What Are Unforced Errors In Tennis? [Tips For Better Match Play]

By Lin
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unforced errors in tennis

Have you ever faced the challenge of winning a tennis match while dealing with unforced errors? The good news is, there are effective ways to improve your performance in the sport and increase your chances of victories more frequently.

In tennis, an unforced error is a mistake made by a player without any pressure from their opponent. It’s a self-inflicted error due to various factors such as lack of focus or poor shot selection.

Unforced errors have a major impact on match outcomes by giving opponents advantages and shifting momentum. Reducing these errors is vital for improving skills and securing victories on the court.

This article will provide insights into the factors causing unforced errors in tennis and offer valuable tips to reduce them and improve your on-court performance.

Table of Contents

What Are Considered Unforced Errors In Tennis?

When classifying unforced errors in tennis, these typically fall into a “fluke” category. As we said, tennis players may experience these errors during match play at no fault of themselves or their opponents. You’ll often see the stats in official matches, including first-serve percentage, aces, winners, unforced errors, etc.

Whoever is tracking the match will determine whether the error resulted from an opponent’s impressive shot or if it falls into the gray ‘unforced error’ category. A forced error would be the opposite if a player’s opponent hit a shot that gave them little to no time to return it or forced them close to the net. Drop shots would be examples of a forced error onto another tennis player.

What Are The Most Common Unforced Errors In Tennis?

The most common unforced errors in tennis are usually due to the ball bouncing off the ground, hitting the wrong part of the court, and losing control of the ball. You’ll often see professional tennis players hit these and immediately look upset: because they weren’t intended to happen. Think of unforced errors as mistakes.

For example, if you’re in a match and return the ball outside the court’s parameters due to your force being too aggressive: this is an unforced error. If you’re rallying against another tennis player and suddenly hit the ball out of bounds or within your side of the court: this is an unforced error. Nobody “forced” you into making the technical error.

Here’s a video showing some great examples of this type of shot:

How To Reduce Unforced Errors

how to reduce unforced errors tennis

If you notice you’re continuously making errors beyond anyone’s fault, this could be a lack of mental precision and focus. One of the main issues with unforced errors during a match is that they aren’t expected and will often rattle the player’s mentality who messed up.

Here are some other things to keep focused on to prevent unforced errors/mistakes:

  1. Work on your swing path
  2. Keep good footwork
  3. Position your body

Of course, these are basics for playing tennis, but you’d be surprised by how many professional athletes experience delays in reaction during intense matches. According to experts, one thing to also do to prevent unforced errors is to ensure your strokes are fluid with proper follow-through.

Don’t try and get too aggressive, but rather be consistent.

The Impact Of Unforced Errors During A Tennis Match

impacts of unforced errors in tennis

When someone receives an unforced error in tennis, this can heavily affect the remaining sets in their matches. The mental challenge of making mistakes when serving and returning the ball can be devastating for players. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay calm, collected, and focused.

The first thing that can happen after an unforced error is another. Generally, these are signs of a player losing focus during a match, leading to mistakes they usually wouldn’t make. According to the National Library of Medicine, the average player loses many more points due to unforced errors than due to winners by an opponent.

Therefore, you could be in a slump due to your own error and lack of focus versus the person across the net being far superior skill-wise.

What’s The Difference Between Forced And Unforced Errors?

Between a forced and unforced error in tennis, you can blame the forced error on your opponent, while an unforced error falls back on you. A forced error occurs after an opponent aggressively serves or returns a ball, ‘forcing’ you into a compromising position. Pushers are known to act like “walls” during match play, often wearing their opposing players out and causing them forced and unforced errors.

Another way to put this is that an unforced error commonly happens during a routine or easy serve/return, while the other person purposefully orchestrates a forced error. Highly-skilled tennis players often play these tactics during matches to weaken their opponents, creating a higher margin of error.

Examples Of Forced Errors

An example of forced error during tennis is if a player uses a deep, high-velocity crosscourt forehand. Aggressive shots create a high margin of error for the other player, causing them to move over large court sections in short periods. Again, drop shots are also techniques for creating forced errors, as most players struggle to return them.

According to tennis pro Craig O’Shannessy, he mentions these tactics are best for causing point loss for the opposing player:

  1. Consistency (making one more shot than the other player)
  2. Direction (moving left to right: avoiding one area of serve/return)
  3. Depth (creating shots that move your opponent toward the back of the tennis court)
  4. Height (moving low to high, requiring fast returns from the opposing player)
  5. Adding spin (topspin and backspin)
  6. Power (using a mixture of hard and soft hits)
  7. Court positioning (Standing strong, creating a boundary)
  8. Time (rushing your opponent)

The number one piece of advice for creating forced errors is to make your opponent uncomfortable on the court.

How Do You Use Forced Errors Against Your Opponent?

There are some things to start with for those wondering how to use forced errors to their advantage in a tennis match. First, determine what type of player your opponent is. From there, work at attacking their backhand, as most players will be weaker at them. Next, push them out of their comfort position on the court, using drop shots and other crosscourt shots.

Hitting to their body or feet is another way to secure a forced error, as this often requires the other player to swing low. Making your opponent play the defense is another easy way to start seeing mistakes happen. As they are forced into defending their entire court, you can throw in trick shots and tactics to get them disoriented. 

And lastly, play mind games. See what bothers your opposing athlete and use that to your best advantage. Here is an extensive resource from Essential Tennis for strategies that force errors. Feel free to check it out.


Do Double Faults Count As Unforced Errors?

Yes. Generally, double faults will count as unforced errors due to their nature. For example, a fatally flawed shot you could have avoided hitting will be called an unforced error, also applying to double faults. You’ve essentially made a mistake twice due to no one else’s strategy or error.

Who Decides Unforced Errors In Tennis?

A part-time statistician or student usually sits on the side of the court and evaluates the game style, noting any forced or unforced errors during the match. This will be the responsibility of whoever keeps score and shouldn’t become a focal point of the game.

Is Hitting The Net An Unforced Error?

As long as the opposing player didn’t position you into a spot where hitting the net is the only option: this is considered an unforced error. When you hit the net, this is usually due to a lack of force, improper racket positioning, or a low-to-the-ground serve or shot from the other player. If your opponent serves or returns the ball in a way that stays close to the ground with little to no bounce, this could be argued as a forced error.

Can You Get In Trouble For Forcing Errors During A Tennis Match?

No, as a tennis player, you aren’t going to be penalized for having a good strategy. Because forced errors can be made through solid play and sharp, concise shots, this isn’t breaking any game rules. Even aggressive or consistent tennis players frustrate the opponent to the point they get hostile: but again, it’s not against the rules or guidelines.

It’s also worth mentioning that forced errors are incredibly subjective. Not everyone will agree with what qualifies as one.

In Conclusion

Throughout this article, we’ve covered what unforced (and forced) errors mean during a tennis match and ways to prevent and create them. Remember that during a game, it’s essential to stay focused and calm, make a plan and find your opponent’s weaknesses.

Have fun, and remember to practice consistency!

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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.