What Is Foot Fault In Tennis? [How To Spot, Call, & Prevent One]

By Lin
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What is foot fault in tennis? Realizing you’ve received a foot fault while playing tennis is never fun. What qualifies as a foot fault, and what does it mean if you get one? Are these common in tennis, and how strictly are they enforced?

foot fault in tennis

A foot fault occurs when a player’s foot ends up on any part of the baseline or the imaginary extension of the center mark. A foot fault will be called if a player is serving and their foot touches the baseline, resulting in the first serve not counting, and if it is on the second: a lost point. This is rule 18 of the official “Rules of Tennis“.

Want to learn more about avoiding a foot fault in tennis and how to handle one if it’s called? Keep reading!

Table of Contents

Spotting A Foot Fault During A Tennis Match

For those trying to avoid a foot fault or wanting to know what to spot when playing against someone, these are pretty straightforward. First, keep your eyes on the opponent’s feet and upper body. If you notice their foot touch or go beyond the baseline while the serve is in motion: call a foot fault.

This can be a controversial call, but it is only fair per the game’s official rules. Furthermore, it’s only a foot fault before and during the serve, not after. If a player touches the baseline after the ball is in the air, it’s no longer a faulted shot.

Here’s a video showing a foot fault:

What Happens If A Foot Fault Is Called In Tennis?

what happens foot fault tennis

If you are playing a tennis match and someone calls a foot fault, this likely means you or your teammate (doubles) have stepped onto the baseline while serving. Because the baseline is where a serve should come behind from, players stepping on or over it are breaking the rules of the game.

Moreover, if you see a foot fault happening across the court, you may also call it. Typically, this will require a witness or visual proof (easiest to spot on clay) before anything happens. If it’s the first serve, the player with a foot fault has another shot. If this occurs on the second serve: that player loses the point.

What Causes A Foot Fault In Tennis?

what causes foot fault in tennis

The cause of foot faults in tennis is almost always a lack of balance and control. Because you are supposed to serve from behind the baseline, a lack of proper foot placement can be a one-way ticket to foot faults being called. Therefore, firmly planting your feet behind the baseline before tossing the ball in the air is what we recommend.

Many tennis professionals suggest starting a little behind the baseline when serving to create a margin of error for your shot. This may help prevent one or both feet from entering the baseline: resulting in a foot fault. Because this can cause you to lose a point, it’s crucial to be hyper-aware of your feet and body before hitting the ball.

Note: Serve-and-volleyers are often more likely to commit foot faults as they rush to the net immediately after hitting the ball.

How Many Foot Faults Are Allowed In A Match?

According to the official rules of tennis, a foot fault can be called as often as it happens during a match. Generally, this should be a manageable issue in a game, professional or amateur, as it can often lead to a lost point.

It’s also worth noting that the USTA covers how foot faults should only be called if one is “so flagrant as to be clearly perceptible from the receiver’s side.” You or your teammate should be vigilant, but not to the point it becomes a major problem in the match.

You want to only call out foot faults if they are truly happening.

Tips For Avoiding A Foot Fault

tips for avoiding foot fault in tennis

When it comes to preventing a foot fault while playing tennis, there are a few ways to combat this bad habit:

  1. Move backward in your serve/start behind the baseline a few extra inches.
  2. Practice serving with a spare racket in front of your feet behind the baseline to train your body not to move too close.
  3. Refine your serve and serve toss: keep your body still.
  4. Record your serves and see what point makes your feet move towards or on the baseline.

Practice is your best friend when it comes to avoiding foot faults. Try to start and stay behind the baseline, no matter what, and you should begin to notice this becomes a ‘good’ tennis habit.

Here’s a helpful video on practicing your foot-fault-free serve:


1. Who Can Call A Foot Fault In Tennis?

The receiver or the receiver’s partner may call foot faults if they are suspected of happening. However, the official rules of the game request the opposing player seeing the foot faults happening, make an effort to inform the server before calling a fault. Furthermore, you may want to call an official to the court to determine if a foot fault happened.

Understanding the rules of a serve is crucial to avoiding foot faults and spotting them. Even professional players sometimes have these happen, so it isn’t a rarity by any means.

2. Is There A Foot Fault In Wheelchair Tennis? How Is One Called?

Yes, although players may be in a wheelchair while serving, they are still held to the same rules as someone on their two feet. Generally, if a wheelchair touches or moves past the baseline during a serve, that warrants a foot fault being called. This could be even a slight roll of the chair while a serve is in progress, so it’s something to be mindful of.

According to the USTA, the chair is an extension of the player’s body. It’s also said that during play, no part of a wheelchair player’s foot may touch the ground.

3. Can I Call A Foot Fault In Tennis?

Yes! If you have tried to alert your opponent of a foot fault and it continues to happen, you are well within regulation to bring attention to it. Generally, you or your teammate (if playing doubles) must call this as it’s happening and then rely on the other side to notice and admit to it.

Unlike playing a match in front of cameras, spectators, and official scorekeepers, leisure tennis matches can make calling and counting foot faults difficult. Try to have another player monitor the game off the court to prevent confusion.

4. Are Foot Faults Controversial?

To a point, many tennis players and lovers agree that the grounds behind calling a foot fault can be problematic. First, players don’t always respond nicely to them, with one of the most infamous times demonstrated by the notorious foot fault call against Serena Williams in her 2009 US Open semifinal against Kim Clijsters.

Here’s the video:

Sometimes, players cannot fully see if a foot fault has occurred, triggering them to say it is a problem when it may not be. Keep a steady eye on the baseline and avoid yelling at your opponent unless their feet are on or beyond the baseline. The referee should also be able to see this happening during a professional match, so leave the call to them.

5. Is Spotting A Foot Fault Easier On Clay?

It can be easier to spot a foot fault while playing tennis on a clay court. Unlike a hard court that won’t show foot imprints, a clay one can provide evidence that a player’s foot went on or across the baseline during their serve. All you need to do is call the foot fault, pause the match, and see where the imprint is.

All tennis courts have pros and cons, so clay has the advantage in this situation.

Final Thoughts

This article covered the basics of spotting, playing, and preventing a foot fault during a match, including information on why and how this is called. Most players will warn their opponent of a possible foot fault before officially calling it, so try to offer that courtesy.

Good luck, and stay behind the baseline!

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Editor of All Points Tennis and a huge Roger Federer fan, I've spent countless hours studying his moves, especially his forehand and one-handed backhand. I also love writing about all the technical stuff like rackets and strings. I'm super pumped to share my insights with fellow tennis lovers here.