(The following information applies to doubles play)
Points are scored only on the serve. The receiving side cannot score a point. Serves must be made diagonally cross court. The ball must bounce before the server returns it over the net; the serving team must let the ball bounce before returning it over the net. This is called the double bounce rule.
At the start of the game, the player in the right-hand service box serves first. If a point is scored, the server moves into the left-hand service box, and their partner moves into the right-hand service box. Each time that a point is scored, the players on the serving side alternate from right to left or left to right. If a point is scored, the player who served, continues to serve until the serve is lost by losing a rally. Players on the serving team do not alternate sides unless a point is scored. The receiving side never alternates sides.
When the receiving team wins a service turn, the player in the right-hand service box serves first and alternates sides each time a point is won. When the first server loses the serve, the serve goes to the second server on the side. When the second server loses the serve, the serve goes to the other team (this is called “side-out”) and the player on the right serves first. That pattern continues throughout the game.
The score must be called before serving. The score consists of three numbers. The serving team’s score – the receiving team’s score and the server number.
For example, if the score of the serving team is 3 and the score of the receiving team is 6, and the first server on a side is serving, the score would be announced as 3-6-1. Note that the server number is for that service turn only. Whoever is on the right when the team gets the serve back (at side-out) is the first server for that service turn only. The next time that the team gets the serve back, it might be the other player that is on the right and is the first server for that service turn only. Beginning players often mistakenly assume that the player keeps the same server number throughout the game.
It is important to call the score including the server number prior to each serve. That helps all players to keep the server and the score straight. When you announce, as part of the score, that you are the first server, everyone on the court knows that when you lose the serve, the serve goes to your partner. When you announce that you are the second server, everyone knows that when you lose the serve, the serve goes to the other team (side-out).
To minimize the advantage of being the first team to serve in the game, only one player gets a service turn on the very first service turn of the game. To help everyone remember that the serve goes to the other side when that player loses the serve, it is customary to say that the player is the last server or second server. Therefore, at the start of the game, the score will be 0-0-2. The “2” means that the serve goes to the other side when the serve is lost.
At the start of each game, make a mental note of the player that is standing in the right-hand service box on each side. If the rotation is done correctly, a team’s score will always be even when that player is on the right and odd when that player is on the left.