GUIDELINES FOR UNOFFICIATED MATCHES
When your serve hits your partner stationed at the net, is it a let, fault, or loss of point? Likewise, what is the ruling when your serve, before touching the ground, hits an opponent who is standing back of the baseline? The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who knows the fundamentals of tennis, but the number of players who are not aware of these fundamentals is surprising. All players have a responsibility to be familiar with the basic rules and customs of tennis. Further, it can be distressing to your opponent when she makes a decision in accordance with a rule and you protest with the remark; “Well, I never heard of that rule before!” Ignorance of the rules constitutes a delinquency on the part of a player and often spoils an otherwise good match.
What is written here constitutes the essentials of The Code, a summary of procedures and unwritten rules, which custom and tradition dictate all players should follow. No system of rules will cover every specific problem or situation that may arise. If players of good will follow the principles of The Code, they should always be able to reach an agreement, while at the same time making tennis more fun and a better game for all. The principles set forth in The Code shall apply in cases not specifically covered by The Rule of Tennis and Tennis Canada Regulations.
Before reading this, you might well ask yourself: Since we have a book that contains all the Rules of Tennis, why do we need a Code? There are a number of things not specifically set forth in the rules that are covered by custom and tradition only. For example, if you have a doubt on a line call, your opponent gets the benefit of the doubt. Can you find that in the rules? Further, custom dictates the standard procedures that players will use in reaching decisions. These are the reasons why we need a Code.
- Courtesy: Tennis is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy from all participants. Make tennis a fun game by praising your opponents’ good shots and by not:
- conducting loud post mortems after points;
- complaining about shots like lobs and drop shots;
- embarrassing a weak opponent by being overly gracious or condescending;
- losing your temper, using vile language, throwing your racquet,
- slamming a ball in anger,
- sulking when you are losing.
If a point is played from the wrong court, there is no replay. If during a point, a player realized that a mistake was made at the beginning (for example, service from the wrong court), she shall continue playing the point. Corrective action may be taken only after a point has been completed.
- Warm-up is not practice. A player should provide her opponent a 15-minute warm-up. If a player refuses to warm-up her opponent, she forfeits her right to a warm-up. Some players confuse warm up and practice. A player should make a special effort to hit her shots directly to her opponent. (If partners want to warm each other up while their opponents are warming up, they may do so.)
- Warm-up serves. Take all your warm-up serves before the first serve of the match.
- Player makes calls on her side of the net. A player calls all shots landing on, or aimed at, her side of the net.
- Opponent gets benefit of doubt. When a match is played without officials, the players are responsible for making decisions, particularly for line calls. There is a subtle difference between player decisions and those of an on-court official. An official impartially resolves a problem involving a call, whereas a player is guided by the unwritten law that any doubt must be resolved in favor of her opponent. A player in attempting to be scrupulously honest on line calls frequently will find herself keeping a ball in play that might have been out or that she discovers too late was out. Even so, the game is much better played this way.
- Ball touching any part of line is good. If any part of the ball touches the line, the ball is good. A ball 99% out is still 100% good.
- Ball that cannot be called out is good. Any ball that cannot be called out is considered to have been good. A player may not claim a let on the basis that she did not see a ball. One of tennis’ most infuriating moments occurs after a long hard rally when a player makes a clean placement and her opponent says: “I’m not sure if it was good or out. Let’s play a let.” Remember, it is each player’s responsibility to call all balls landing on, or aimed at, her side of the net. If a ball can’t be called out with certainty, it is good.
- Calls when looking across a line or when far away. The call of a player looking down a line is much more likely to be accurate than that of a player looking across a line. When you are looking across a line, don’t call a ball out unless you can clearly see part of the court between where the ball hits and the line. It is difficult for a player who stands on one baseline to question a call on a ball that landed near the opponent’s baseline.
- Treat all points the same regardless of their importance. All points in a match should be treated the same. There is no justification for considering a match point differently than the first point.
- Requesting opponent’s help. When an opponent’s opinion is requested and she gives a positive opinion, it must be accepted. If neither player has an opinion, the ball is considered good. Aid from an opponent is available only on a call that ends a point.
- Player calls her own shots out. With the exception of the first serve, a player should call against herself any ball she clearly sees out regardless of whether she is requested to do so by her opponent. The prime objective in making calls is accuracy. All players should cooperate to attain this objective.
- Partners’ disagreement on calls. If a player and her partner disagree about whether their opponents’ ball was out, they shall call it good. It is more important to give your opponent the benefit of the doubt than to avoid possibly hurting your partner’s feeling by not overruling. The tactful way to achieve the desired result is to tell your partner quietly that she has made a mistake and then let her overrule herself. If a call is changed from out to good, the point is replayed only if the out ball was put back in play.
- Audible or visible calls. No matter how obvious it is to a player that her opponent’s ball is out, the opponent is entitled to a prompt audible or visible out call.
- Opponent’s calls questioned. A player may ask her opponent about her call with the query: “Are you sure of your call?” If the opponent acknowledges that she is uncertain, she loses the point. There shall be no further delay or discussion.
- Spectators never to make calls. A player shall not enlist the aid of a spectator in making a call. No spectator has a part in the match.
- Prompt call eliminates two-chance option. A player shall make all calls promptly after the ball has hit the court. A call shall be made either before the player’s return shot has gone out of play or before the opponent has had the opportunity to play the return shot. Prompt calls will quickly eliminate the “two chances to win the point” option that some players practice. To illustrate, a player is advancing to the net for an easy put away when she sees a ball from an adjoining court rolling toward her. She continues her advance and hits the shot, only to have her supposed easy put away fly over the baseline. The player then claims a let. The claim is not valid because she forfeited her right to call a let by choosing instead to play the ball. She took her chance to win or lose, and she is not entitled to a second chance.
- Let called when balls roll on the court. When a ball from an adjacent court enters the playing area, a player shall call a let as soon as she becomes aware of the ball. The player loses the right to call a let if she unreasonably delays making the call.
- Touches, hitting ball before it crosses net, invasion of opponent’s court, double hits, and double bounces.
- A player shall promptly acknowledge if:
- A ball touches her;
- She touches the net;
- She touches her opponent’s court;
- She hits a ball before it crosses the net;
- She deliberately carries or double hits the ball; or
- The ball bounces more than once in her court.
- Balls hit through the net or into the ground. A player shall make the ruling on a ball that her opponent hits through the net and on a ball that her opponent hits into the ground before it goes over the net.
- A player may serve under-handed however she must not bounce the ball before hitting her serve and she cannot hit the ball below hip-level.
- Server’s request for third ball. When a server requests three balls, the receiver shall comply when the third ball is readily available. Distant balls shall be retrieved at the end of a game.
- Foot Faults. A player may warn her opponent that the opponent has committed a flagrant foot fault. If the foot-faulting continues, the player is to call her captain. Compliance with the foot fault rule is very much a function of a player’s personal honor system. The plea that she should not be penalized because she only just touched the line and did not rush the net is not acceptable. Habitual foot-faulting, whether intentional or careless, is just as surely cheating as is making a deliberate bad line call.
- Service call in doubles. In doubles the receiver’s partner should call the service line, and the receiver should call the sideline and the center service line. Nonetheless, either partner may call a ball that she clearly sees.
- Service calls by serving team. Neither the server nor her partner shall make a fault call on the first service even if they think it is out because the receiver may be giving the server the benefit of the doubt. But the server and her partner shall call out any second serve that either of them clearly sees out.
- Service let calls. Any player may call a service let. The call shall be made before the return of serve goes out of play or is hit by the server or her partner. If the serve is an apparent or near ace, any let shall be called promptly.
- Obvious faults. A player shall not put into play or hit over the net an obvious fault. To do so constitutes rudeness and may even be a form of gamesmanship. On the other hand, if a player believes that she cannot call a serve a fault and gives her opponent the benefit of a close call, the server is not entitled to replay the point.
- Receiver readiness. The receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of the server. The receiver should make no effort to return a serve when she is not ready. If a player attempts to return a serve (even if it is a “quick” serve), then she (or her team) is presumed to be ready.
- Delays during service. When a ball coming onto the court interrupts the server’s second service motion, she is entitled to two serves. When there is a delay between the first and second serves:
- the server gets one serve if she 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 insufficiently prolonged to justify giving the server two serves.
- Server announces score. The server shall announce the game score before the first point of the game and the point score before each subsequent point of the game.
- Disputes. Disputes over the score shall be resolved by using one of the following methods, which are listed in the order of preference:
- count all points and games agreed upon by the players and replay only the disputed points or games;
- play from a score mutually agreeable to all players;
- spin a racquet or toss a coin.
- Talking during a point. A player shall not talk while the ball is moving toward her opponent’s side of the court. If the player’s talking interferes with this opponent’s ability to play the ball, the player loses the point. Consider the situation where a player hits a weak lob and loudly yells at her partner to get back. If the shout is loud enough to distract her opponent, the opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. If the opponent chooses to hit the lob and misses it, the opponent loses the point because she did not make a timely claim of hindrance.
- Feinting with the body. A player may feint with her body while the ball is in play. She may change position at any time, including while the server is tossing the ball. Any movement or sound that is made solely to distract an opponent, including but not limited to waving the arms or racquet or stamping the feet, is not allowed.
- Lets due to hindrance. A let is not automatically granted because of hindrance. A let is authorized only if the player could have made the shot had she not been hindered. A let is also not authorized for a hindrance caused by something within a player’s control. For example, a request for a let because the player tripped over her own hat should be denied.
- Grunting. A player should avoid grunting and making other loud noises. Grunting and other loud noises may bother not only opponents but also players on adjacent courts. In an extreme case, an opponent or a player on an adjacent court may seek the assistance of the captain.
- Injury caused by a player. When a player accidentally injures her opponent, the opponent suffers the consequences. Consider the situation where the server’s racquet accidentally strikes the receiver and incapacitates her. The receiver is unable to resume play within the time limit. Even though the server caused the injury, the server wins the match by retirement. On the other hand, when a player deliberately injures her opponent and affects the opponent’s ability to play, then the opponent wins the match by default. Hitting a ball or throwing a racquet in anger is considered a deliberate act.
- Stalling. The following actions constitute stalling:
- Warming up for more than the allotted time;
- Playing at about one-third a player’s normal pace;
- Taking more than the allotted 90 seconds on the odd-game changeover;
- Taking more than the authorized (2 minutes) during an authorized rest period between sets;
- Starting a discussion or argument in order for a player to catch her breath;
- Clearing a missed first service that doesn’t need to be cleared; and
- Bouncing the ball ten times before each serve.
If you encounter a problem with your opponents’ continued stalling, you are to call for your captains assistance.
- Retrieving stray balls. Each player is responsible for removing stray balls and other objects from her end of the court. A player shall not go behind an adjacent court to retrieve a ball, nor shall she ask for return of a ball from players on an adjacent court until their point is over. When a player returns a ball that comes from an adjacent court, she shall wait until their point is over and then return it directly to one of the players, preferably the server.
- Catching a ball. If you catch a ball before it bounces, you lose the point regardless of where you are standing.