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Calling the Ball Out

Q. I hit a high ball to the opponent. Just as the ball was landing, the opposing net player called, "OUT". Her partner hit the ball. The net player then said, "IN." My partner and I quit playing the point when the initial call was made of "OUT." The opponents argued the net player was simply advising her partner to bounce the ball as it might be going out. She (or one of them) then called, "IN" to indicate that the ball was good and she had returned it and to continue playing. I think the answer was that it was our point. With an "OUT followed by an "IN" call, there was a discrepency on the call and the point is our point.........I think. I think once the opponent calls the ball OUT, the play is dead. Regardless of whether the ball was truly out or in. (We replayed the point because 3 of us could agree there was some confusion and also because the net player, the disagreeable 4th, became so hostile.) Who got this point or what action should have been taken?

If the opponent calls a ball OUT before it bounces, and it lands IN, the ball is good and it is our point. Regardless of what happens next. Correct?

If the opponent calls the ball OUT before it bounces, it lands IN and she returns it for a "winner" but we had quit playing the point because of the OUT call, who gets the point?

If the opponent calls the ball OUT before it bounces, and it lands OUT. What is the call? In other words, is the opponent penalized for calling a ball before it actually lands? (I think a kind warning is in order (which is what I gave during the set changeover) but then what if those early calls continue? What is the final ruling? When I hear "OUT" called, I assume the point has ended and stop playing. (In this case, the person was not communicating with her partner and using OUT as a substitute for "Bounce It", she was celarly calling the ball OUT....just calling it before it landed. I also suggested to opponents during set changeover that it would be better to use the terms BOUNCE IT or WATCH IT rather than OUT in communicating with her partner in order to avoid any further misunderstandings.

If the opponent/receiver calls a serve IN and the partner disagrees, the receiver returns the ball, the server hits the ball rather than stopping play (perhaps by setting down her racket), what is the call?

Thank you for any light you can shed!

A. This is always an interesting case.

First, despite what some people think, there is no rule that says you cannot say 'out' or other words of communication to your partner, especially when you are at the net and the ball is coming in your direction or the ball has not come close to landing on the court. And because such communication would invariably occur long before the ball has bounced, the claim that this could be mistaken for a line call is not really valid if everyone is paying attention. (Communicating by screaming or yelling is not permitted at any time and could be deemed a hindrance no matter when it occurs.)

The only time confusion can occur is in the case when a player says 'out' or another form of communication to his/her partner standing at the baseline at the time when the ball bounces. One player is in the position to make a return of the ball and did so. In that case, saying "leave it" or "NO" would be preferable to saying 'out'. However, any word used when the ball lands on the ground or close to the ground when your partner hits the ball could be construed as a call.

If a player yells "out” at the moment or close to the moment their partner played the ball, I think it can hinder the opponents. If this is the case,

and the return was a weak return or the ball did not go into the opposing court, the returning team loses the point. If the return is strong and the best the opponents could have done was to keep the ball in play, then a let should be played. This is assuming that the players stopped play. If the players who may have been confused by the communication or call continue to play the point, they may not then claim the point due to hindrance after the entire point has been completed. If a player believes that they were truly hindered, they MUST stop.

You offer a number of scenarios and it does depend on when the communication came from the opponents. The best thing to do is keep playing the point if there is some question on whether there was a call or just communication. If the ball has not come very close to landing in or out and the players communicate, claiming hindrance is not really justified. Players should not be penalized for communicating when the ball still has a way to travel before landing on the court.

When partners disagree on a call the benefit of doubt must go to the opponents. If an out call was made (not communication) then play has stopped.

Again, if the return was a weak return or the ball did not go into the opposing court, the returning team loses the point. If the return is strong and the best the opponents could have done was to keep the ball in play, then a let should be played.

Q. What is the rule when a player makes the call, “I think it’s out,” if challenged by an opponent? A specific example is a player who attacks the net, lunges for a passing shot without successfully volleying the ball and then makes a call of “I think it’s out” on a very close (if not obviously in) ball. When challenged, the player who was passed refuses to reverse the call, despite being unable to definitely say they saw the ball land out. How can this be managed in an unofficiated match if the player making the call refuses to yield?

A. “I think it was out” indicates doubt. When a player is not certain of a call, the benefit of doubt goes to the opponent, and the ball should be considered good.

Q. Is there a time limit or code of etiquette for calling a ball out? I was playing doubles recently and did not hear whether the ball was called in or out and when I asked I was scolded by my opponents partner that it was improper for me to ask before she (her partner) got back to the service line.

A. All calls must be made promptly. On a point ending shot on a clay court, extra time may be necessary to examine the ball mark. In all other cases, calls must be prompt and immediate.

Q. I was playing a sanctioned USTA 50's singles match with roving officials. My opponent hit a shot that clearly was going out. I called the ball out and signaled with finger pointing up in air. Apparently I called it out too early as the official reversed my call, giving the point to my opponent, even though the ball was out. Can an official reverse a correct call because you made the call before the ball hit the ground?

A. The action of calling close balls too soon (just prior to the ball landing) is an incorrect procedure and technically the roving official could make such a call against a player. This is especially true for a call made by the player way before the ball lands on the court. None the less, if the call was correct (even though the call came too quickly and indeed the call came just prior to the ball landing on the court) I believe that this is not really a situation for a roving official to reward the opponent with the point upon the first instance. Especially if the roving official was not on the court and maybe quite a distance from play. In my opinion, the roving official should immediately advise the player to wait until the ball bounces before making calls. If this practice continues, then the rover may then deem this as a hindrance to play and act accordingly.

Q. Does play stop in all cases of an "Out Call"? There are situations where a partner will tell his/her partner "Out" instead of "Bounce It" or "Let It Bounce" cautioning that the ball may be going out. If however, the partner plays the ball, instead of letting it drop, and makes a good return and their opponents don't play the return, is a let played?

A: First, despite what some people think, there is no rule that says you cannot say out' or other words of communication to your partner, especially when you're at the net and the ball is coming in your direction. And because such communication would invariably occur well before the ball has bounced, the claim that this could be mistaken for a line call is not legitimate.

The time confusion could occur is in your case when a player said 'out' or another form of communication to his/her partner standing at the baseline at the time when the ball bounced or was about to bounce. You were in the position to make a return of the ball and did so. In that case, saying "leave it" or "NO" would be preferable to saying 'out'. However, any word used when the ball lands on the ground or close to the ground when you or your partner hit the ball could be construed as a call. If a player yells "out” or some other form of communication at the moment or close to the moment the ball was played, it could very well hinder the opponents. If the opponents both thought that a call was made and both stopped, honestly thinking a call was made, then a let should be played since they did stop and honestly thought a call was made.

Q. How can a referee over-ride a call at the baseline that two players have seen and called out when he is standing at the net? He certainly doesn't have a better look at the ball. If he was closer I could understand it.

A. Ideally, there is an umpire chair that rises above the court. However, not all events have umpire chairs.

If an official is called to court and assigned by the referee to stand at the post and make overrules, that is permitted. Is it the most ideal position? Probably not. However, one needs an unbiased arbitrator and players cannot be given the power to make such final decisions.

Q. The code says that the person on whose side the ball is takes precedence when making a line call. It also says that the call of a player looking down a line is much more likely to be accurate. Is this just an empty phrase or does this actually mean that if I stand on the sideline and hit a ball down the line while my opponent is nowhere near that line, I may correct my opponent’s call one way or the other, or, make a call myself?

A: No, you may not correct your opponent’s call. The Code is referring to looking down one’s own line, not the opponent’s line. Of the two partners, the player looking down the line has a better view. Players call the ball in or out on their own side of the court and either player on a doubles team may make the call even though it is written that one partner may have a better view than the other.

We were playing tennis today and my shot on return of serve hit the scoring placard above/attached to the net and bounced back in play. Is this a valid shot or is it considered out?

I thought this scoring device is considered part of the net/post and is OK to hit, but my opponents stated the shot would have been out so they called it no good.

Who is right?

A: The scoreboard/score placard is NOT part of the net. Technically, it should not be there. If your shot hits it, you lose the point.

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