Outside of the scoring, the rules of tennis are pretty simple.
However, there’s one rule on the serve that is slightly more complex and you see a lot of club-level players failing to abide by it – the foot fault.
What is a Foot Fault?
A foot fault can be called on the serve for one of three reasons:
- The server touches the baseline with their foot before or during contact with the ball.
- The server’s foot is inside the baseline before or during contact with the ball.
- The server’s foot touches the wrong side of the center mark before or during contact with the ball.
This rule is designed to stop servers from encroaching into the court and taking time away from their opponent.
While the benefits of a small foot fault are negligible, the rules are the rules, and players need to learn to keep their foot behind the baseline when they’re serving.
Except, there’s one added complication to the foot fault rule.
If your feet are in the air, then you can reach into the court as much as you like.
In theory, it’s possible to do a run and jump into the court and hit the serve much closer to the net (although good luck with that.)
The only thing that matters is that you don’t land until after you’ve hit the ball.
The key thing is that your front foot remains behind the baseline until you either jump in the air or contact the ball.
If you start behind the baseline, jump in the air during your service motion, and land inside the baseline after you’ve contacted the ball, then you’re fine.
What are the Consequences of a Foot Fault?
A foot fault isn’t the end of the world but it does mean the serve you just hit will count as a fault.
If it was a first serve, then you’ve got your second serve, but if it was a second serve you foot faulted on, then you lose the point.
Luckily, if you’re playing in a tournament and you do get called on a foot fault, then it’s pretty easy to correct, but it can be very off-putting.
The important thing is that you refocus, make the adjustments necessary, and don’t allow it to play on your mind.
A foot fault shouldn’t have too serious consequences on the outcome of your match so long as you don’t let it affect you mentally.
Foot Faults in the Pros
If you’re watching the pro game then it’s very unusual to see a foot fault.
One of the main reasons for this is that virtually every player is going to be in the air when they contact the ball, which means it doesn’t matter if they’re jumping into the court.
In our guide to serving, we talk about exploding up into the ball and landing inside the court on your front foot in what’s known as the arabesque position, and this is perfectly legal.
Not only does this help you steer clear of the foot fault rule, but it also allows you to maximize your power through kinetic energy.
As this is the technique you see professionals using, they don’t really need to flirt with the baseline and the resulting foot fault because the benefits are negligible.
However, you do see the odd foot fault called and it’s normally met with a professional looking at a line judge with bemusement on their face.
Those of you with a memory for US Open meltdowns might remember one of the most famous foot faults though when Serena Williams took on Kim Clijsters in the 2009 US Open semi-final.
At 5-6, 15-30 in the second set, a foot fault was called on Serena’s second serve, resulting in her losing the point.
To say Serena didn’t take it well might be an understatement, and as she ranted at the lineswoman, she was given a point penalty which meant she lost the match.
It just goes to show, while losing a point because of a foot fault can hurt, it’s really about how you deal with it and move on with the match.
Serena might be the most famous of the foot fault meltdowns, but she’s certainly not alone.
Foot Faults in the Amateur Game
While it might be a rarity in the pro game, you don’t have to look hard before you see a few foot faults in the amateur game.
Walk around your local club and you’re bound to find a few people stepping into the court.
At the end of the day, most people are just trying to get their serve in the court, and they’re so focused on this they don’t know exactly what’s going on with their feet.
The rules are the rules, but the benefits of over-stepping are negligible and it’s very impractical to call, so most foot faults are going to go unchecked.
If you’re returning serve, then it’s virtually impossible to spot if your opponent’s foot is on the line when they’re hitting the serve.
If it is blatantly obvious, then you can bring it up, and encourage your opponent to change, but it’s still something that’s awkward to call on your opponent.
In the amateur game, it comes down to this: are you losing because your opponent’s foot is on the line when they serve?
The answer is going to be no, so it’s a much better use of your energy to focus on what you can change rather than your opponent’s feet.
Take responsibility for making sure you’re not foot faulting and don’t get too caught up in your opponent.
How to Stop Yourself from Foot Faulting
If you find yourself foot faulting a lot, then it’s something you will eventually need to sort out.
Luckily, it’s something that’s easy to fix and shouldn’t affect your serve too much.
Step Back from the Line
The simple answer to foot faulting is to start a little further behind the line.
You might not realize it, but your foot can creep over the line during your motion, so taking a small step back can make all the difference.
If you get called in a match and need to make an immediate adjustment then this is your best option.
A small step back shouldn’t have any effect on your serve, so it’s a simple fix for foot faulting.
One of the best ways to understand your serve is to watch it on video.
If you’re out on court with a friend then ask them if they can take some footage of you serving so you can see exactly how close you’re getting to the line.
If you’re just brushing the line with your toe then it’s an easy fix, but if you’re stepping a long way into the court it might take more of an adjustment.
At least if you see yourself on camera you know what you’re working with and can start taking steps to fix things.
Practice with Something Covering the Line
If you put a cone or something else on the line then you can get a much better feel for where your feet are.
If you feel your foot against the cone during the service action then you know your foot faulting.
When you’re concentrating on something as complicated as the serve it’s easy to lose track of where your feet are, but the cone can really help with this.
Gradually, you can train yourself to keep your feet behind the line and eliminate the foot faults from your game.
Work on the Technique
The right technique can help you avoid foot faults. As we mentioned, most of the pros jump into the serve, which makes it much less likely they’re going to foot fault.
Not only will this help you with your foot fault problem, but it will also allow you to put much more power through the ball and add margin for error.
Good technique can really help you get the most out of your serve, so it’s worth trying to take it to the next level.
If your ball toss is too far forward then it’s going to drag you into the court.
This can give you no choice but to foot fault if you want to get the ball in the court, so you’ve got to make sure you’re throwing the ball up right.
While you don’t want the ball to end up behind you, you also don’t want it to be too far forward, so make sure you’re finding the right balance.
Foot faults aren’t the end of the world, but if it’s something you do often, then you should look to fix it.
The good news is that foot faults aren’t difficult to correct and you shouldn’t lose anything by keeping your feet behind the line.
If you do get called for a foot fault, then the important thing is to keep calm.
Take a step back from the line and don’t let the call affect the rest of your game.
On the flip side, if you’re playing someone who seems to be consistently foot faulting, you do face a tricky conundrum.
Our best advice is to try not to focus on it and instead concentrate on your own game.
Your opponent isn’t going to get such a big advantage that it changes the outcome of the game, and at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to call from the other end of the court.
If it’s very obvious, then you might want to mention it to your opponent at the end of the match, but when it comes to it (as with most things in tennis,) the best thing you can do is focus on you.
Article by: Will