Questionable Let Calls

When is it OK to say, “Play a let!” and have it be fair and correct? We all have thought about stopping play because of “something,” or had that “something” stop our play during a critical point.

Here are some answers and some unanswered situations.

  • Net Cord – It is at a critical point in the match and you hit a service winner against your opponent; but they raise their hand and say, “It hit the net cord, play a let!” (Actually, what most everyone calls is just “Let!”) But, you didn’t hear anything. Do you play a let? I believe the answer is: anytime, any player on the court (in singles or doubles) thinks they hear the ball tick the net on the serve, they are allowed to call a Let. Sure, in friendly doubles, sometimes majority rules and three players can agree there was no let.
  • Rolling first serve – Your opponent serves their first serve into the net and it rolls back to the middle of the service box and they aren’t going to pick the ball up. You ask them to “Please clear the ball.” Do they get to play a Let and get a first serve? I believe not. If their first serve rolls anywhere near the court, they or you can clear it (or ask for it to be cleared) and no let is deserved.
  • First Serve Part II – But here is a variation on the theme. Let’s say their missed first serve is tight to the net, and not really in the field of play, but in your field of vision. Can you ask them to clear the ball? And if so, do they get to play a let? I do not know the answer.
  • Noise – You are playing a point and there is a loud bang or crash somewhere near enough for you both to hear the sound. Your opponent says the sound hindered him and he calls a let. Legit? I do not think so. I believe sounds off the court are just part of the game.
  • Your Opponent’s Noise – Now on the other hand, your opponent hits a ball and yells at himself for making a bad shot that he thinks is going out. You don’t play the ball because of that and it lands in. Play a let? I think technically it is your point, because his verbalization was a hindrance to you; but I think the best case scenario would be to play a let (but I bet you that most times we allow our opponent take that point with no objection).
  • Your Opponent’s Noise Part II – OK, you are about to hit an overhead and your opponent yells something (in singles, just to you; or in doubles to his partner); and you miss the overhead. Play a let? I believe if it can be deemed that they were intentionally trying to distract you (I actually had a guy yell at me, “See what you can do with that one!” as I was swinging at my overhead), that it is your point, due to a hindrance. But if it were doubles, and they were just sharing instructions to each other (“Move back!”, “Watch your side!”), I believe that is not a hindrance or even a let.
  • Flying Object – Your opponent rushes the net and their hat falls off. Can you or they call a let? You can; but your opponent cannot.

What are your thoughts on these + any other interesting situations?

6 thoughts on “Questionable Let Calls

  1. this might sound a little off beat but i’ve had a few occasions where a bird flew into or onto the court during a serve. it was an unsual distractions. i’ve always granted a let but don’t really know if that is correct.

  2. Your Opponents Noise PartII……You cannot be talking to your partner while the ball is headed in the direction of your opponents. We had that called on our 3rd court players at State this year. Opponents complained to an official and the official stopped our players from talking at that time.

  3. John – i do not know for sure; but i would think that a bird flying over would not be a let; but one landing on the court might be???

    Dick – Did the ref say they couldn’t say anything while the ball was going back?

  4. Here are two additional scenarios that present similar, but still different, situations and outcomes that I always struggle with (in fact, both happened several times while I was playing singles last night):

    Scenario 1: My opponent is serving. After his first serve is a fault (it goes into the net, he hits it long, etc.) but just before he is about to hit his second serve, a ball rolls onto my opponent’s side of the court from an adjacent court. He feels obliged to retrieve the ball because the players on the other court have yelled “A little help, please” or words to that effect, or those other players have said nothing but clearly want their ball back right away because they are standing precariously close to the court that my opponent and I are playing on, anxiously awaiting completion of our point so they can retrieve their ball (thereby hindering both my opponent and me, at least psychologically). While I always tell my opponent to “take two serves” whenever this happens, I also am always a bit pissed off at having to do so because, otherwise, I would be facing return of second serve and not a first serve. It also is aggravating because this situation usually happens when the players on the adjacent court are kind of stinky and cannot keep their ball in play to themselves and have not learned enough tennis etiquette to think that they can demand instant response from my opponent and me or even walk onto our court or near our court when we are in the middle of a point. Still, I believe this is a legitimate hindrance to my opponent’s serve and it is fair and honorable to award him a first serve, which I always do. However, depending on how pissed off I really am and how frequently the players on the adjacent court may do this, I sometimes will give them a stern “lecture” on tennis etiquette and ask them to say nothing in the middle of our point and await the completion of our point before asking to have a ball retrieved or walking onto or nearby our court.

    Scenario 2: Same situation as Scenario 1 except the players on the adacent court who are responsible for the ball coming onto our court actually DO have tennis etiquette and have not shouted out something to ask for their ball to be retrieved but, instead, are merely continuing with their own game to await an appropriate break in the point between my opponent and myself to get their ball back. HOWEVER, even though the ball that has come onto our court is not in a location where it can be seen by my opponent or myself and is not really a hindrance at all, my opponent stops his second serve and proceeds to retrieve the ball voluntarily. Now I really do have a difficult issue that troubles me and for which I am not really sure what is the proper call. If I call a let each and every time this happens, thereby giving my opponent a first serve, then it seems I am being too generous because (a) he did not have to stop between his first and second serves to retrieve the ball but chose do do so unilaterally and (b) he may very well have done this because he sensed that I might give him a first serve. But, the flip side is if the ball is a long distance from the baseline and he has to spend more than a second or two to walk or run to where it is to retrieve it, then it does not seem fair that his service timing should be penalized because of that delay, so maybe giving him a first serve is being sporting. Also, who am I to say that the distraction of knowing that an alien ball has come onto his court is not still a psychological hindrance to my opponent unless he retrieves the ball immediately and, if so, why is this any different than Scenario 1? So, usually but not always, I wind up giving my opponent a first serve under Scenario 2 as well.

    The bottom line is I think I am right in my actions under Scenario 1 but I am less sure about Scenario 2 and wonder if I am not being maybe a bit too generous. I wonder what others do in these situations?

  5. I am leaving this a second comment because it relates two humorous let situations that have really happened to me.

    The first occurred about 10 years ago when I was playing a serious doubles match in the finals of a tournament on a grass court at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The match was very tight and all players were very intense. All of a sudden, a robin flew down onto the court in the middle of a point and proceeded to poke its beak into the ground. Everybody instantly stopped playing. After a second or two, the robin pulled its beak out of the ground holding a big worm. The bird took a gulp, swallowed the worm, and then flew away. Needless to say, we all agreed that we should play a let on that point. However, the visual image of this also caused all four players on the court to laugh uncontrollably and from that point on the whole match seemed far less intense and serious. Fortunately, I wound up winning anyway.

    The second is something that occurred more than once. A tennis buddy of mine is a teaching pro and is also a Vietnam vet. He used to have a gig as the head tennis pro at a rather ritzy country club where the tennis courts were adjacent to the first tee on the golf course. In fact, the tennis courts were located about 200 yards from the first tee next to the right side of the fairway — in exactly the right spot where your classic push/ slice right handed golfer was likely to hit a ball from the first tee. My teaching pro tennis buddy used to have a regular doubles match every Sunday morning on this court in which I frequently participated. Pretty much every time we played, you could count on some errant golf ball flying into the fence of the tennis court or, occasionally, even flying right onto the court itself while we were playing tennis. Being a Vietnam vet, everytime this happened my buddy would stop what he was doing — even in the middle of a point — and scream out very loudly, “INCOMING!!!” Then all of us would hold our racquets over our heads and crouch down on the court while the golf ball would fly by. Sometimes, the golf ball would miss us by only a few feet or inches, take a high bounce on the court, and then fly completely off the court into some deep fescue that was located just past the court. I could not begin to tell you the number of times, after this happened, that some hapless golfer would ride his cart up to the courts and ask us if we had seen a golf ball flying by and, if so, did we know where it landed. We usually would respond with something snide, like “Nope, haven’t seen any golf balls on this tennis court. What color was it?”

  6. Marty – I am pretty sure that any rolling ball onto your court that interrupts the rhythm of his service motion deserves a Let/ play two call. The key question on your second scenario, is whether it interrupted him or not.

    A parallel situation is: your opponent is a serve/volleyer; misses his first serve; and on his way back to the baseline, a ball rolls on your court; and he knocks it back. Let? I think not.

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