What Does a LET Mean in Tennis?

What is a Tennis Let?

‘Let, first serve…’ is something we hear fairly regularly in tennis. It is something called by the umpire when the server serves a ball and that ball hits some portion of the net before landing in the receiver’s box. It is known as a let ball and the server can repeat the serve. 

Where does the name LET come from?

The name LET is used because the attempt at service is not counted. As a player, you are letting the ball pass, hence the name let. The server gets a second attempt at whichever service it is, the first or the second. It can be a “let, first serve” or a “let, second serve”.

Many people think that because the ball is touching the net and going over the net, it would be called a NET ball and not a LET ball. That’s not quite correct.

The word LET is used as opposed to NET, because net is when the ball goes into the net, not over it, and is considered a fault.

You might hear an umpire saying ‘Let, second service’ which means the first service was a fault and now it is time for the second service attempt, i.e. the serve fell outside the rectangular box where it should have.

Let or Net?

It is important to distinguish whether a ball is a NET ball, gone into the net and therefore out, or a LET ball, one that has tipped or touched the net and gone over, into the court.

To make life easier for everyone, NET is used for the service ball that is a fault, LET is used for the ball that tips the net and lands in the right part of the court, allowing for a second attempt.

Lets are only used for the service, i.e. it’s called out only when a player serves the ball which tips over to the other side after touching the net.

Once the ball is in play, any balls that tip the net and go over the net and land inside the tennis court, are still in play. These are not lets.

The receiver can hit a ball that tips the net, just like any ball in a rally, as a forehand, backhand, lobby, volley or slam. The ball can bounce once after it has tipped the net, or not at all. As in all tennis rallies, only one bounce is allowed.

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Lets were Once Eliminated…

Way back in 2012, an unusual decision was taken at the Challenger Tour to eliminate lets for the first three months of the 2013 season. That call obviously didn’t last and we are back to having lets in tennis at all levels again.

However, as a part of an experiment, the ATP Next Gen competition in tennis has a plethora of rule changes including the eradication of lets yet again. While the Next Gen tournament is a season-ending competition for some of the highly potential youngsters who could go on to make a big name for themselves, it also doesn’t carry any points on the ATP Rankings.

As such, the tournament is an experimental one in many ways but the possibility of the reintroduction of no lets in mainstream tennis continues to remain.

A Few Unusual Tennis Names

Let’s think about the game of tennis for a minute. There are a few words or names that are unusual. Take a look.

  • Deuce.
  • Love.
  • Stroke.
  • Ace.
  • Seed.
  • And of course – LET.

Let’s (no pun intended) take a look at what some of these other weird names are used for.


– this is when the score is forty all. Nobody says forty all, but everyone says Deuce, and in some countries, they oddly say Juice. Deuce comes from the French, and the term deus de jeux means two points away from the game.


– this is when no points have been scored. The score could be fifteen-love, which means one player has fifteen points and the other has none.

The word love is from the French word l’oeuf which is an egg. Does an egg look like a zero? According to the game of tennis, it does.


– this is the word used when you hit a tennis ball, forehand or backhand. You stroke it. It’s a forehand stroke or a backhand stroke.

In actual fact, professional tennis players hammer the ball with great force and power, as well as of course, precision. But when you learn to play tennis, you stroke the ball, which is what gives you control.


– this is the name given to a serve that is so hard and fast that the opponent does not touch it. The server has aced the ball.

This may in fact not be a very odd name, there is only one word for a serve that is so good. It’s an ace and an ace, according to the dictionary, is something that is excellent.


– tennis players are ranked and seeded. In a tournament, nobody wants the best players to face one another early on, but rather, to reach the quarters, the semis and the finals.

Ranked players are therefore seeded, like a plant is seeded, with the seedlings scattered so they do not collide with one another while growing.

Nobody wants the ranked one and two players to collide too early, but rather, towards the finals. The players are therefore seeded.


– it is the word LET that did in fact inspire this entire article.

The let ball is that ball that after being served, hits, softly or hard, the tip of the net, before going in. It is known as a let ball – letting the ball go by – and the server has another attempt.

How Does One Learn Tennis Terminology?

It is really not hard.

The first thing to do is to learn how to play tennis and at the same time as learning how to play tennis, one would learn how to score tennis.

You may be learning via a professional tennis coach, at school, or from a family member. As you master your strokes – see what we did there you just learned about strokes – which include the serve, forehand, backhand, volley, smash and lob, you will learn the terminology. The more you play, the more you learn.

You can also learn a lot about tennis by watching tennis on television.

Tennis is one of the most popular sports, right up there with football, rugby and golf. All major tennis tournaments are televised and there are tons of Youtube videos available.

Watch how people play tennis and learn how to score at the same time.

Some of the most important tennis terminology:-

  • Ace
  • Double Fault
  • Fault
  • Net
  • Let
  • Love
  • Deuce
  • Advantage
  • Game, Set, Set All, Match!

You will pick up tennis, the game, the scoring and the terminology, pretty quickly. You will also learn that manners are really important in tennis.

At the end of a game, players always shake hands across the net and wish the winner a well done and congratulations. If there are tennis ball boys or ball girls, a player will always thank them.

Players thank the umpire, also by shaking their hands.

Sure, tennis players do lose their tempers from time to time – it can be an intense game – but in competitive tennis, this is actually not allowed. Umpires give warnings and players can be fined.

When you play your first few tennis games, remember to say:-

  • Good shot.
  • Shot.
  • Double.
  • Excellent serve.
  • Pass the ball, please.
  • Thank you.
  • Well played!
  • Wow, what a forehand.

And most importantly, never lose focus. Tennis is a game of strategy, skill and determination. While you always want to have good manners, focus, focus, focus. But be a gentleman or gentlewoman at the same time.

What was that you say? LET SERVICE. Take Two.

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If you are a tennis fan, in addition to learning more tennis terminology and skills, tennis related products maybe also of interest to you. For example, hard enamel pins of tennis are favored by many tennis fans. Many people consider these customizable tennis pins when attending or organizing a tennis tournament and give them to each participant. Wearing them on hats or clothes, not only can promote the match, but also as a meaningful souvenir.

Final Words on Lets in Tennis

The let in tennis is a term used to describe a server serving a ball over, which hits the net and tips over to the opponent’s side of the court. It forces the server to serve yet again till he/she can make a clean serve without touching the net.

Other than in a few tournaments at the lower level, a let is usually followed by the server needing to serve again from that very point – if the player is on his/her first serve, the same is repeated and if on second serve, then again, a second serve needs to be repeated till the server stops hitting lets.

Stan Boone

I am the editor of Racket Sports World. I love my tennis, pickleball and most of the other racket sports played around the world and started this blog as my way to help other racquet sports fans even as I learn, explore and improve by connecting with them. Tweet at https://twitter.com/StanBooneTennis.

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