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The Final Word: First and Second Serves

February 12, 2013 01:08 PM
USTA Director of Officials Richard Kaufman answers your questions about first and second serves.
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. He selects a few submissions at a time and supplies the definitive rulings through a Q&A.  
Have a question of your own? Write to The Final Word!
Question from Richard: Playing doubles last night, my opponent "quick-served" a second serve while the ball rolled between his legs from his first serve. I was not ready, so I did not attempt to return the ball. I caught the ball in my hand, and he quick-served another ball, and again I was not ready because I was still holding the ball.
Is there a rule that requires the server to wait until the ball comes to rest from his first serve before he hits his second serve? Does the ball have to come to rest or just leave the playing area of the court? Rule 21 states that the receiver must be ready in a reasonable amount of time to take the serve. Was I correct in not attempting to return the ball because I was not ready? Is there a rule that does not allow a "quick serve"?
KAUFMAN: A. The receiver must play to the reasonable pace of the server. If a ball from a first-serve fault is still rolling around in the court area, the receiver should hold up the server or do what you did, catch the ball and say you were not ready due to this stray ball from the first-serve fault. If the server is quick-serving the receiver, the receiver should verbally and visually stop play and not attempt to play the serve.
The receiver must have a good reason to stop play. A stray ball from a first serve is one reason, or a server hitting a second serve quickly after the first-serve fault before the receiver can prepare for the second serve is another reason. Once the receiver is ready, he cannot become un-ready for no apparent reason.
Question from Peggy: The server's first ball is out. The ball from the next court comes over to our court and is retrieved and sent back, thus delaying the server. Does the server get another first serve, or is it a second serve?
KAUFMAN: If the server had not started her service motion and the delay is brief, then the server only gets a second serve. If there is a long delay or the server had begun her motion to serve when she was interrupted, then the server would get a first serve.


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