Tennis Umpire Tips

Have you ever been asked to serve as chair umpire in a tennis tournament? Maybe you've been tempted but wanted to know more about what to do. This website has been prepared to provide some guidelines and tips. It is not to replace a Tennis Canada or other certification clinic. If you would like additional information on officiating, contact Tennis Canada or your local association office.


At the club and provincial levels, the chair umpire will most often officiate matches without line umpires. We call this official a solo chair umpire(SCU). The SCU is probably the first contact with an on-court official that the average tournament player, whether adult or junior, will have. It may also be the player's first real encounter with the rules of tennis. In a match officiated by a solo chair umpire, the players call their own lines. The responsibilities of the solo chair umpire are to:

  • Make sure the conditions of play are as fair as possible for all players.
  • Make sure the rules of tennis are followed.
  • Have the players call all their own lines promptly, clearly and loudly. Any doubt about a line call must be resolved in favour of the opponent.
  • Overrule only clear mistakes. This includes "good" balls that are called "out" and obviously "out" balls that are called "good." It does not include close "out" balls that are called "good." If the SCU overrules an "out" or "fault" call, then the player who made the call loses the point.
  • Make all other calls, including, but not limited to, foot faults, lets, not-ups (double bounces) and code and time violations.

Duties Before Match

Before Going On Court

  1. Read The Rules of Tennis.
  2. Make sure you have the necessary equipment:
    • A hand-held stopwatch
    • Measuring tape
    • At least two pencils with erasers
    • A coin to toss - the size of a quarter or larger
    • A clipboard to hold the scorecard
    • A copy of The Rules of Tennis
    • Optional items - a hat or visor, sunglasses, sunscreen, seat cushion
  1. Arrive at least 20 minutes before the match is to start. Pick up the scorecard from the referee or tournament desk and check the conditions for the match. If no blank scorecards are available, here is a printable USTA Official Scorecard.
    • Name of the tournament
    • Division (men's/women's, singles/doubles, etc.)
    • Round number
    • Best of how many sets
    • Names and residences of players, including pronunciation
    • Court number
    • Tie-break to be used
    • Number of balls (and if ball change)
  2. Fill in this information on the front of the scorecard.
  3. Begin filling in the inside of the scorecard by printing names of players.
  4. Check the court.
    • Remove debris and loose balls.
    • Measure net. It should be 36 inches at the centre strap and 42 inches at each end. Adjust the strap if necessary.
    • Check for adequate number of new balls, used balls of different degrees of wear (to replace lost balls), and water.
    • Open balls for beginning of match. Check for pressure by squeezing and shake to check for breakage. Note the number on the balls and record on scorecard at top of set 1.

Pre-Match Conference With Players

When the match has been called, go on to the assigned court. Meet the players for a pre-match conference. Be brief but informative.

  1. Bring players together at the net.
  2. Check if you have a question regarding pronunciation of their names or residences.
  3. Tell them the number of balls in play and if the balls will be changed.
  4. Remind them that they are to call their own lines, and you will overrule only clear mistakes. If there is doubt, the ball will be considered good.
  5. Tell them anything unusual, such as extended warm-up period. (The normal length of warm-up is five minutes, and sometimes ten minutes if there are no ball persons.)
  6. Ask if they have any questions.
  7. Ask one player or team to call the coin toss (heads or tails). The player or team winning the toss may choose to serve, to receive, choose end, or defer choice to opponent(s).
  8. Give the balls to the players and prepare to time the warm-up.
  9. Note on the scorecard who won the toss and the players' choices.

The Warm-Up

  1. Start your stopwatch when both players have struck their first warm-up shot.
  2. Climb into the umpire chair. If there is none, stand at the net post or on a chair at the net post.
  3. Finish preparing your scorecard.
    • Open the scorecard and fold the front to the back so only Set 1 is showing.
    • Print the last name initial of the server for game 1 in the left-hand space (as demonstrated in the section on marking score) if the server is to the left of the chair umpire, or in the right-hand space if the server is to the right of the chair umpire.
    • Fill in last name initial of server for game 2 under that of game 1. Change sides for games 3 and 4, again for 5 and 6, continuing on through game 12.
    • Fill in last name initial of players in part of scorecard under "Tie Break".
    • In the first set of this match between Jane Stuart and Mary Warren, Stuart will be serving first to the right of the chair umpire. Click to view inside of scorecard now.
  4. When two minutes remain in the warm-up, announce "two minutes". The players should begin taking their practise serves. When one minute remains, announce "one minute". Begin the pre-match announcement:
    Let's pretend this is a ladies' semi-final match between Jane Stuart and Mary Warren. This is how the announcement would go:

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is a semi-final round match, best of three tie-break sets. To the left of the chair from Charlottetown, PEI, Mary Warren. To the right of the chair from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Jane Stuart. Stuart has won the toss and chose to serve.

  5. When time is up, announce: "Time, prepare to play." Then direct the balls to the server's end. Mark on the scorecard, time started.
  6. Glance to see that the players are ready. Announce "Jane Stuart to serve ... play!"

Duties During Match

Some Rules to Remember

The latest edition of Tennis Canada's Rules of the Court gives a comprehensive coverage of all the rules of tennis for singles, doubles and wheelchair tennis matches. There are also sections on:

  • Rest Periods
  • Suspended and Postponed Matches
  • Medical Conditions and Treatment
  • Toilet Breaks
  • Violations of the Code of Conduct
  • The Point Penalty System
  • Time Violations
  • Chair Umpire Announcements
  • Tennis Canada Scorecard
  • Code of Conduct for Officials

An additional resource is Friend At Court, the USTA Handbook of Tennis Rules and Regulations.
Read also The Code, which is the players' guide for unofficiated matches.

Correcting Errors

Error Rule In Game Rule In Tie-Break
Player serves from wrong half of the court 9 Point stands. Correct immediately. 27 Point stands. Correct immediately.
Player serves from wrong half of the court, one fault 11 Correct immediately, second serve. 11 Correct immediately, second serve.
Player serves out of turn 15
Point stands. Correct immediately. A fault served shall not count. In doubles, if a partner serves out of turn, a fault served shall count. If game completed, order remains as altered. 27
Point stands. Correct immediately. A fault served shall not count. In doubles, if a partner serves out of turn, a fault served shall count. If game completed, order remains as altered.
Error in order of receiving in doubles 38 Remains as altered until the end of the game. Resume original order of receiving for next game of that set. 38 Remains as altered until the end of the game
Mistake when changing ends 16 Point stands. Correct immediately.
Tie-break game/
Advantage game
If error discovered before second point, point stands, correct immediately. If error discovered after second point, remains as altered.
Ball change 32 If mistaken, it shall be corrected when the player/team is next due to serve. No ball change at beginning of tie-break game.

More Tips

  • Remember to appear confident and in control of the match.
  • In order to be as accurate as possible on the serve, watch the server strike the ball and track the ball until it lands.
  • Always check the receiver just before the server hits the ball to make sure he/she is ready.
  • Try to be aware of all that is happening on and around the court.
  • Remember to watch the loser of the point. Usually problems and misconduct arise with the point loser.
  • Train yourself to look at the scorecard as little as possible. Just mark the score, then keep your eyes and attention on the court and the players.
  • Always look up from the scorecard when announcing the score.
  • If you give a penalty for a code violation, the player may ask for and must be given a short explanation.

Duties After Match

After you have announced the end of the match, e.g. "Game, set, match (player's name), 2 sets to love, 7-6, 6-4," record ending time, and shake hands with the players.

  1. Get out of the chair promptly.
  2. Collect the balls.
  3. Leave the court. Do not discuss the match with the players or the media.
  4. Find a quiet place to check your scorecard. Make sure you have filled in all the points and the score.
  5. Fill out the bottom portion of the scorecard front. Make sure you have recorded the correct winner, score, and duration of the match in hours and minutes. Click to view.
  6. Indicate if you have given any code or time violations.
  7. Sign your name.
  8. Turn in the scorecard and used balls to the referee or tournament desk.
  9. Fill in Report of Misconduct form if necessary. If one is not available write a brief, factual description of what happened and give it to the referee.
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