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Player to Player: Distractions on Court

May 20, 2012 01:55 PM
Have a question? Receive advice from your fellow tennis players!
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.

Player to Player:
This week's question from Luke:
Hello. I'm 18 and have been playing tennis for one year. I have really fallen in love with the game and would like to try and go pro in a few years. I wanted to ask, being so late getting started, is this a realistic goal? If so, what do I need to do to prepare myself?
Please share your thoughts 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 Maureen
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
I recently played a match where my opponent would hold two balls in her hand while serving. Once the first serve was in play, she would throw the second ball from her hand towards the back fence. I asked her not to do this, as it was a distraction, but she insisted it was allowed as long as she threw the ball behind the base line. Who is right?
Player Responses:
Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.

Throwing the ball back to the fence after the first serve is in play is definitely a distraction. Even if the action was aimed for another reason, it was intentional and can cause a visual distraction while the other ball is in play. A similar situation is having your opponent during a point throw off their hat or visor due to shifting of the wind. No intention for distraction but still a deliberate action.

As a prank in my college days in the '70s, I used to toss two balls at once for a serve and strike the lower ball. My opponent would still be watching the higher ball, while the other is landing in the service box. There's a rule against tossing two balls for a serve now. Darn. It was a lot of fun while it lasted.

Here are my suggestions for your opponent who tosses the spare ball to the fence.
1) If this is a doubles match, recommend having the net person hold the other ball.
2) Have the second ball up against the fence before the serve. The opponent can go back to the fence to get the second ball. Tossing the ball is not only a distraction but can be a dangerous situation if the ball bounces off the fence.
3) Get an official, if there is one available, to monitor the match. If you warn the opponent first, the ball throwing may cease.
4) If all else fails, return the serve short, wide or both. Throwing the ball back to the fence after the serve can force the player to stay back. The throwing-back motion will cause the weight transfer towards the fence rather than the net. The server may soon realize he may be throwing more than the second ball. He may be throwing the match.
Bruce R.

I believe that her actions would be considered a hindrance. If it is a sanctioned tournament, call a referee. If not, tell your opponent to stop because it is annoying and rude. If that doesn't work, find someone who understands sportsmanship and play with them.

Kenny, Chicago

The mental game of tennis and sports, in general, is a large part of what separates the good from the great. You need to develop breathing techniques, routines before the point and during the changeover. You also need to block out everything going on around you, like noise, sun light, cold, the other player and many more distractions on and off the court. You can look at your strings and fix them between points. You can look up at the sky and watch the clouds or at a spot on the court. Take your time, and when you get really angry, use that in a controlled way to make it inspire your play, not bring it down.

Kathy, Colorado

In my opinion, whether it's a social match or sanctioned match, a ball that is not part of the point in progress should be considered a "let" by any/all players, especially if it's in movement any time during said point, again a "let" should be expected. There are two players at our local club whodo that holding of the two balls when coming up for first serve. It's an unnecessary habit, in my opinion, and begs for a mishap.
Eric R., Northern California

This question goes back to Ye Olde Tennis. In the old days, two hander's, like Chrissie Evert, would discard her second ball after serving into play. This practice has been replaced by USTA Rule No. 21 in 1995 that says that an umpire can warn the offending player of a hindrance violation caused by discarding the ball during play.

If the offending player does it again, the umpire can award a point to their opponent. This prevents both the visual distraction to the returner of serve and even the possibility of injury with an extra ball rolling under foot.

Old film footage does show this out-of-date practice. I guarantee that neither the Evert Academy nor any other modern-day tennis instructor wants their students tossing away the second ball.

If you encounter this during a match, just explain Rule No. 21 and why it is a distraction to you. Do this with polite firmness, and it should not be a problem.

The offender's excuse usually involves no pockets or a two-handed backhand. The lack of a pocket is no excuse, as there is an elastic at the waist or leg areas of tennis clothing that will allow them to tuck away a ball safely.

Enjoy the journey.

Curt W.

A server discarding a second ball is considered a deliberate hindrance.  If a receiver or official asks the server to stop discarding the second ball, the server is obliged to stop. If the server does it again, it is a deliberate hindrance and the server loses the point.

ITF Rule 26 Hindrance, USTA Comment 26.5

M. Gordon, Towson, Md.

In response to Maureen's question about a player who holds two balls while serving and, when the first serve goes in, tosses the other ball toward the backcourt and plays the point: Without referencing "Friend at Court," I believe that Maureen is correct and that her opponent is not allowed to toss a second ball anywhere on the court once the point has started. The "errant" ball would fall into the same category as tossing a hat, shoe, racquet or any other item. I do not believe a player may "toss," throw or drop anything on the court during a point.
*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.
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