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Miscellaneous Rules

Q. How much time, after the official match time, should you allow your opponent before a default is declared?

A. In a tournament, when the Referee “starts the clock,” the player(s) has fifteen minutes to arrive and be ready to play. If not, then the Referee may declare a default.

To be clear, it is not fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, but fifteen minutes after the players’ names were officially called for the match. If one (or more) of the players is not available, then the Referee can/will use the official clock to determine when fifteen minutes expires.

Q. At the beginning of our Super Senior League, the league coordinator told my captain of a rule change allowing the server to hold only one ball in his hand when serving. I've played the game since 1953 and have observed many players over the years hold two balls when serving. In researching the latest Friend at Court, I can find nothing mentioned on this. What is your take on this? I always enjoy reading your columns with the clarifications of the rules. Thanks.

A. I have never, ever heard of such a rule. However, I am certain that the league coordinator created this rule for safety reasons. If a player serves with two balls in his/her hand and then tosses the other one aside after the point begins... and a Super-Senior steps on this stray ball, bad things would happen.

I watched old footage of Chris Evert when she played her first few US Opens. She used to serve with two balls in her hand (as did virtually every player from that era) and then toss the second ball away in order to hit her two-handed backhand. This never occurs today, as players use their pockets (or ballpersons) for the “second” ball.

Q. I understand that you lose the point if a ball hits you while you are on the court before it bounces, but what is the ruling when the ball hits you off the court when you are backing up? I was told by my opponents that it was their point even though the ball was clearly out.

A. Your opponents are correct. If the ball hits you, your racquet or any part of your clothing before it lands – even if it WOULD HAVE gone out – then it is your opponent’s point.

Q. I have tried to see a pattern in who shakes the umpires hand first after a big match, the winner or the loser. Is there a protocol here?

A. There is no exact protocol for shaking an umpire’s hand after a match is completed. The best rule of thumb is for whoever gets to the umpire’s chair first to offer a polite “thank you” to the umpire.

In the professional game, it is usually the losing player who arrives first because the winner is typically acknowledging the crowd and basking in the glow of victory. In local/sectional/national tournaments, players should always thank the umpire or roving lineperson before leaving the court. Too often, this is not done.

Q. I was just wondering how a player's nationality is decided. Especially with players like Maria Sharapova, who are citizens of the U.S. and speak English fluently, but she's still considered a Russian when playing in tournaments. Is there some sort of rule regarding what nationality one plays under? Or, is it just the player’s decision?

A. It is the player’s decision. Usually the decision is based on opportunity. If one federation can provide a player with competitive advantages or considerable compensation (for competing in international team events, such as Davis Cup, Fed Cup or the Olympics), then the decision to choose one over another becomes easier.

Your point is a good one, though. Maria Sharapova, who you reference, moved to America as a young girl and has lived in Florida and California for considerably longer than she lived in Russia. However, she was born in Russia and has maintained her citizenship as a Russian. Frankly, I believe that our sport is so international that the ONLY times nationality enters into the mix is during the aforementioned team competitions. If Sharapova was born in San Diego or Fort Lauderdale, would she be viewed any differently?

Q. I just lost a final in a L1B in Auburn, NY and was playing in B12s. My opponent won the first set 6-3 and the second set ended in a tiebreaker. I lost a point at 6-6 in the tiebreaker, and I hit the ball over because it was my opponent's serve. I hit it with force but under control, but I had an angry look on my face. So, the referee called it a point penalty for ball abuse. This point gave my opponent the match. This referee had been hovering over three courts and had given me a warning before for hitting the net with my racquet. We have never seen a point penalty called on match point in a tiebreaker before. What is your opinion about this ruling?

A. Well, this is tricky. First of all, a rule is a rule is a rule. A violation should be called regardless of when it occurs. However, the scenario that you describe sounds more like a judgment call. If the roving linesperson were more experienced, then he/she might have exercised better discretion. The players, not officials, should decide the match.

However, I am presuming that the situation occurred EXACTLY as you described. If you were given repeated warnings or if the “ball abuse” was more violent than you described, then the official did the right thing. Sometimes, good officiating means choosing to NOT enforce a rule to the exact extent of the law. Sometimes, it means enforcing the rule, EVEN when it is on a match point at the US Open.

Regardless, I am sure that this loss was particularly painful for you. I hope that it will inspire you to maintain better control of your emotions- especially at the most crucial junctures of a match- in the future.

Q. If a player on Team A hits the ball over the net and the ball hits the body of a player on Team B before the ball bounces, who gets the point?

A. Team A receives the point. As a matter of etiquette, Team B should always receive a cursory “Sorry” from the opponent who hit him/her.

Q. On the second point of the French Open Women's final, Justine Henin-Hardenne complained to the umpire that the ball was defective. Upon review of the ball, the umpire agreed and ordered the point replayed. I thought that all points played in good faith stand. Since both women hit the ball several times so both were at the same disadvantage, why was the point replayed?

A. If the ball “pops” during a point (and thus loses compression), the rule is that the point should be re-played. It seemed that Svetlana Kuznetsova, after winning the point, was the one who brought it to the attention of the chair umpire. She was none too happy when told that they were to play a “let.” A rule is a rule though.

Q. If you were going to institute a major rule change in tennis, what would it be and why?

A. I would enforce the “play shall be continuous” rule. There is way too much dawdling on-court, which slows down the pace of play and, thus, the enjoyment of our great game.

In the professional ranks, the rule change that I would most like to see is the installation of a shot clock in the corner of the court. After the completion of a point, players would have fifteen seconds to begin the next point. If not, they would be warned. After a warning, they would be penalized a point for each ensuing violation. Of course, applause from the fans in the gallery would have a subtle affect. If there is a particularly exciting point, the inevitable cheering would create a natural pause in the action. That would be fine. A long delay after a routine, abrupt point is NOT appealing though.

Q. I saw my partner hit the ball after two bounces but she claims she got to it before the second bounce. Opponents questioned the double hit and I said it bounced twice and gave them the point. My partner said it was her call. What should I have done?

A. If you and your doubles partner have a disagreement over a judgment or a specific line call, then you ought to always give the benefit of doubt to your opponents.

Q. Some of the USTA league and tournament players consume alcohol (not much though... one beer or a little wine) BEFORE their matches. They claimed that it helped them to overcome their nervousness. Is this allowed/legal?

A. What league are you playing in up there in Connecticut!?!? Well, I have certainly been wrong before about rules (like two weeks ago, in fact), but I cannot imagine that this is not allowed. USTA Leagues SHOULD BE fun and social. A beer or a small glass of wine is… fun and social.

An old pal of mine, Troy McCamish from Tennessee, was playing a tournament on the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslavia. He had been on a losing streak on the terribly slow red clay of Europe. We had lunch together before his match and, to my surprise, he ordered a beer with his pasta. “What have I got to lose?” he said. He went out about an hour later and beat a seeded player convincingly. It took the edge off for him and he played loose and relaxed. I would not advocate this on a regular basis though!

Q. I attempted to hit a deep lob but it went short. I called to my partner, "It's short!" The opponent went to smash the shot lob, but her shot landed in the net. She immediately said, "You can't do that!" When I asked her "What?" she said I cannot talk when the ball is leaving my racket. I can only communicate with my partner when the ball is coming towards us as in "yours,” or “mine.” I would appreciate your advice on this matter.

A. Your opponent is incorrect. In fact, if you send up a short, lame lob that puts your partner in peril, you SHOULD communicate. And quickly! However, if your hollering affects your opponent’s preparation (or concentration) for the shot, then they can reasonably ask to play a let.

In this case, frankly, it sounds like your opponent doffed an easy shot and was looking for an excuse. That’s just tough luck in my book.

Q. On the coin toss at the beginning of a match, what are the choices for the winner of the coin toss?

A. After the coin toss or, more commonly, the spin of the racquet, prior to the beginning of a match you have three choices:

1. Serve or receive first.

2. Choice of side to begin the match.

3. Decision to defer the choice to opponent.

Q. I am a Varsity Tennis Player at Devine High School and was wondering if someone unintentionally double hits a ball, does that person lose the point? I am talking about a double hit when there is just one continuous motion and 2 hits on the racquet.

A. This rule was changed about twenty years ago. It used to be that no “double-hits” were allowed, and the interpretation was always controversial. Now, as long as it occurs in one continuous motion, “double-hits” are allowed. This does not happen frequently.

Q. The announcers have mentioned forced errors so often during the Australian Open. I think I understand unforced errors, but what is a forced error?

A. A forced error is when your opponent hits a penetrating or difficult shot that causes you to miss. An example would be when your opponent gets you out of position or off balance and then nails the next ball into a corner. While you may be quick enough to get to the ball, you are not able to successfully execute the shot and thus you miss. That is a forced error.

An unforced error is when you miss a shot that you would and should typically make.

Q. I returned an opponent’s ball with a slice and the ball went over the net (barely), landed on her side of the court and bounced back on my side. My opponent was of course unable to return. I say it was my point. She argues. What say you?

A. It is your point. It is a rare, and great, shot. Enjoy it, because this happens so infrequently.

On another note, this would be the only instance when your opponent would be permitted to lean over the net and make contact with the ball on your side of the court, without physically touching the net of course.

Q. At every tournament I have played in, there has always been a dad or mom with a clipboard. My parents took a quick look at the clipboard and saw him marking off unforced errors, double faults, and many more things that my opponent and myself did wrong. Is this legal, and if it is why would he be doing this?

A. The information gathered from charting matches can be an effective learning tool for both students and teachers. It demonstrates, objectively, which shots are effective and which shots are breaking down. Certain charting patterns can be misleading, so it should be done with a discerning eye.

When watching players, I personally prefer to just keep notes. A lot of winners are circumstantial, so sometimes the “facts” can be a little misleading. For example, if a player hit a series of excellent forehands and gets his opponent out of position and then moves forward for an easy volley winner, it is recorded as “volley winner.” This certainly does not tell the tale of what occurred during that point.

A few statistics that I like to see are percentage of points won on first serves and second serves. That, to me, is more significant than the number of aces and double faults. Likewise, I look for the percentage of points won against first and second serves while returning. That is more interesting to me than, say, percentage of break points converted.

So, yes this is legal. You might have a parent or coach help you by trying this during an upcoming match. Realize that some of the data might be a little tilted, and that’s where an informed observer is useful.

Q. Upon returning a short shot, on the follow through, is the racquet allowed to make contact with net?

A. If your racquet, or any part of your body (including hair, clothes, shoes, etc.), touches the net during a point, then you automatically lose the point. If you are playing without an umpire, it is your responsibility to call this infraction on yourself. In fact, even with an umpire, you should be on your honor to admit if you’ve touched the net, as this is an easy call to miss for an umpire.

If a wind blown shot, or a ball with a lot of back spin, bounces on your side of the net and then back over toward your opponent’s half of the court, you may reach over to play the shot but must avoid touching the net. This situation happens pretty rarely and always seems to cause confusion when it does occur. The aforementioned is the only situation where you are permitted to reach across the plain of the net to play a shot. Again, without an umpire, you are on your honor to make this call against yourself.

Q. I am a left-handed tennis player. During play, I have found that I can hit the tennis ball almost as well with my right hand as I do with my left. Do USTA rules forbid players to switch hands during play?

A. No. You can play with either hand. In fact, three-time USTA national champion Marty Devlin of Trenton, NJ has employed this “two forehands” style since he started playing tennis. The old joke when people were preparing to play Marty was to hit to his backhand. But, alas, he has no backhand.

Good luck as you experiment with this style. If it works, use it. Perhaps you’ll enjoy the same level of success as ol’ Marty Devlin.

Q. In a recent doubles match, my partner and I were down 4-5 and I was serving at 30-40 in the third set. I hit a good first serve and the other player returned a floater at the net to my partner. He hit a sharp volley to the baseline. Both of the other players looked at each other and one person called it in and the other couldn't make a call, so the point was ours. My partner, who hit the ball, over-ruled them and said "no it was out".....game/set/match. It was a very close shot, and we obviously didn't have as good a look at it as they did.

1. Can I over-rule my partner?
Does my partner even get a say in it?

A. This is a case where your partner's sportsmanship showed up at a crucial time. He most likely had the clearest view of the shot and in good conscious enlisted himself in aiding the call. The code states that a player can call his own shots out (with the exception of the first serve). A player should call against himself any ball the player clearly sees out regardless of whether requested to do so by the opponent.

The prime objective in making calls is accuracy. All players should cooperate to attain this objective.

Q. Once I was playing singles at a tournament and the girl I was playing would only keep one ball to serve with. If she faulted her first serve then she would take her time and walk over and get another ball. Isn't she supposed to always have a second ball with her?

A. In the official rules handbook it states a server must strike the second serve without delay. Of note is a 20 second provision between points, however this does not apply between first and second serves. A player should come to the baseline with two balls. One suggestion would be a ball clip to hold the second or pockets or panties with ball pockets.

Q. Is there ever an occasion when you switch sides on even game count? For example, if a first set ends with a score of 6-3, you would switch sides because the set ended in an odd game score? If so, when do you switch again? Would it be the first game of the second set, so that all side switching always occurs with an odd game score in the set being played, or would you play two games and continue switching every two games within the entire match, so that you would be switching, in this case, on even games?

A. Seems odd, but what’s odd is odd…just don’t take a nod when odds are consecutive…E.g. you don’t get the 90 seconds break…just like after the very first game of the match.

In a nutshell, always change on the odd games.

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