Fun facts about tennis rule (3)

3 minute read


These days I mostly play competitive tennis, so my opponents usually have sufficient understandings of the rules and we do not get into disputes. However, debates and disputes sometimes occur in recreational play, which could be annoying. So in a series of posts, let me talk about some rules that could be overlooked by recreational players. The official rules can be found in the “Friend at Court” here.

When a ball rolls on court during the point, we call let. This is covered in ITF Code 18:

18. Let called when ball rolls on court. When a ball from another court enters the playing area, any player on the court affected may call a let as soon as the player becomes aware of the ball. The player loses the right to call a let if the player unreasonably delays in making the call.

What should we do when a ball rolls on court after the first serve is a fault? Should the server serve a first or second serve? This is covered in ITF Rule 23:

23. THE LET In all cases when a let is called, except when a service let is called on a second service, the whole point shall be replayed.
Case 1: When the ball is in play, another ball rolls onto court. A let is called. The server had previously served a fault. Is the server now entitled to a first service or second service?
Decision: First service. The whole point must be replayed.

Of course, a “service let” here refers to a serve that touches the net but is otherwise good, which is defined in ITF Rule 22. So, if a let is called, we should replay the whole point from the first serve unless the let is a second service let.

Sometimes players take advantage of lets. An example is that the player sees a ball rolling in but returns the ball anyway, which goes out, and then calls let. Another example is the opponent hits an apparent winner, a ball rolls in, and the player calls let after seeing that the opponent’s shot was indeed a winner. These let calls are invalid and covered in ITF Code 17:

17. Prompt calls eliminate two chance option. A player must make all calls promptly. A call must be made either before the player’s return shot has gone out of play or before an opponent has had an 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 and sees a ball from an adjoining court rolling toward the court. The player continues to advance and hits the shot, only to have the supposed easy put away fly over the baseline. The player then claims a let. The claim is not valid because the player forfeited the right to call a let by choosing instead to play the ball. The player took a chance to win or lose and is not entitled to a second chance.

Sometimes players do not immediately recognize a ball rolling in (for example, when the ball is behind the the player) and there is a lag between the ball rolling in and the let call. In that case, players should call let as soon as they become aware of the ball. However, in the spirit of “eliminating two chance option”, a player cannot call let after hitting a point-ending shot (winner or error).