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Q&A on the Rules and Code of Tennis
by Matt Metz and various Tennis Server readers

QUESTION: LaVal Brewer wrote: If the server hits his opponent, is there a point loss to the server or what? And if there is a ruling where would I locate it or them??? Finally, in the same situation but in doubles, if the opponent's partner gets hit are the rules the same???

    ANSWER: On the contrary! If the served ball hits the opponent BEFORE the serve hits the ground, the SERVER wins the point, regardless of where the opponent was standing. In the Rules of Tennis, Rule 18 - part (a) states that the server wins the point "if the ball served... touches the receiver or anything which he wears or carries, before it hits the ground." The only exception to this is if the serve hit the net cord on the way across the net - in that case, if the net cord serve hits the opponent, it is a let.

    In doubles, the same applies no matter which of the receiving team partners is hit by the serve. In other words, whether the receiver or the receiver's partner is hit by the serve before the ball hits the ground, it is the server's point (again, unless it hit the net on the way, in which case it is a let).

    Happy serving - and be nice to your opponents!

QUESTION: Judith A. MacGregor of California wrote: I understand the USTA recently changed the rule in tennis that in doubles, when receiving a serve, if there is a disagreement among the receiving team about whether or not a serve was "good," the server plays a let (two serves) instead of automatically winning the point. I can't seem to find it in the 1997 USTA friend of court rule book. Can you tell me what rule covers this point?
    ANSWER: You were right in looking for the answer in the book "Friend at Court." Check out "The Code" section 17, which states "In doubles when one partner call a ball out and the other one good, the doubt that has been established means the ball must be considered to have been good."

QUESTION: and Judith replied: An umpire told me that the rule had been CHANGED and instead of "being considered good" it is played as a "let" and the server gets two serves. According to you, this is not the case. (Obviously if the old rule still stands, no one would ever correct their partner if they made an incorrect "out" call on a serve.) Please clarify. Thanks.

I have a second question as well. What is considered "interference" when a ball comes onto your court. If it is close and your attention is diverted (because at our club, the courts are very close together so we always get balls from other courts during play), when is a "let" played? Does the ball actually have to come "onto" your court? Can it roll behind, say 5' behind the baseline and still be considered a let? What if it comes near your court but doesn't cross into your court but your attention is diverted because you "think" the ball is coming onto your court but instead it stops short and remains in the other court? (We have one person who constantly calls "ball on" when it doesn't even come close to coming onto our court--but she thinks it will--and it doesn't. She insists on replaying the point because she thought the ball was coming onto the court.)

    ANSWER: The code of tennis applies only to unofficiated matches. If a match is officaited by an umpire, then the code does not apply. The official USTA rules do not address line calls made by players in officiated matches. The Code has not changed, and to the best of my knowledge, and I am unaware of changes to the USTA rules that make them apply to line calls made by players in an unofficiated match.

    With respect to your second question - what constitutes "interference" - I assume you are asking under what circumstances a player can ask for a let. This is a tough one, because it, too, is dependent on the judgment of the players involved. Anyone may call a let if he or she believes (correctly or not) that there is danger of a ball from another court coming on to his or her court. Remember though, that the key is that the person calling the let must do so IMMEDIATELY and stop play; if a ball is rolling onto the court from an adjoining court (or rolling towards your court), and the player tries to return a lob and hits it long, and then asks for a let, do not give it - for by continuing to play (hitting the ball) after first seeing the intruding ball, that person gave up the right to call the let.

    Judy, I hope these help. You have asked some challenging questions!

QUESTION: Jimmy wrote from Singapore: At the opening of each game, players serve in rotation from the right-hand side to the left. However, I've even noticed that players sometimes serve from the left-hand side while in tie-break. Could you let me know under what rule or how to determine at which side the first service at tie-break should be made.

    ANSWER: You know of course that all regular games start by serving from the "right," or "deuce" side of the court. The 12-point tie-breaker (by far the most common form of tie-breaker in use today) always starts by serving from the same ("right" or "deuce") side. However, after the first person serves the first point that starts the tie-breaker, service passes back and forth between the two sides with service starting on the "left" or ad side of the court at the beginning of each side's turn. For a complete set of rules on the twelve-point tie-breaker, see Appendix III of the Rules of Tennis. There are other tie-breakers with other rules, but most of what you see will be the 12-point variety.

    Hoping you can win without having to go into a tie-breaker!

QUESTION: Ann Kjensnud of Roseburg, Oregon wrote: Our USTA Team Tennis team would like to know the correct rule for calling lets. When your opponents are serving and a let is hit is the receiving team the only one who can call the let or can the serving team? If the serving team calls a let and the receivers do not hit it because of the call whose point is it? Thank you for the answer?

    ANSWER: First a point of clarification. At the moment a serve hits the net, it is a "net" ball (actually ANY ball that hits the net is a "net" ball). If the serve then falls into the service box, it is called a "let." A let is any ball or point which must be played over (another ball rolls onto the court, for example). With that out of the way, here is the answer to your question - I am assuming that you are in an un-officiated match, which relies on everyone's honesty in line calls and other calls. The rule is simple - anyone who hears the served ball hit the net can (and must!) call a "net." Of course it will not be a "let" unless the ball also lands in the service box, and THAT part of the call is the responsibility of the receiver.

    [If the receiver is not sure if the serve was in or not on a first serve, then they must call it in. If they are not sure on a second serve, then they can ask their opponent(s) if they could clearly make the call. If the opponent(s) are uncertain as well, then they must call it in.] But again, ANYONE who hears the serve hit the net should call the net cord!

    As far as your second question, if the serving team calls the "net" (meaning they heard the serve hit the net), and the ball falls in the service box, it is a "let" - and is nobody's point, regardless of whether the opponent hits the ball. The moment the served ball hits the net and lands in the service box, it is a "let" and the serve must be replayed.

    Happy tennis!

QUESTION: Gerard Gillett-Jackson of Hamilton, Wakato, New Zealand wrote: As per the Tennis Server Interactive newsletter, I have the following questions which I would like to put to you:

Q1: Can a player stand behind the doubles alley or even further over to serve: Is this allowed?

    ANSWER: Q1: The rules of tennis (Rule 7 - The Service) state that "the Server shall stand with both feet at rest behind ... the base-line, and within the imaginary continuations of the centre-mark and side-line." This means that for singles, the server can stand between the center line and the singles side-line, and for doubles the server can stand between the center line and the DOUBLES side-line. So the answer to your question is "yes, behind the doubles alley" (but only if playing doubles) and "no, not 'even further' because that would put the server OUTSIDE the doubles side line.

Q2: I have heard that: (a) a ball can hit the net post and bounce in and still be "in", (b) can be hit around the net post - lower than net height and still be "in".

    ANSWER: Q2:(a) Rule 24 (a) states that a return is good "if the ball touches the net, posts, (etc.)... provided that it passes over any of them and hits the ground within the Court." By the way, if it shot was a serve and hits the net post, it is considered a fault in this situation, but if it hits the net, strap or band it is considered a let.

    Q2:(b). Yes, this is legal. Rule 24 (c) states that the return is good "if the ball is returned outside the posts ... either above or below the level of the top of the net, ... provided that it hits the ground within the proper Court."

Q3: What happens if the ball goes between a gap situated between net and net post - is this ball still "in"?

    ANSWER: Q3: Again, the answer depends on whether you are playing singles or doubles. The ITF notes as a comment to Rule 24 that "a return that passes under the net cord between the single stick and adjacent doubles post without touching either net cord, net, or doubles post and falls within the court, is a good return." But the USTA comments that "In doubles, this would be a 'through' -- loss of point."

Q4: If a player hits the ball over the net but then touches the net with either body or racket, is the point still "live"? Is it allowed for a player to reach over the net to hit a shot?

    ANSWER: Q4: If a player or anything he or she wears or carries (clothing, racquet, etc.) touches the net (or the court on their opponent's side of the net), he or she loses the point, and thus the point is no longer "live." This applies of course only if the other player has not already lost the point (by letting the ball bounce twice on that side of the net, for example.) Rule 20 (e) states that a player loses the point if "he or his racket (in his hand or otherwise) or anything which he wears or carries touches the net, posts," etc.
Q5: If a player hits the ball with a great deal of spin or if it is a windy day, and the ball goes over the net and then blows/spins back over, do you play a let or win the point?

    ANSWER:Q5: If I hit the ball to your side of the court, and either spin or wind carries the ball back to my side of the court, this is the ONLY time you may reach across the net to contact the ball (but be careful not to touch the net!). If it bounces back and lands on my side before you hit it with your racquet, it is MY point.

QUESTION: Joanne Peterson wrote: In a recent doubles match, my partner called the score wrong (30-40) and our opponents won the next point, thus the game. After our opponents served the first point of the next game, they realized we had called the score wrong and told us so. My question is, because we had already started a new game, do we continue with that game or go back and play from the point where everyone agreed on the correct score?

    ANSWER: I've received about a half dozen questions so far, and this one is the most difficult for me to answer. Paragraph 20.1 of The Code states that "all points played in good faith stand." But that rule was based on discovering that a net was too high, for example, or that the server served from the wrong court. If we apply this principle, it says that everyone had "good faith" that the score was 30-40 - at least when the next point was played, so the results of that next point must stand.

    I will keep your question on file and if I find a more definitive answer, I will send it on. [Reader Gordon Brynildsen writes in: On scoring 30-40 game situation, I would handle as scoring disputed (The Code, Paragraph 40) and play from duece, go back and finish game.]

QUESTION: Louis A. Rivadeneira wrote: I understand that you respond to questions from tennis readers to the Tennis newsletter on the Internet. Well, a couple of friends and myself started a discussion on a silly thing regarding tennis. Maybe you can clarify the right answer for us. It's the following: When you are serving and the ball touches the net and falls where it should on the opponet's side, the person serving should have TWO ADDITIONAL SERVES. Right?

Well, he serves again but unfortunately the ball touches the net AGAIN. Here comes the question:

Does the server has ONE MORE SERVE or is he supposed to have TWO MORE SERVES every time the ball touches the net?

    ANSWER: The confusion may come from your first "bullet," which is slightly inaccurate. You stated that when someone is serving "and the ball touches the net and falls where it should on the opponent's side, the person serving should have TWO ADDITIONAL SERVES. Right?" (By the way, such a ball - served, hitting the net, and dropping into the correct service box is called a "let.") Well the answer is yes, but only if it was the server's FIRST SERVE. If the server's first serve was a fault, and the SECOND serve is a let, then the server has another chance at his or her SECOND serve. It will simplify things if you think of the rule as this: a let serve can be treated as if that serve never really happened - just start again from where ever you were before the let was served. If you were serving your first serve before the let, you will start again with your first serve. If you faulted on your first serve, and were serving your second serve, and that serve is a let, start again by re-serving your SECOND serve. By the way, there is no limit to the number of lets. You could hit 100 consecutive lets trying to get your first serve in, then finally fault on your 101st attempt at your first serve, then hit 100 lets while trying to get your second serve in, and then finally, on your 101st second serve try (which is your 202nd service attempt at this point) finally get it in the box.

    I hope this never happens to you!


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