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Let Calls

Q. When you break a string during play, can you call a let?

A. No. Once the point begins, you need to finish the point- and it will count- with the same racquet with which you started the point.

However, if you miss a serve (long or wide) and your opponent plays a “practice” return on this out ball and breaks his string, then you are entitled to play a let (with two serves coming) after he fetches a fresh racquet.

Q. If a tennis ball falls out of your pocket during a point, what's the ruling? Is it a let or does the opposing get the point even though you have won the point?

A. If you are playing social or recreational tennis, then you should ALWAYS offer to play a let (or a “do-over”) when an extra ball falls from your pocket during a point. The same is true for when your hat falls off your head. Often enough, your opponent will indicate that it was not a distraction and allow the point played to stand.

In a tournament match where an official is present to call the lines, the umpire will always call a let in this circumstance. If it happens repeatedly, then the umpire can penalize the offending player by automatically awarding the point to the opposing player. This eliminates the possibility of gamesmanship.

Q. What happens if another person's ball lands on your court during a match and messes up the point?

A. If a ball rolls onto your court and distracts you (or your opponent), then etiquette dictates that you should play a “let.” In tennis, a “let” is essentially a “do-over.”

Q. During a recent USTA match on the 1st doubles court a player on the opposing team twisted her ankle, screamed out in pain, all play stopped, and she hit the ball over the net to win the point. The ensuing argument was that our players stopped during the incident and the opposition wanted to take the point. Was that a hindrance? Should the point have been replayed?

A. If a player injures herself and screams out in pain, and this causes the opponent(s) to miss the next shot, then OF COURSE you should play a let. (A “let” is considered a “do-over” in this case, by the way). Our sport needs to be governed by logic and, above all else, integrity. There is The Code, and ultimately players need to embrace a spirit of fair play. We do not have the luxury of chair umpires ruling over every match, so players need to be conscientious and sporting. It is disturbing to see how many frivolous grievances are filed during USA League Tennis matches. Be fair.

Q. I have a question about when a let is a let. Can an opponent call a let when a ball falls onto my side of the court or just on his side of the court? Also, if my shot is clearly a winner, but a ball enters the court, can my opponent call a let--I guess my underlying question is when is the point over, at the second bounce or when a return is impossible.

A. Your first question causes confusion. As a junior, I recall coaches insisting that the rule was that you could only call a let on balls that were on your side of the court. This was not the case. Either player can call a let when they see a ball, or another distraction, rolling onto the court.

The second question is a judgment call, and can be tricky during tournament play. I would say that the point is over when a “return is impossible” although this may be left to the discretion of a roving linesperson. As an opponent, be fair. If the ball did not, or would not have, distracted you, and you would not have been able to return the shot, then always give the point to your opponent.

Q. When I hit the ball I make some noise. Once, during a USTA tournament my opponent lobbed the ball over my head and it landed "in". I got to the shot and when I hit the ball I made a noise. She thought I called it out when I made the noise. She wanted to redo the point but it’s not fair for me. I won the point and her shot was definitely in! I didn’t call it out! Should we redo the point?

A. If you make a loud sound during the point that distracts your opponent, you ought to offer them the option of playing a let. Our sport is governed by the honor system and you always need to be respectful toward your opponent. If she honestly feels that the noise you made was an “out” call, then she has a right to ask that the point be replayed.

Q. At what point do you allow for the opponent a first serve after a ball has come onto the court from either another court or from the net-back wall or if dropped from their pocket?

A. You are asking about playing a “let” when there is a “hindrance.” My advice would be to always offer to allow your opponent to “play two” if they feel bothered or distracted by a stray ball. This is a goodwill stance. Generally, when you are fair (like this) to your opponent, then you can expect the same fairness from them. This type of sportsmanship is one of the defining qualities of our great sport, by the way.

Q. In the last month I have had the same incident occur during a match, in which during a point a ball falls out of my opponents possession on to the court. The first time it occurred I called a let and I agreed to replay the point and give her first serve. The second time it occurred, during a different match and different opponent, my opponent without hesitation called the let and gave me the point. Which is the correct protocol?

A. The first time the ball fell from your opponent’s pocket, only you could call the let, as it would be considered an unintentional hindrance against you, despite the ball being physically in your opponent’s way. Since it was a first incidence, it was also classified as unavoidable. Now, should a ball fall for the second time, and each subsequent time within the match, then it would then be classified as avoidable, as the first incidence essentially gives the player notice of a problem to be corrected in better securing the ball, and therefore reclassifying it as avoidable.

USTA Friend of Court Comment 26.4 States:

Can the server’s discarding of a second ball constitute a hindrance? Yes, if the receiver asks the server to stop discarding the ball, then the server shall stop. Any continued discarding of the ball constitutes a deliberate hindrance, and the server loses the point.

In summary the first “ball drop” is a let call, but any further ball drops is a point awarded hindrance. In a pro match, the umpire would call the first let.

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