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Player to Player: Talking During a Match

Real Tennis Players - Like You! -  Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.



This week's question from Debbie:

I am a 43 year old female tennis player. I have had plantar fasciitis 3 times in 8 years. The last bout started in March and despite ice, stretching, custom orthotics, rest, nsaids, and finally a cortisone injection, it ruptured in September. Now, I am in a boot for 6-12 weeks which will be followed by PT. I can swim without using my feet and use the weight machines only. Does anyone have any encouraging advice after having this rupture?

Please share your advice with Debbie by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!


Last week's question from Carol:  
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

Quick question that came up in a mixed doubles match:

I was up at the net and my player teammate hit a short lob to opponent who was positioned nicely to hit a really nice overhead. He was directed right at me. I said "Oh,Oh!" because I was fearful he was going to hit it at me. He then hit it at me but missed and the ball hit just outside the baseline. He said I distracted him and we played the point over again. He said I was not allowed to say anything when his side has the ball. He gave another example too. He said if his side has the ball, then I cannot tell my player on my side to switch or say anything. He said that was not allowed also. I read the rules and I couldn't find this situation. Please advice. Thanks.


From Dennis M., Gordonsville, VA:

Your recent situation falls under the area of Hindrance Issues or talking during a point. Interestingly, I wrote a response in my monthly column "What's The Call?" a couple of years ago to a player who asked basically the same question. My reply was as follows: A player shall not talk while the ball is moving toward the opponent's side of the court. If the player's talking interferes with an opponent's ability to play the ball, the player loses the point. Consider the situation where a player hits a weak lob & loudly yells at his or her partner to get back. If the shout is loud enough to distract an opponent, then the opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. However, if the opponent chooses to hit the lob & misses it, the opponent loses the point because the opponent did not make a timely claim of hindrance. It is critical to make prompt calls. This will eliminate the "two chances to win the point" option that some players practice. Once you choose to play the shot, you forfeit any right to claim the point. You must immediately stop play & not attempt to hit the ball in order to claim the point as a verbal hindrance.

Carol, the manner in which you described warning your partner is quite normal & occurs on a regular basis during most matches. Verbally communicating with your partner as stated is quite accepted protocol while on the court. Since your opponent chose to play the ball & subsequently chunked it out of play, he had no claim to winning the point based on your talking during the point.

A word of caution, since talking to a partner regarding their safety at the net on short balls is quite common, as the opponent making the claim of hindrance; you will not endear yourself to others. The tactic of calling a "Voice Hindrance" should only be used in extreme cases.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

I believe you can and should talk with your partner on the court. You should say I got it, or switch, or go back or to the net. The situation with the overhead set up to you and you say oh no is a judgment and sportsmanship question. Giving the other team a do over is the right thing to do, but in this case doesn't seem to be what has to be done. Talking in doubles is very important and what is too much and wrong is questionable. You should talk and have hand signals so you and your partner are in the right place and you play your best doubles. I think of the grunting that goes on in tennis and this can seem like questionable behavior, but it does help the person grunting by having a flow of oxygen in and out as they hit the ball. It can be very annoying to the other player or players and fans, but there is no rule against it. Jumping around while the other team is serving can annoy but isn't illegal. Be a good sport, try and be fair and honest in your matches. In the case of the overhead one of the best plays is to run away from it, that’s fair and can cause an error. Giving the team a replay seems good on this but I don't think it would be done in the pros. It doesn't seem like you were that loud, and you didn't say stop, or let. In the pros there is good sportsmanship also and you see a replay, but there is also that lust to win at all levels and some real strange things happen on a tennis court. The best bet is be a good sport!

From Susan F., Valencia, CA:

Your yelling out could be considered a hindrance, and your opponent had the option to immediately stop play and claim the point. Since he chose to hit the overhead anyways, and missed it, he should have lost the point. USTA rules state clearly that a player shall not talk while the ball is moving toward his opponent's side of the court. I think the real rule should be NO SHORT LOBS! :)

From Lisa E., Boca Raton, FL:

It is my understanding that you can say whatever you like UNLESS the ball is on the opponent’s side of the net and has not yet been struck. For example, your partner should have said “watch out” or something else similar before the ball crossed over the net. I think that your opponent was correct. If the ball was on his side of the net when you spoke, you committed a voice let

From Fred W., Glencoe, IL:

I think I’ve played these guys. It’s true you cannot create a distraction for your opponents, such as waving your arms or moving about unnecessarily as they are about to make contact, just for that purpose.

But doubles partners can and should communicate; and telling your partner to “switch” is a necessary part of that communication, and encouraged at all levels of tennis. Saying “Uh Oh” to an impending overhead smash is also completely natural. Your opponents are attempting to use the rulebook to cheat because they missed an easy put away.

Shame on them… and all cheaters who intentionally make bad calls.

From Frank C., Spring Hill, FL:

The Code, The Players Guide for Unofficiated Matches, addresses this exact point. Hindrance issues are discussed starting at section 33 and specifically addresses your question. Talking while the ball is moving toward your opponent is prohibited and you loose the point if your talking interferes with your opponent’s ability to play the ball.

However your opponent must claim the hindrance BEFORE attempting to play the ball. In your case because he attempted the shot and missed he cannot claim hindrance.

From Rebecca G., Austin, TX:

I think he is technically correct although most people wouldn't enforce it to the degree that he did. It is my understanding that once the ball crosses the net onto his side of the court you are not allowed to say anything as he is hitting. You can say whatever you want to your own partner while the ball is on your side of the court but once it crosses the net and the other team is hitting, you are supposed to be quiet. However, most players can utter something that is not meant to be distracting and usually not get called on it. This guy sounds like a real stickler and probably not a lot of fun to play against.

From Steve C., Rockledge, FL:

The Code paragraph 33 is clear on this. The opponent may claim the point if the talking is loud enough to have interfered with his/her ability to hit his shot. However the call must be made immediately. If the opponent plays the shot and misses his return the opponent loses the point. I believe the key here is that the call must be loud enough to distract the opponent. I doubt that merely telling your partner to switch or go back is meant to be sufficient to claim a hindrance. In the end that is the decision of the opponent so if he chooses to call a hindrance prior to attempting his shot he may do so and claim the point.

From Karen P., Gaithersburg, MD:

If your opponent continued to play the ball after you said "oh oh" then he is not entitled to replay the point and the point stands. If what you said distracted him, he should have called a "let" and caught the ball. Had the ball been "in" when he hit his overhead at you the first time, he would have claimed the point. But, because he missed, he blamed you and wanted to replay the point. He cannot have it both ways.

From Brian K., San Diego, CA:

I am no rules expert but as I understand the spirit of the noise rule is that a player can't make loud sounds directed at the opponent. Saying "Oh, oh" or calling switch, or saying "up" or "back" is just normal tennis talk and is OK. Yelling “miss it", or yelling "no” or something just as the opponent hits the ball is against the rules or at least unsportsmanlike.

From Susan C.:

I think you won the point fair and square and should NOT have replayed the point. He choked and then was a big crybaby about it. I've heard plenty of pros saying things like "yours" or "mine" so your opponent made that up, I've never heard anyone say you can't communicate with your teammate (although they usually try to keep more detailed things secret) nor that being contingent on which side of the net the ball was on. If you had deliberately tried to distract him it would have been unsporting at worst. If you had been unsporting I'm sure he'd never want to play with you again. As it is I wonder if YOU would want to play HIM.

From Jackie L., Medford, OR:

I’ve had this come up often in my 10 years of league play. My understanding is: when the ball is hit by your opponent, you and your partner are free to talk (ball is coming your way). After you or your partner has struck the ball, you may not talk until the ball once again comes your direction. I once had a “discussion” with an opponent about this, as she claimed that, even though the ball was traveling towards me, she could talk to her partner as long as the ball’s path had not yet crossed the net. I argued that she is not allowed to talk to her partner once she or the partner has struck the ball. I have talked with two pros about this, and they confirmed my impressions.

From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:

Hindrance is what is referred to as an attempt to distract the other player during the point.   Social tennis allows a much broader definition of this rule.

Many inexperienced players may not realize that they are distracting their opponent.   In social doubles rather than a league match, just ask your opponents to please not talk except for the necessary "switch", yours, out, I’ve Got it, bounce it."   If this was a high lob, then run back to the baseline, or tell your partner to get back before it is too late. If it is too late get your racquet out in front, but don’t yell "oh Ohh". 

In a league match or tournament you might have to issue a warning about a hindrance. It would not apply to the necessary strategic talk above.  Just like a hat blowing off, or an errant ball crossing your court, a hindrance that is verbal could require a let to be played. If it was intentional, which yours was not, then it should be a loss of point for yelling or talking with intent to distract.

From Miyuki S.,

There isn't anything specific for this situation because it's for conduct and good sportsmanship. Obviously if you are having lengthy loud conversations with your partner, moving or yelling with the specific purpose of distracting your opponents during play, then any official would rule against that behavior. You could also debate forever on styles of "faking", "poaching" and "preparation" and whether those are distracting. Simply, players miss a shot such as an overhead because it's executed improperly. But it's important to remember that when playing doubles, it's a 4-person sport, not just 2. Learn to communicate with the other 3 players without hostility or blame. You need to use words that are more useful than "oh, oh!" as your opponent should learn to not blame others for his poor overhead.

It was all of your decisions to replay this point and perhaps you did the "gamesmanship" thing by letting them play that over. You allowed everyone to get back to playing so that the best could prevail.

From Allison B., Ashburn, VA:

According to section 33 of “The Code” for players, a player may not talk out loud when the ball is headed in the direction of the opponent’s court or it could be considered a hindrance if the opponent feels it distracted him/her.


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