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Especially if you’re new to tennis, the rules and nuances of the game can be hard to understand. But as you’re learning the game, one of the most important things to understand (and avoid!) are faults.
So what is a fault in tennis? Let’s take a closer look.
Types of Faults
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) defines a fault as a ball that does not land in the correct service court after being served. The association also notes that a foot fault is given when a serving player steps out of the designated serving area when serving.
Of course, if you want to master the game of tennis, it’s important to really get a grasp of the various scenarios that can result in a fault. If you want to take a closer look at faults on the tennis court, check out this informative video what is a fault in tennis
Not Reaching the Service Box
The most common fault tennis definition is this one. Beginner tennis players in particular are more likely to make this fault, as it can be hard to control and place the ball when you’re just starting out.
When you serve the ball, you stand on the right half of your court behind the baseline. You then need to hit the ball diagonally into the other player’s service court.
If the ball lands anywhere besides the correct court, the serving player gets a service fault. New tennis players sometimes have problems with this. Since the service courts are somewhat close to the net, newer players may sometimes hit the ball too short so it doesn’t clear the net at all. At the other end of the extreme, new players might hit the ball too hard, causing it to land past the opponent’s service court.
Serving the Ball Incorrectly
In order to make a serve legal, you’ll need to complete the service motion correctly. In a proper serve, the server releases the ball with the hand that is not holding the racket. If this rule is not followed, it’s called an illegal release.
They then hit the ball with the racket before the ball has a chance to hit the ground. However, it’s worth noting that one-handed players do not have to follow this rule.
Other Problems With the Serve
Though not as common, there are a couple other ways the server can get a tennis fault. Although it’s rare, a fault also occurs if a player misses the ball when swinging to make the serve.
You will also get a fault if the ball hits a permanent fixture (like a net post) while in the air. The fault still applies even if the ball ends up landing in the correct court.
In a similar vein, the server gets a fault if the ball hits the server (or the server’s partner in a doubles match).
Especially in a high-level tennis match, foot faults are fairly rare. A foot fault is when the serving player’s foot touches or crosses the baseline or the imaginary extension of the center line. Slight movements of the server’s feet are allowed, but the player can’t change position drastically in order to get an advantage. An example of this would be running to build momentum or get a better angle.
The foot fault is sometimes the subject of controversy. If a foot fault occurs, it is called by a line judge. Often, foot fault calls are somewhat inconsistent, so some players end up getting away with them.
One highly publicized foot fault controversy happened in 2009 while Serena Williams was playing at the US Open. She lost a point on a foot fault and began yelling at the officials. Since this was deemed to be unsportsmanlike behavior, she was docked another point and lost the match.
What Happens If You Get a Fault?
While you know that foot faults and normal faults are things to avoid, you might wonder what happens after you get one.
Just like a server gets two chances to serve the ball, the server also is allowed one fault. Getting a second fault on the same serve is called a double fault. If you get a double fault, you lose the point.
Foot faults follow the same rules as service faults. If two faults are accumulated, the server loses the point.
Is a Service Let the Same as a Fault?
A “let” in tennis is any time when a whole point needs to be replayed. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the “service let,” the most common type. In most service lets, the served ball hits the net cord and then lands in the correct service box. It’s also considered a let if the ball touches the net and then touches the opponent (or anything they’re wearing) before it hits the ground, or if a player serves before the opponent is ready.
Often, service lets are easy to spot. You can usually see when the ball hits the net or hear a popping sound as it hits the net cord.
So what happens if you get a service let? If the let happens on your first attempt at a serve, then the whole point will be replayed (meaning you still get two more serves).
If the let happens on the second serve, you get only one additional serve. However, if that serve is a let, you have another chance: there is not a limit on the number of service lets.
Tips for Avoiding Faults
Obviously, you want to avoid losing a point thanks to a double fault. And the best way to avoid a double fault is to not get the first fault! Whether you’re heading into your first tennis match or just want to get ahead when it comes to avoiding double faults, here are some helpful tips:
Practice your serve. If you’re a new player, practice serving with a friend or teammate until it’s second nature. After all, you don’t want to get an easily avoidable fault (like when the server misses the ball!). Make sure you master a basic serve with the same motion before learning various styles like the slice serve, flat serve, underhand serve, or kick serve.
Pay attention to your feet. Don’t wait until a tennis match to focus on your feet. Many new players commit foot faults when the front foot crosses over the baseline. You might want to ask a friend or teammate to watch you so they can tell you when one foot comes close to committing a fault.
Stand further back. Chances are good that after you serve, you won’t be in the exact same position you were when the serve began. For most tennis players, the motion of the serve carries them forward just a bit. Doing this means there’s more risk of accidentally stepping on the other side of the baseline.
Stepping back reduces your chance of committing a foot fault. But don’t step too far back! It increases the total serving distance you’ll need to cover.
Take a video. Whether you’re in a practice tennis match or just practicing in general, a video can help you carefully analyze your foot movements and reduce your risk of a fault. You can ask a friend to video you or simply set up your own phone or a video recorder.
Improving Your Game
Now that you know the answer to “what’s a fault in tennis?” you’ll be better equipped to improve as a player. But be patient with yourself—like any other part of the game, the tennis serve takes time to perfect. As you get better at avoiding double faults, your game will start to improve one point at a time!
Still have some questions on faults in tennis? Here are some key answers:
In tennis, a fault is basically a serve that is not successful. If the ball does not land in the opponent’s service box, the serving player misses the ball or steps out of serving position, or the ball hits anything before it reaches the service box, the serving player gets a fault.
A let is a point that needs to be replayed because of some type of interference (like hitting the net).
During service, a let is when the ball hits the net but reaches the opponent’s service box. If the ball hits the net but bounces outside the service box, the serving player gets a fault.
No; a fault is when a serving player either does not complete a serve correctly or serves a ball that lands outside the opponent’s service box. If a player gets two faults (called a double fault), they will lose the point.