What is a Foot Fault In Tennis & How to Call it?

A foot fault is a simple, straightforward still frequently argued, and controversial rule of tennis. According to rule 18 of the official rule of game by ITF, a foot fault is ruled when

  • A server changes the position once positioned to serve
  • Touches the baseline with either foot
  • Touches the imaginary extension of the center mark with either foot
  • Touches the other side of the imaginary extension of sideline with either foot
    If you are curious to know, what is a foot fault in tennis– read this article till the end.

As it is clearly written in the rule that a server cannot change the position before serving the ball but to move the foot slightly is legal. What if the player moves the foot more than the allowed limit? A server may take advantage of changing the angle and consequently deceiving the opponent.

So the technically smart but legally unfair shot could be expensive, in case it is observed. The first foot fault is treated as a normal serving fault, and the server gets another. But a second foot fault is penalized by awarding the point to the receiver.

How to Call a Foot Fault?

In international tennis games, the line judges are responsible for observing and calling a foot fault. In addition to their own expertise now they have modern devices attached to their chairs which help them to make a fair call.

But everyone is not playing in the French Open

What if you are playing at a local level club or with your buddy in a nearby park? While standing at the receiver’s end, it’s a tough job to notice whether your opponent is committing a foot fault are not. And even if someone calls for a foot fault, the one who is doing will not admit it easily. It’s your ethical and legal right to point out the foot fault if your opponent is taking unfair advantage by committing it.

In such situations, the foot fault should be called or not called on an ethical basis. If you are constantly being called for a foot fault you should admit and improve it-of course it is no good thing to do at all. It can also annoy someone to be often called for a foot fault, so always be careful before giving a verdict.

Why is Foot Fault a Controversial Aspect of the game?

Ponder for a moment, how weird it looks arguing over a clear-cut rule in a big contest?

Take your memory back to the US open 2009, when during the semi-final Serena Williams indulged herself in a weird situation by starting an argument with the lineswoman, when she was called for a foot fault. Although she apologized for her behavior later, it made her lose two points-the the match and her reputation.

This incident hurt the soul of the game as it divided the fans of tennis into two disjoint sets, one to support Serena and another one to line judge. William’s fan berated the lineswoman for calling a foot fault in spite of the fact that she was doing her job and nothing else. Also, the famous tennis expert, bloggers, and commentators were divided by their opinion on the incident, which added fuel to the fire.

Justin Gimelstob, a former US tennis player, put forth an interesting fact that “95% of foot faults are not called”.The fact justifies, to some extent, the frustration of Serena William on being called for a foot fault at a critical point of a big contest. So the rule is straightforward but is exercised when observed. The fact of the matter is that foot faults are called very often.

The inconsistent calls for a foot fault are the reason behind controversies associated with it. Talking in simple words, the line is crossed often but observed seldom and hence not penalized every time.

Servers often claim that their shoe has just touched the limit and not crossed over, so it is an unfair call for a foot fault. Mr. Jeff Ponder, a former line judge, the US Tennis Association, made it clear to all that you are not allowed to even touch the line before you serve. While giving his opinion on William’s incident, he also explained that it was a correct call, and the foot fault call cannot be challenged or reviewed.

Minimize foot faults-maximize the chances of victory

“Afoot fault may cost a point, a match, or a title if it’s a grand finale!
Here are a few tips on how to avoid foot faults:

  • Work on your toss and serve action- a correct serve action don’t let you commit a foot fault.
  • While practicing, place an old wooden racquet or wood chip on the baseline. This will let you know which of your feet touches the baseline as you move to serve
  • Try to record your serve practice with a camera- it will definitely help you to identify the exact problem with your server.

You may also love to read!

  • Marc Rosset holds the unpleasant record of making maximum double faults in a single match
  • Baseliners are less likely to commit a foot fault as compared to serve and volleys
  • 95% of the fault faults are not called-says Justin Gimelstob
  • In the past foot-fault calls were as rare as wooden rackets today
  • Andy Redick made a joke to the lineswoman about dialing “1-800 rent-a-ref” when called for a foot fault


Obviously, it makes you angry that a few-inches foot movement caused you to lose a match.

It becomes more difficult to accept it as your fault when John McEnroe says that foot faults should not be called at the critical points of a match.

But it is a serving fault -just as your ball doesn’t land in the service box. A slight change in serving action and few practice sessions can eliminate this fault from your career.

Creating controversies and raising questions on well-defined rules wouldn’t help tennis in any way! In my opinion, it is the right time to give rule 18 its due!

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1 thought on “What is a Foot Fault In Tennis & How to Call it?”

  1. The lines are there for a reason

    It’s a rule to not touch or step on or over the line before the ball is struck-why is this rule not as important as other rules???

    I am so tired of hearing “Well, he/she wasn’t coming forward”


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