you are going to net-rush against
them, make sure you hit a good approach shot. By the
way, Jesse never beat me in a challenge match. Consider
that ticket punched!
- No-Ad Scoring
- When players reach deuce, the next point wins the
game in "no-ad" scoring, aptly named because there
are no ad points played. When playing no-ad scoring,
the receiver/receiving team can decide which side,
ad or deuce, to receive from. As well, the score in
the game is traditionally called using 1, 2, and 3
instead of 15, 30, and 40, but this isn't followed
very often. No-ad scoring was conceived to make matches
shorter so that large tournaments can be played in
- No-Man's Land
- The area between the baseline and the service line
is known, traditionally, as "no-man's land." I guess
it would be more PC to call it "no-person's land."
The reason for this name is because you don't want
to get caught in this part of the court. A deep shot
will land behind you making it difficult to hit back,
and you are also not close enough to the net to start
thinking about hitting a winning volley. Basically,
it's just not a good place to be.
- National Tennis Rating Program. The USTA (see USTA)
developed the NTRP as a means to rate players for
league and tournament play. See http://www.usta.com/leagues/custom.sps?iType=931&icustompageid=1655
for more information. It is intended to match players
with opponents of similar skills so that the competition
is more enjoyable. Although, if your fellow players
are like mine, everyone tries to lower their rating
so that they win more matches. I find this deplorable
and against the very fiber of everything the... what?
My medication? Okay... so, I forgot the little orange
pill today. I don't really need it, do I?
- Open Stance
- When hitting the ball, if your feet are positioned
more toward facing the net than the back fence, this
is said to be an "open" stance. As a general rule,
it is fine to hit forehands with an open stance (most
of the pros do it all of the time these days) but
you want a "closed" stance for backhands.
- Overhead (smash)
- The answer to the lob! An overhead smash (usually
called just an "overhead") is when a player hits a
ball over their head with a motion similar to a service
motion. The "over their head" part is key to the name.
- This is one of those terms that is highly subjective.
Different players have different ideas of just exactly
what pace is. I like to define it as the total kinetic
energy in the ball. If a ball has more velocity or
spin, then it has more pace. But that's not necessarily
the best way to put it. If you reduce spin and increase
velocity the same amount, the pace isn't the same.
So, why is this important? Well, a very common tactic
is to change pace during a point or between points.
You can vary spin and velocity to keep your opponent
from getting a good rhythm going. You can also hit
many balls flat and slow and then surprise them with
a hard shot with heavy topspin.
- Pro Set
- The normal set in tennis is won by winning 6 games
with a margin of 2 or more games with a tie-breaker
played at 6-all. A "pro set" is basically the same
thing but is won by getting to 8 games. Generally,
it is used to shorten matches; you will play a single
pro set instead of two-out-of-three regular sets.
Personally, I don't like them. One service break and
you're in big trouble.
- The strict definition is "rotation of the wrist
in an inward direction." How does this pertain to
tennis? Well, back in the day (sigh), instructors
used to talk about the wrist-snap on serves. In reality,
and as is taught today, it is a pronation, or a rotation
of the wrist, and not a wrist snap. Truth to tell,
"wrist snap" just sounds painful and tennis is an
injury-prone sport as it is.
- See "moon-baller."
- A term used to describe the lower-level players.
It's not used much today, however. The etymology harkens
to junior football teams where you would have the
First String, the Second String, the Third String,
the Fourth String, and the "Rest Of Y'all."
- Semi-Western Grip
- Place your index pad on the SE bevel (SW for lefties)
and that is a semi-western forehand grip.
- One who follows his serve to the net as his primary
tactic. Typically, serve-and-volleyers are found more
often in areas where faster court surfaces prevail,
such as California and Texas. And Germany.
- "Shuffle" refers to the motion tennis players make
with their feet when trying to get into position.
Basically, it is a lateral movement where you keep
your facing toward the net. The reason for shuffling
your feet is because if you turn and run back into
position, then your opponent will soon realize that
hitting behind you (see wrong-footed) is an effective
- When one player competes against one opponent. In
singles, the doubles alleys (the long boxes at the
sides of the court) are considered out-of-bounds.
- Singles Sticks
- The net posts are supposed to be 6 inches outside
the bounds of the court. Most tennis courts include
the doubles alleys, so the net posts must be outside
of them. So, singles sticks were invented and are
placed 6 inches outside the singles lines on a doubles
court to raise the net at those points and to make
the court regulation for singles play. These are rarely
used in typical amateur play, but are necessary in
high-level and pro tournaments.
- Generally, any ball that has heavy spin (except
top spin) is said to have "slice." There are slice
forehands, slice backhands, slice serves. I've even
witnessed a slice volley in my lifetime, although
I am sure it was on accident.
- The small hopping motion made when approaching the
net to get ready for the next shot. The purpose of
the split-step is to square your shoulders to the
net and to get your weight balanced so that you can
change direction quickly if the next shot isn't hit
right to you. Ideally, you want to time the split-step
so that your feet hit the ground at the same time
your opponent's racquet hits the ball. This gives
you the most time get ready to move to the next shot
while also giving you the most time to close the net
as tight as you can.
- Swinging Volley
- I think the Williams sisters made the swinging volley
as popular as it is today. Basically, it's a ground-stroke
(forehand or backhand) that you hit without first
letting the ball bounce. And hoo boy are they fun
- Sometimes, for whatever reason, a player really
doesn't want to win a match. Perhaps they were paid
off. Perhaps they have another more important tournament
that they need to get to. Perhaps they just thought
they left the stove on and need to get home. But going
in the "tank" is often used to describe a player who
is purposely not putting in their best effort.
- The "Dropper"
- The drop-shot. Used very effectively by people who
have a lot of touch and finesse in their game, the
"dropper" is a shot that is intentionally hit very
short in an attempt to either bring their opponent
into the net or perhaps to get an outright winner.
Remember, the court is two-dimensional (maybe 3-D,
but I hate those funny glasses), so there is more
to tactics than just choosing whether to hit to your
opponent's forehand or backhand.
- The "Saba-tweenie"
- Made popular by the long-legged Gabriela Sabatini,
the "Saba-tweenie" is when a player is at net, gets
lobbed, and runs down the lob but hits the ball between
their legs with their back still to the net. In college,
our coach had a standing bet that any player that
hits a winner off of a Saba-tweenie got a steak dinner.
My doubles partner won that bet (but lost the match...
steak never tasted so bitter-sweet).
- The "T"
- Refer to my previous articles about The Geometry
of Tennis. The "T" is the intersection of the service
line and the center service line, forming a T-shape.
- Top Spin
- A ball that is hit with an upward motion of the
racquet face will have "top spin" imparted on it.
Due to fluid dynamics, Bernoulli's Law, the rotation
of the earth, and the phases of the moon, a ball with
topspin drives itself earthward. That means down.
This allows a player to hit harder and higher over
the net (increasing margin of error), and still keep
the ball from going long (past the baseline).
- Disney movie involving the playthings of a boy with
characters voiced by, among others, Tim Allen and
Tom Hanks. Seriously, a "toy" is when one player exhibits
a level of skill, if even briefly, that far outstrips
his opponent's and then uses this to purposely humiliate
the opponent. An example would be if player A is way
out of position and, instead of taking the easy winner,
player B hits a gentle shot that is still just out
of reach of player A but yet so inviting that player
A encounters a dilemma about whether to go for it
or not. Man, I love when that happens... I mean to
my opponents. Not to me. That sucks.
- Somewhat archaic but still in good use today, the
term "tree" is used to describe a player that is having
a great day and is playing far outside his or her
usual abilities. It can also be used to describe a
bout of incredible luck. Synonym: in the "zone."
- The United States Professional Tennis Association,
an association of tennis instructors. For more information,
- The United States Professional Tennis Registry,
also an association of tennis instructors. For more
information, visit http://www.ptrtennis.org/
- The United States Tennis Association, an organization
devoted to promoting and developing tennis in the
United States. Most nations have their own version
of the USTA, which establishes leagues, sponsors tournaments,
and hosts community tennis events. They also have
a website: http://www.usta.com
- Western Grip
- If your index pad is on the South face of the grip,
this is a Western forehand grip. Note, if you turn
the racquet over, you have an Eastern backhand grip
(although the Western Forehand grip tends to have
more of a trigger-finger than the Eastern backhand
grip). The Western forehand is very advanced and is
used to maximize power and topspin in that shot.
- When your opponent hits a shot behind you as you
are scurrying to get back into position, you are said
to have been "wrong-footed."
- Women's Tennis Association, the women's counterpart
to the ATP, which sponsors and promotes professional
female tennis players and events. For more information,
Send your tennis questions and comments to Mike
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