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Communication & Hindrances

Have you ever had a dispute with a fellow player over a call on the court that you couldn’t settle? Or have you ever wondered why a certain ruling was made during a match you were watching? Maybe you’re just curious about how some scenarios, from the common to the ridiculous, are resolved.

USTA Director of Officials, Richard Kaufman, is here to answer your questions. Each week, he will select a few submissions and supply the definitive rulings through a Q&A.

Have a question of your own?  Click here to submit your question to The Final Word.

* Please note, due to the volume of emails Rich receives, he is not able to answer every email.


Subject: Hindrances
I was reading your response to the above subject issue where the ball hit the ceiling and play was stopped. If the ball hits a tree branch that is hanging over the fence above the court and lands in, is that ball still playable or do you play a let? We had this happen to us during a match and we played the ball even though it hit the tree, was that the correct thing to do?

Kathy, Honolulu, Hawaii

KAUFMAN: First, it is best not to have trees hanging over the court. Maybe the shade it creates is critical in Hawaiian heat.
However, if a branch of a tree is hanging over the court and the ball hits it, the person who hit the ball losses the point.


Subject: Calling the Score
I just played a singles match where the opponent refused to say the score as she was serving. She displayed atrocious sportsmanship throughout the match but this was unbelievable. I said the score or asked her the score over 20 times. Would there be a penalty for this in a USTA match?

Member Marin County

KAUFMAN: The server is obligated to announce the score before each point. This does not always happen and sometimes problems are created when there are scoring disputes. If they will not say the score, then you should go ahead and ask/announce the score to see if the server has any objections to what the score is.

If you are allowing the server not to announce the score, be prepared to reconstruct the points in a game to be sure that you have the correct score.


Subject: Communication with your Partner
During a mixed doubles match my partner was back at the baseline and returned a shot. The ball traveled over the net and before it bounced, one of the opposing team yelled” Out" very loudly. My partner and I froze and the opposing member continued on and hit the ball back to us, but we stopped playing. Our opponents argued it was their point because we did not hit the ball back and they are able to say anything they want once the ball crosses over the net into their court. He further explained he was communicating with his partner when he said that. We argued we had stopped play because he had yelled "out" during the point. Finally, he graciously offered to replay the point, and we gladly accepted. What's the right decision?

Richmond, Virginia

KAUFMAN: First, despite what some people think, there is no rule that says you cannot say 'out' or other words of communication to your partner when the ball is coming in your direction. And because such communication would invariably occur before the ball has bounced, the claim that this could be mistaken for a line call is questionable. There can be confusion when a player says 'out' or another form of communication to their partner standing at the baseline at the time when the ball bounced. In your case, a lot depends obviously on the timing of the communication in relation to the direction that the ball is travelling and how close did the communication come to when the ball hit the court. Saying "leave it" or "NO" would be preferable to saying 'out'. However, any word used when the ball lands on the ground could be construed as a call.

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