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Tennis Expressions and Terminology With a Funny Twist

Rules, naming and tennis expressions can seem foreign to new players and to those unfamiliar with competitive play. Below is a list of common tennis expressions, phrases and terminology you may hear on the court.

Abuse

The pleasurable, often therapeutic act of mistreating your equipment (typically a racket) by means of smacking it on the ground, tossing, throwing, smashing, cutting in half with a chainsaw etc. when upset about how awful you're playing. Can also refer to the act of a player verbally abusing themselves or their doubles partner after a bad shot.

Ace

A serve hit so hard and fast or placed so well on the court that the receiver can't hit the ball. Can also refer to the nickname of an opponent you should not wager with, especially for money.

Ad or Advantage
When one player is within 1 point of winning a game. Also refers to the left side of the court (when facing the net) where the second and final point of each game is played.

Approach Shot

A shot hit as a player is approaching the net. Can also refer to taking a shot of booze to calm ones nerves before hitting on someone.

Asshole

Bad name used to refer to any player on the court, a coach, the crowd, a ball boy or girl or umpire, your spouse, parent or child, depending on the situation.

Backspin

The ball being hit so that it spins backwards, from bottom to top in the opposite direction than it's traveling. Can also refer to a celebratory break-dance move where a player spins on their back on the ground.

Bad Call

When a ball that was really in is called out. Can also refer to someone's poor outfit choice or hairstyle.

Bagel

When a player is beaten in a set 6-0. Can also refer to a delicious breakfast item.

Ball

The fuzzy round yellow object we try to hit, sometimes more successfully than others. Can also refer to a testicle.

Break

When a player wins a game in which their opponent was serving.

Break Point

The point in a game when a player wins the game off the server.

Bullshit

The English word often said when an opponent makes a bad line call. Can also refer to a player's methods or style of play being less than desirable.

Changeover

The act of changing sides of the court during a set after the first game and every 3 subsequent (odd number) games. Can also refer to switching from Gatorade to vodka when things aren't going well or to a player who keeps changing outfits during a match e.g. "After every set, George keeps on changeover and over again."

Cross-Court

A ball hit on the diagonal across the court. Can also refer to walking across the court e.g. "Don't hit me with a ball, I'm about to walk cross-court."

Dampener

Also referred to as a Tennis vibration dampener or racket shock absorber, a small rubber device installed between racket strings to absorb vibration when a ball is hit.

Deep

A ball hit so it lands very close to the opponent's baseline. Can also refer to someone displaying mental or emotional depth of thought or being philosophical.

Deuce

The score in a game when the players are tied 40-40. Can also be a slang reference to a bowel movement e.g. "After the next game I need to take a break and go drop a deuce."

Doubles

Playing as a foursome where two 2-person teams compete and players play together as partners, 2 on each side of the court. Can also refer to doubling up on alcohol consumption during changeovers e.g. "Hey Sally, after the next point we're doing doubles."

Foot Fault

When the server steps on or over the baseline while serving and is in violation of a rule. Can also refer to a player's poor choice in footwear style or their shoes not matching the rest of their outfit.

Forced Error

When a player misses a shot as a result of a really good or difficult to return shot being hit by an opponent. Can also refer to making a mistake intentionally when forced to throw a match you've bet on because you owe your bookie money from last week's football and horse racing bets and need to repay him.

Game

A single game where the winner must win by 1 point, finishing with advantage for the winning player. Can also refer to the amount of swagger a player has when interacting with players of the opposite sex and getting them to agree to romantic liaisons.

Gaming or Gamesmanship

The unsportsmanlike act of using mental tricks, delays and other such nonsense to get in the head of your opponent and make them play badly or throw off their rhythm or momentum. This can be intentional bad line calls, faking injury, yelling or grunting unnecessarily during points or other distraction methods, chugging one too many beers during changeovers, taking too much time between points, games, sets or causing other delays, arguing calls, intentionally lobbing offensively just to disrupt "normal" point play and so on. Can also refer to a player who constantly interrupts play to try to play games or gamble e.g. "Hey Ronnie, stop gaming, quit playing dice with the other team, it's your turn to serve."

Grip

The handle or part of the racket we hold onto. Can also refer to a player's hold on reality e.g. "Bob, I know you missed that easy volley but please, get a grip." Also slang for having a lot of something e.g. "Did you see Dave? He has a grip of the new Penn tennis balls."

Groundstroke

A ball that bounces on the other side of the court before being returned.

Hack or Hacker

Someone who lacks traditional stroke technique and resorts to slashing and chopping away at the ball to create a lot of weird spin to make the ball bounce funny and be more difficult to return so they can try to trick their opponent in lieu of being able to hit better shots. Can also refer to a player who is an actual computer hacker.

Hold

When the serving player wins a game while serving. Can also refer to a doubles partner needing to be hugged and comforted after a particularly upsetting point and/or because they are emotionally needy.

Hooker

A person who "hooks", also known as making bad line calls and calling balls out when they are really in. Can also refer to a prostitute on the court or in the crowd.

Junk Baller

More or less the same thing as a hack or hacker, someone who can't consistently hit a good ball and instead, uses a slow shot with no spin or a ton of side spin and back spin on most shots to keep their opponent guessing and to frustrate their opponent. Can also refer to a junk dealer who has made a lot of money and reached "baller" status.

Kick Serve

A serve hit high and/or with a lot of top-spin so it bounces very high after landing.

Let

A serve that hits the top of the net before bouncing into the receiving player's service box.

Lob

Hitting the ball high up in the air in an arc so it goes over the other player's head. Can also refer to an intoxicated player wanting to go for lobster post-match e.g. "Hey guys, when the match is done let's get some lob..."

Match

A series of sets, generally best of 3 with the exception of professional play which can go to the best of 5 sets.

Match Point

The final point before the match ends.

Mental Tennis

Mental tennis refers to the mental aspect of the game and how a player deals with what happens during play from a mental and emotional standpoint.

Moon Baller

Someone who relies on high arcing lobs as an offensive strategy to frustrate their opponent or try to keep them out of an offensive position. This is not generally considered "tennis" and is seen a lot at club level and low to mid level USTA league matches. A form of gamesmanship. Can also refer to an astronaut who likes to play sports that include a ball.

Overhead

A high ball you hit in midair while it's over your head. Can also refer to anything happening up in the sky e.g. "Hey Tina, did you see that giant pterodactyl that just flew overhead?"

Overgrip or Overwrap

A thin, easily replaceable strip of (often somewhat tacky) soft material sold in small rolls that's used to wrap around and cover the racket grip to add a little extra size to the grip and provide more comfort, absorb sweat and allow us to better grip the racket.

Pusher

Someone who does not try to hit winners or offensive shots and relies on blocking back or returning the ball safely to keep play going. Can also refer to a player who tries to sell drugs to the other players.

Set

A series of games where the winner must win the best of 6 games, winning by at least 2 games. Can also be a slang reference to the boobs of a female player or spectator or the testicles of a male player or spectator.

Singles

When two players play against each other. Can also refer to $1 bills.

Smash

Same thing as an overhead shot. Can also refer to smashing your racket during a mental meltdown or to badly beating an opponent e.g. "Let's smash those guys!"

Tiebreak

The process for determining a set winner in the event of a tie in competitive play when a set is limited to 6 games, usually a 7 or 10 point setup where each player serves twice in a row and the winner must reach 7 or 10 points first and win by 2 points.

Topspin

A ball hit so that it spins from top to bottom in the direction it was hit, causing a higher and/or more forceful forward bounce when it hits the ground.

Unforced Error

When a player makes a mistake on their own without any outside influence such as a particularly challenging shot by an opponent.

Volley

A ball that is hit out of the air (except when overhead) before it bounces.







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