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Ruling on a Serve

Q. "What happens if the ball is served and returned but the partner of the receiver calls the ball out and the person returning says she saw it good? If the ball was returned successfully but play stopped because of the disagreement, what happens? Do you replay the serve or automatically give the point to the serving team? Is a person always supposed to agree with her/his partner’s call even if they see it differently?"

*We’ve received emails from readers wanting the definitive answers to questions that seek the clarification of rules, so we’ve decided to oblige with a ruling from the USTA Director of Officials Richard Kaufman to the above question before getting into players’ responses.


Starting in 2011, the USTA Tennis Rules and Regulations Committee has determined that any call on a serve or in a rally corrected from out to good is loss of point to the player or team that corrected the call, even if the ball is put back into play.  An out call on any ball (on a serve or in a rally) that is corrected to good is considered to have created a hindrance to play and it is loss of point due to this hindrance.

NOTE: The only exception is on the first or second serve that is a service let (i.e. the ball hits the net before it lands in the service box). Let serves that occur on first or second serve and called out and are then corrected to good result in the replay of the entire point, thus a first serve to the server.

Click here for more information.

From Sam, New Haven, CT

Disagreements between doubles partners should be resolved in favor of the other team. If the receiver’s partner saw the serve out and the receiver saw the ball in, the ball should be called good in favor of the server, and the point goes to the serving team.

Players should call the ball according to what they see and NOT always agree with their partners if they see something different than what the partner saw or called.

The integrity of the game depends upon fair play, not solid comradery between partners.

From Mike, Las Vegas

If there is a disagreement then you should play a let.

From Laurel, Enola, PA

When partners disagree, the call is resolved in favor of the opponents. So, the serve being "good" –

• If the service is not returned, point goes to the opponent.

• If the service is returned, a replay is in order.

Yes, partners should disagree to help their team make the best call possible, but do so with diplomacy! Don’t undermine your partner by making a loud correction. Rather, approach your partner, and quietly suggest: "Let’s let ‘em have that one." That way, your partner can correct the call without embarrassment.

From Ozzie K.

The team serving should not be penalized. If play was stopped, a do-over is in order.

From Paul S.

I believe that the rules say that the point is only played over if the return is good and play is stopped because of the disagreement, but if you return an easy sitter you have to give the opponents the point.

From Chet, Chappaqua, NY

Whether the return was good or not, if there was a disagreement between partners on the receiving team, you play a let, and replay the serve.

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT

If partners disagree with the call, but the ball was returned back into the court of play, proving it was not an easy put-away by your opponents, the point is replayed. If the ball was returned and provided an easy put-away or returned out of court play then the point is yours.

From, Chris B, Swansea, IL

The rule book is clear if doubles partner’s disagree on ANY call then the point is automatically given to the opponent. If one partner sees the ball in and the the other has already called the ball out then the ethical thing to do is to call the ball in and give the opponent the point. At the very least, the ball was so close that it could have been in or out and then once again if you are not sure you have to play the ball as if it was in. Many doubles emember try not to overrule each other, and in some cases this is appropriate. In the instance where the ball is slightly long, the person not receiving may have a better angle to judge whether the ball is in our out. Sometimes the receiver thinks it is in because the angle of the trajectory looks as if the ball has hit the back of the line, but sometimes it is long and the only person who can make that call is the partner.

From Cindy

My understanding is that under those precise circumstances you would play that point over. You would not play it over had the returner seen it as a good serve but returned it out.

From Joe B.

I believe the point should be played over. The receiver’s partner made a line call. The receiver should go with that call. Disagreeing with your partner, vocally, on the court will just break down a trust that is needed between partners on the court. These kinds of issues should be resolved off the court.

From Bernie M., VA

If the receiving team stopped play because of the disagreement, but the serving team continued to play and won the point, the point stands.

A serve is different from any other point, particularly a first serve because the call is not point-ending. Many receivers play out balls and the server is expected to play (excluding Div 1 ITA). It is always best if a serving team/player continues to play until they are sure the point is over, and to disregard their opponent’s "out" call. This is particularly true in doubles. An "out" call during play is for information only, and is not a defining call until the point is over. Your case is not much different from a partner calling a ball in play as "out," but their partner sees it "in" and continues to play the point. Their opponents are not entitled to even a let call in this case, unless the out call was so loud as to be a disruption to play.

From Skip

I think, if you go by "the Code," that when two partners disagree whether the ball is in or out, the other team should get the point, as long as you don’t continue to play the point. Partners don’t always have to agree, due in part, I think, to their vantage point on the court. A person receiving serve will probably have a clearer view of a ball near an alley line than a partner who normally stands perpendicular to that line. In any case, the benefit of the doubt should always go to the other team.

In the real world, I’ve found there are a lot of players who don’t even know what "the Code" is, let alone read it, so don’t be surprised if you meet a few of these people along the way.

I’ve found that when I get together with my tennis buddies, and we all have a clear understanding of "the Code," we can have a good, serious match, and still be friends when the match is over.

Here’s a link to "the Code":


Have fun ‘n keep smilin’.

From Steve C., Rockledge, FL

"The Code" covers this.

First –

25. Service calls in doubles. In doubles the receiver’s partner should call the service line, and the receiver should call the sideline and the center service line. Nonetheless, either partner may call a ball that either clearly sees.

Depending on whether the close serve was at the service line or sideline the receiver should defer to his partner and accept the out call if at the service line and vice versa.

But if the receiver is positively sure the serve was good see next:

14. Partners’ disagreement on calls. If doubles partners disagree about whether their opponents’ ball was out, they shall call it good. It is more important to give your opponents the benefit of the doubt than to avoid possibly hurting your partner’s feelings by not overruling. The tactful way to achieve the desired result is to tell your partner quietly of the mistake and then let your partner concede the point. If a call is changed from out to good, the point is replayed only if the ball that was called out was put back in play.

If the receiver failed to return the serve the point should be given to the server. If it was successfully returned the point should be replayed unless it resulted in a ‘gimmee" for the serving team in which case the point should go to the server.

Easy eh?

From Kellie, Hudson, NH

This happened to me and my partner got angry that I disagreed with her – it just came out of my mouth before I had a chance to think. Absolutely, since I had returned the ball, we played the point over. If I had not returned it, it would be their point.

But what I told my partner to calm her down was, I didn’t want the other team to think we were trying to cheat by one of us calling it out and one of us calling it good, and then changing and saying "oh, it was out" for our benefit. But, I also told her it was her job to call the service line and I should have kept my mouth shut and I apologized.

SO my advice is, let your partner call the back service line, you can call the sides if you need to because the receiver has a better look at the sides. But unless it’s really blatant and your partner was just asleep, you need to abide by their service line calls. They are looking right down that line.

From Bruce R., Boulder, CO

"The Code" 26 (page 55) states: Service calls by serving team. Neither the server nor server’s partner shall make a fault call on the first service even if they think it is out because the receiver may be giving the server the benefit of the doubt. There is one exception. If the receiver plays a first service that is a fault and does not put the return in play, the server or server’s partner may make the fault call. The server and the server’s partner shall call out any second serve that either clearly sees out.

To further clear up a point: "The Code" 12 (page 53) states: Out calls corrected. If a player mistakenly calls a ball "out" and then realizes it was good, the point shall be replayed if the player returned the ball within the proper court. Nonetheless, if the player’s return of the ball results in a "weak sitter," the player should give the opponent the point. If the player failed to make the return, the opponent wins the point. If the mistake was made on the second serve, the server is entitled to two serves.

A player should never agree with his partner if the player sees the call in a different way. That is why there is a tennis code which is not the rules of the game but a guide to good sportsmanship.

From Paul G., NC

Susan, in your case and in your situation the USTA rules are in effect and you would play a let. What confuses the matter is that under collegiate rules – ITA – you would lose the point (but you are not a college player). As far as agreeing with your partner at all times, it is unrealistic and impossible. Accept that you will not always see everything the same way. Do not allow the other team to use these situations as a means of dividing you as a team (and they will try, with the player who sees the call that benefits them as the "good/honest player" and the other as the "evil cheater"). Confer ALONE with your partner about disagreements and make sure that you are both sure of your judgements about the call. If you are both sure and in disagreement then both of you should decide that the call goes to your opponent and then as a team inform your opponents.

From Fred W., Glencoe, IL

If the receiver’s partner called it out, that’s their job and the receiver should not have questioned the call. Having done so, the receiver has created doubt. Unfortunately, the benefit of the doubt should go to the opponents. If a first serve, they should play the second. If a second serve, it’s the opponents’ point.

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