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Serve Rulings

Q. Can a server call his own let if he thinks the ball hit the net, but no one else heard it? Also, if I hit a ball and my opponent is hit by it behind the baseline, then who gets the point?

A. The answer to your first questions is yes, a server may call a “let” if he/she hears it.

As for your second question, if your opponent is hit in the air with a ball, regardless of where he/she is standing (including beyond the baseline), then it is your point.

Q. I called a serve back. My partner corrected my call saying that it was good. My partner offered a first serve. However, the player from the opposing team said that it was their point. I have looked in the USTA rule book, but I cannot find a rule concerning this. What's the rule?

A. Your partner was correct in offering a first serve to replay the point, IF the ball called out was returned into play. The Code #12 states that a corrected out call "shall be replayed if the player returned the ball within the proper court". If the ball was not returned, then the point is to be given to the opponents. The Code #14, regarding disagreement between doubles partners, says that the ball shall be called good, but then repeats the instructions for replaying the point if the ball was returned in play.

Q. Can the server call his own let service? I heard my serve hit the net, but my partner and the opponents did not call it.

A. Yes. Any player (the server, returner or the respective doubles partners) may call service lets.

Q. When serving the first ball and it tips the net but goes over without going out, you call “let” and have two serves left. How many times can you tip the net before incurring a penalty point?

A. You can hit an infinite number “let” serves in a row. Some would argue that this rule should be changed. In fact, World TeamTennis does NOT count lets, and neither does Division I men’s college tennis. In both cases, all serves count- even those that hit the net and snap straight up (for an easy return) or those that gently roll over and “die” (for an ace).

Q. A player is serving, the opponent returns the ball and the servers' extra ball falls out of her pocket. Can a let be called and if so who can call it?

A. A let SHOULD be called immediately when this occurs by the opponent (NOT the player who “dropped” the ball). Only the opposing player can make this call though, and- again- it should occur immediately.

In an officiated match, when a ball falls from a player’s pocket (or a hat blows off his head), then they will be warned. If this scenario happens again, then the offending player will lose the point.

Q. I was playing a mixed doubles match, and the female member of the team was having trouble with her ball toss on her serve. On average, she would toss the ball about 6 times in the air before she would actually hit it. Most of the time it was because it was a bad ball toss (over her head to the other side) but it grew to be quite distracting for my partner and me. When she did get the toss right, her serve was decent, and many times my partner and I were caught off guard because we didn't expect her to actually hit it after tossing so many times.

My question: is there a limit to the number of tosses you can have before you actually serve the ball? Do my partner and I have the right to file a grievance? (We lost in 3 sets).

A. There is no limit to the number of bad tosses that a player may choose NOT to hit. Perhaps there should be though. I agree that this would be a good rule change. The only grievance that COULD be filed would be if you thought that she was doing it on purpose and, thus, using gamesmanship. This would be pretty darn difficult to prove though.

By the way, PLEASE please please do not file a grievance. There are SO many frivolous grievances filed during USTA League play that it is appalling. These conditions against the Wayward Tossing Woman were not ideal, but ultimately you should have maintained your concentration and dealt with it.

Q. I hit a serve to the ad court and it was an ace. The person returning serve looked down at the ground in defeat. His partner, however, said it was long. I asked the serve returner if he saw the ball in. He said I thought it was good but it is her call. What is the correct call here?

A. If doubles partners are in disagreement over a call, then they should give you the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes a returner truly does not get as good a look at the ball, especially when it lands near the service line. In that case, they may choose to rely almost entirely on the judgment of their partner.

Q. Is a missed service return only considered an "ace" if the receiver does not get his/her racquet on the ball?

A. An “ace” is a clean service winner. If your opponent gets his racquet on the ball, even just the edge of his frame, then it is not an “ace.”

Q. The other day, I played a match with my girlfriend in which she repeatedly would hit serves back to me, calling them out, without letting them bounce. I asserted that she should be forfeiting those points, as there was no proof that they were not good. The Rules of Tennis seem to back me up (Rule 24, Case 8), but they're not as crystal-clear as I like rules to be. Rule 11 defines when a ball is in play, and starts with: "Unless a fault or a let is called...", and my view is that it's not a fault until it bounces outside of the service court. Please help us clarify this.

A. You might want to go to a relationship counselor. Just kidding.

Actually, you are right. If your opponent hits the return of serve before it bounces (or gets hit in the air) by a serve, then they should lose the point. Curiously, if your serve clips the net and hits them or their racquet before it touches the ground, then it is considered a “let” serve. Of course this second part rarely occurs.

Anyway, it is apparent that you and your girlfriend are not competing against one another in a sanctioned tournament, so in the end it doesn’t matter much. In fact, it is not uncommon during social tennis that when a ball is going clearly out and an opponent plays it in the air that it is assumed that ball was going to land out. This is just a simple courtesy that I always viewed as a way to avoid chasing an errant shot that was clearly going long. Strictly speaking, you are right though.

Q. When serving in singles or doubles, are you allowed to go beyond the singles side line for singles and the doubles side line for doubles?

A. No, you’re not. The end of the singles boundary (and double boundary for doubles) is as wide as you are allowed to set up for hitting your serve.

Q. How is it determined who will start serving in a tennis match? Also, on subsequent sets, how is it determined who serves first in those matches.

A. Players will spin the racquet and call “up” or “down” (using the logo on the butt cap of the racquet as the guide) when they walk on court. Whichever player wins the toss may elect to:

1. Serve or receive serve first

2. Select which side to begin on

3. Or… defer the initial decision to his/her opponent. (For example, after one player decides to serve first, the other gets to choose which side they will begin play on. Deferring the decision will, as one example, assure that you would never have to serve with the sun in your eyes during the first game.)

At the end of any set, there is a break lasting two minutes. When play resumes, the same order of serve will continue. (If you served the last game of set one, then your opponent serves first in set two; but if a tie-breaker is played, then this order is switched).

Q. I was having this debate with my husband on playing doubles. I would love it if you could help clarify this.

If your serving from the duce court and your serve goes wild and hits your opponent in the ad court, who's point would it be? (just in case I have my courts messed up, it would be the person standing directly in front of the serving player).

A. Hi Sheri and thanks for your question. In tennis, a ball served or struck within a point must touch the ground or hit a permanent out of bounds fixture (ie back fence) for the point to end. Thus a ball that strikes’ a player on the opposing side regardless of whether it would be in or out would be the server’s point.

Q. I have a question about the rules of tennis. Here is the scenario:

After hitting a first serve that lands a little bit long, the returner hits the ball (and calls the ball out). When hitting back the "out" ball, the returner breaks a string. Because the string is broken, play stops temporarily and the returner gets a new racquet.

My question is, does the server automatically get a 1st serve? (ie "a let")

A. Rule 30 in the Tennis Rules Handbook states:

Delays during service. When the server’s second service motion is interrupted by a ball coming onto the court, the server is entitled to two serves. When there is a delay between the first and second serves:

* The server gets one serve if the server was the cause of the delay

* The server gets two serves if the delay was caused by the receiver or if there was outside interference.

The time it takes to clear a ball that comes onto the court between the first and second serves is not considered sufficient time to warrant the server receiving two serves unless this time is so prolonged as to constitute an interruption. The receiver is the judge of whether the delay is sufficiently prolonged to justify giving the server two serves.

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