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Calling A Let

Q. After my partner hit a very good return, another tennis ball came rolling onto our court. Neither one of our opponents called a let. Our opponent gave us the point because he said he felt his partner did not have a chance of getting to the ball we just returned. His partner said he was wrong. A let is a let, even though his partner felt he would not have gotten to the ball. What do you think? Should we have replayed the point? We wanted to, but our opponent's partner said no, so we got the point.

A. If you have no chance for a ball and a ball rolling onto the court would have made no difference, do the right thing -- give the point to your opponents.

One can always make a case that a player could have made some play on the ball when this happens. Technically, players may call a let if the point had not been completed when the hindrance of the stray ball from another court arrived. However, a good sport knows if they had a play or not, and a good sport knows the difference between a legitimate hindrance and taking advantage of a situation.

Q. If a player is stung by a bee during play can she/he call a let? Is this a medical time out? A hindrance?

A. One can have a Medical Time Out for a sting. If a bee stings a player during the middle of the point it is considered an unintentional hindrance and a let can be played. Play must be stopped at the moment of the sting. A player may not continue the point after the sting, eventually lose the point, and then claim a let.

Q. What is the ruling when a ball falls out of the opponent's pocket and is a distraction?

A. You need to look at two scenarios – one without on-court officials and one with on-court officials.

If there are NO officials on court: If a ball falls from the pocket of a player or falls from the hand of the player during a point, that player cannot call the let since he/she created the hindrance. It is up to the opponent to call the hindrance and play a let. This call must be made immediately and not after the point has been played out.

If this happens continually, you should ask the player to take better care with the second ball.

If there are officials on court: The umpire will call a let immediately if the point is still in progress and warn the player that the next time it happens, it will be deemed a deliberate hindrance (even if unintentional) and loss of point.

Q. I was told, during a friendly mixed doubles match, a new rule has been instituted stating that only the person on that particular side of the net could call a let for a ball that rolled onto the court. For instance, my partner called a let for a ball that had rolled behind the receiver just before my partner was to serve (as a matter of safety and concern that she may step on the ball...and we all know "nothing good happens from that"), but the receiver's partner stated, according to a new regulation, only they (receiving team) could call a let for a "stray ball." Is this correct? Thanks for getting back to me...that one just doesn't make sense if it is indeed a legitimate safety concern.

A. Anyone can call a let when a ball rolls onto the court from another court. See the USTA publication Friend At Court, The Code, page 54, #19.

Q. We were in the middle of a USTA match, 30-40 our opponents' serve. The opponent's cell phone rings in the middle of me returning serve which I missed due to distraction. What is the rule?

A. In a sanctioned event, the referee may ban cell phones. If posted no cell phones, then the opponent may claim the point due to hindrance.

Otherwise, if a cell phone goes off, the player whose phone is ringing cannot call a let. A player cannot hinder himself. If the opponent stops immediately and calls a hindrance, the point should be replayed. If the opponent asks the player to turn off the phone and then the phone goes off again during a point, it could be deemed intentional hindrance, loss of point.

Matches cannot be delayed for cell phone calls.

Q. I would expect that in most cases the answer to this question should be "no". However, what is the proper etiquette for a spectator who believes a player’s health to be in danger? Specifically, if a ball is rolling over from an adjacent court to a spot behind a player, and you see that player backing up toward the ball with a good likelihood of stepping on it and potentially twisting an ankle or knee? Does safety outweigh normal etiquette in this case? Should the ball be a let or should the player from the spectator’s team automatically forfeit the point for a rules infraction?

A. A player from another court may not stop play on someone else’s court even if a ball from their court may interfere with play on adjacent courts.

Q. While playing doubles, my partner was serving. His first serve was out and the ball landed on the opponent’s court. On the second serve the receiver’s partner started picking up the stray ball. My partner (server) stopped play immediately (he did not play any shot) and asked for a repeat of the point on the basis that he was hindered by the player picking up the stray ball while ball was in play. Our opponents did not accept the replay of the point arguing that it was not a hindrance and we had a dispute.

Were we correct on calling that a hindrance? More generally, in any tennis match if one of the players, while the ball is in play picks up something from a court (be it a stray ball which was lying there before the point started, or a leaf/stone etc.), could the opponent claim replay as he/she is distracted by that?

A. The receiving team has the right to clear a ball from a first serve fault if it ends up in or near the court. The server must wait and then hit a second serve. If a ball is on the court before the beginning of the point, then the players are obligated to leave it there throughout that next point. After a first serve fault, a player cannot hold up play to clear a ball that was there prior to the beginning of the point. Anything that remains on the court prior to the point cannot become a hindrance during the playing of the next point. If a ball from an adjacent court or a tree branch arrives on the court during a point then that can be deemed as a hindrance.

Within reason, any player from either side of the court can ask for a ball to be cleared prior to the beginning of a point. They may ask that the first serve fault ball be cleared prior to the second serve if that ball is indeed in a position that it could become a hindrance. The server must wait after a first serve fault to be sure that the ball from the fault does not arrive in a position that necessitates the clearing of that ball by the receiving team. Such delays do not warrant a first serve.

Q. During a doubles match, my side hit the ball deep into our opponents court. Simultaneous as my opponent was about to swing, an errant ball (from the court to the right of us) bounces through the middle of my side of the court ( I am in foreword court) and finalizes at the fence. Because I was distracted by the errant ball I said "let". The opponent returned his shot for a winner and claimed it was their point because the errant ball was not a distraction to him.

I argued "let" because the opponent had the ability to hit a line shot on me and I would not have been prepared for it due to distraction. Eventually we agreed to "take two" and played the point again.

I was just curious what the official ruling would have been.

A. If a hindrance occurs for either player on a doubles team and one of the players calls a let before the point has been completed, then a let should be played.

Q. I played a doubles match this past weekend, where, at the end of a long point, my opponent hit a ball that was heading into the net and then immediately called a let for an errant ball from another court that was nowhere near any player or the field of our play. It ended up about two feet from the sidelines at the net on our opponents side.

Is it valid to call a let AFTER you hit a bad shot, if there happens to be an errant ball on the court?

A. If the player has already hit the ball and then the player or partner calls a let, that it is too late. The let call needs to come before the ball is played by the player or their partner to be considered a hindrance.

If the call is done immediately prior to playing the shot, it is always difficult to judge if it was really a hindrance. However any ball in a player’s vision, even on the other side of the net, may hinder players during a point.

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