Somewhere, somehow, somebody got the idea that tennis etiquette had gone the way of long white flannels and ladies' parasols: into the Tennis Hall of Fame museum in Newport, Rhode Island. What tennis etiquette means today is practical courtesy: Don't wreck the match on the next court while enjoying your own. Like good manners in any field, tennis rules simply serve to make the game more efficient, less distracted and ultimately more fun.

Part of the problem is that all kinds of newcomers are sharing facilities with serious longtime tennis lovers. While the oldtimers must respect anybody's right to take up the game, beginners also need to appreciate the different needs of higher-level players. That's where most of the rub is.

The main thing serious players want is to play without distractions. Remember, the fences behind and beside a court are part of the playing field; since fences make noise, it's extremely inconsiderate to bang a tennis ball or anything else against one while waiting your turn. Our pet peeve, you'll pardon the pun, are people who leash their rambunctious dogs to the fence while waiting to play. And we really loved the guy who pedaled up one day and began elaborately chaining his bicycle to the fence right behind us just as we started to serve.

Another common problem is crossing courts. Don't cross behind other players while the ball's in play. Cross - then run, don't walk. Try not to open a gate or enter the courts when other players are about to serve.

A second problem is retrieving stray balls. All players hit balls awry, the better players sometimes more frequently than beginners. Don't simply hit the ball back without first looking to see if someone's ready to receive it. Hit it back directly to the person, not simply toward his court. Never roll a ball back while others are playing; tennis players have stepped on balls they didn't see and broken their backs. To get the other player's attention, say, "Ball coming!"


Walks onto the court before the previous team has finished its match.

Give your opponent a long look every time he calls your first serve out.

Throw your racket more than ten feet.

Strike up a conversation with someone outside your court during a game.

Ask the local pro to be fourth in doubles if your are not advanced players.

Force high-stakes bets on weaker players. "Loser buys drinks" is incentive enough in this kind of tennis.

Bring three people and rotate partners so that you tie up a court longer than one hour.

Ask a playing team how long they have been on the court during a game. Wait until that game is finished.

Bring small children (no playing) or pets onto the courts.

Threaten suicide when you lose.


Carry a can of new or only slightly used balls in case it's your turn to provide them.

Offer to pay the guest fee if you're invited to play at a club where you're not a member.

Yield a call to your opponent if you did not see clearly where the ball struck. If you did not see it out, it's in, unless your opponent was in a better position to call it.

Retrieve balls and return them directly to the server, not just randomly to his side of the court so that he has to retrieve them again himself.

Allow the preceding team several points to finish their game when their time is up.

Shake hands all around after the match.