The Phantom Hindrance

What happens when your opponent calls “Play two!” for something that does NOT happen?

At this weekend’s New England Sectionals in Longmeadow MA, two of my New Hampshire tennis friends were playing a 70’s singles semi-finals match when the disputed call came into play.

Here’s the situation and question from one of the players:

In a nutshell the question is this: Is the service receiver allowed to stop play before a serve crosses the net because of a perceived hindrance that never occurred? My opponent called “play two” as I was hitting the ball for my serve because he thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, that a player on the next court was going to interfere by running on our court. In reality that never happened, the player stopped and never came near our court. Meanwhile I completed my serve, which was an ace down the T, since he never ran for it after calling “play two.” But my opponent believed the point should be replayed. Who was right?

I believe you were correct… I think the rule is a player cannot stop play for a hindrance that doesn’t occur. But I searched both the Rules and The Code and cannot find any specific mention of that situation.

Seems like a situation I had in a match where an opponent wanted to call a let for a ball he thought was going to roll onto our court and didn’t.

Anyone know the rule??

11 thoughts on “The Phantom Hindrance

  1. George—Good question. And part of the answer might be the conditions. Yours were formal; at my club among friends there is no question; we replay. One example: if someone doesn’t make the phantom call and a ball does roll onto the court, and someone trips over it and sprains/breaks an ankle….not worth it. My two cents–Best, Kevin

    Kevin – i agree; but with “the finals on the line”… geo

  2. Geo, I feel that although it was phantom he stopped play thinking there was actually someone or thing interfering with his play. I think a replay is in order.

  3. it’s about sportsmanship. we’re always trying to do the right thing when we play. respect (and trust) our opponents until they deem themselves unworthy. when that happens, you ask yourself, “why am i out here playing this #*!#…”

    Joe – but who deserves the “sportsmanship”… the guy who thought he saw something or the guy who thought he just aced his opponent on a big point? geo

  4. I’m not sure of the rule but I did make what you call a phantom call in a sectional match. Our opponents did not see the 200 plus pounder on the adjacent court running at full speed on a collision course with their ad court player. I called a let just before what I thought was a sure collision when the 200-pound intruder braked and ran back onto his court. Our opponents saw none of this and questioned my call but we went ahead and played two. Next time I’ll just let the collision occur and then see if they want to play a let.

    Bob – … IF they can continue to play after the collision! tks, geo

  5. Hmm, in a not-too-recent tournament, I refused to give my opponent a let when he thought a ball was going to roll onto our court and it didn’t – it hit the fence separating the courts, as you would expect. I still think I was right in that situation, but you are making me re-think the whole thing. On the other hand, in a recent situation people nearby were quite loud and it distracted me to the point that I know it affected my shot. Can I call a let? I don’t feel I should – it’s part of the game. Nonetheless, their out call just coincided with a ball hitting near a line on our court and I stopped play. Is it up to me to concentrate on what’s happening on my court, not anywhere else?

    I know you will all think I’m wrong, but I think you have to draw the line and say no let’s are allowed for something that “might” happen, or something happening on another court. End of story.

    Mike – on your “noisy neighbors,” i came across that rule while searching for one on the let call … NO you cannot ask for a let due to noisy neighbors or “out” calls from the crowd. geo

  6. A reply from the “other” player in this match:
    A minor clarification: The serve was an “ace” because it was a good (“in”) serve and I had stopped play before the ball was struck.

    The situation is quite accurately described. I wish to make the points that (i) the issue is one of “being distracted” without being hindered; and (ii) as soon as I called “play 2, please,” I ceased play – before the point had started.

    The game situation was as follows: My opponent was leading 5-3 in the 1st set, and, if I recall correctly, was starting to serve the 1st point of the 9th game. A player in the adjacent court, on the same side as I, was approaching to pick up a ball with his racquet on the edge or just outside of his court within a very few feet of me. I was distracted as he rolled the ball onto his racquet – my head and eyes were on him and not my opponent. for just an instant, and I IMMEDIATELY and CLEARLY called “play two please”. As I turned my eyes to my opponent, I saw that he had already started his service motion. In the next instant he struck the ball into the “T” of my service court. Since I had already called out “play two, please” I – perhaps mistakenly – made no effort to play the ball. The reason I made no effort is that with my call to play two, I had signalled clearly that the point should not be played. I certainly did not want to (try to) return the ball, possibly get into a point and then dispute it – once a point has begun to be played, there is really no turning back.

    I agree that perhaps good sportsmanship might dictate conceding the point to my opponent.. On the other hand, I believe that if the roles had been reversed, I would have allowed my opponent to replay the point without question.

    But the best solution to an honest dispute is to ask for a ruling. This would have been perfectly appropriate. I do not doubt that my opponent was genuine in thinking that since there was no hindrance, my request to “play two” was not justified. I was genuine in my thinking that since I was distracted by something in close proximity to me, I had a right to call “play two, please” before the ball was in play. The obvious solution is to ask for a ruling.

    Asking for a ruling is not an act of rancor nor should it result in any animosity or ill feeling – it is asking for an impartial, official opinion and a peaceful and definitive resolution to a dispute.

    Nick – tks for the response. It sure raises a good question (that has not yet found the definitive ruling). geo

  7. PS Today, I talked to a friend, who officiates tennis matches, and he said that he was unaware of a rule covering this instance. He said he would “ask around.”

  8. Ref. “Friend at Court – 2010” . USTA Comment 23.1., noting the server being interrupted during a delivery of service. During the service motion itself, the receiver called to “play 2” – that was an interruption to the server and a Let (ironically despite the ace!). Now, that particular Comment referenced a scenario of a second service, but the sense of the Rule seems to indicate “entitlement” to a replay.

    Bob – tks. geo

    If a player claims to have stopped play because he thought that his opponent was being hindered by anything will lose the point. In addition, a player causing a deliberate hindrance shall lose the point. A lot of what is a hindrance is subjective to say the least. I think in match play it should make a difference, however in casual Sat. morning play, it is a gentlemen’s call.

  10. Hello, George – I have come to a simple and I believe correct answer to the Phantom Hindrance puzzle…
    I was not ready for his 1st serve – because my focus and visual attention were directed to the adjoining court, where a player was picking up a ball facing me at the edge or slightly outside his court, a very few feet from where I was positioned.
    Rule 12 clearly states: The Server shall not serve until the Receiver is ready. If the latter attempts to return the service, he shall be deemed ready. If, however, the Receiver signifies that he is not ready, he may not claim a fault because the ball does not hit the ground within the limits fixed for the service.

    The service is a let*
    (b)* If a service or a fault is delivered when the Receiver is not ready.In case of a let, that particular service shall not count, and the Server shall serve again, but a service let does not annul a previous fault.

    Thus, I believe I called the point correctly. I called clearly and immediately “Let, take two, please” because I was not ready. This is quite obvious., since I did not SEE the beginning of the service by my opponent. The reason that I was not ready is that I was distracted (the reason does not really matter – it could have been from passing spectators on the far fence behind the server, or a fly, or my head may have been looking at my feet).

    I recall as a youngster, sometimes calling out to my opponent before I served, “Ready?” to verify that he was ready. As an adult, the server sees that the receiver is ready by ascertaining from the receiver’s position that his focus and attention indicate a ready position. An interesting question is “Did my opponent notice that I was not ready?”.
    Perhaps it was impossible to detect. But, a server should give a visual scan of his opponent (as well as the service court into which they are
    serving) to verify that they (the opponent) is ready. Because if the opponent is not ready, they can and should call “Let”.

    There brings up another point about tennis. Although it is adversarial, it is based on cooperation! Another example (besides the implicit verification by the server that a receiver is ready before a server serves – fast-serving an opponent when the opponent is not ready is unethical; and the receiver can simply defeat the ploy by calling a let because they were not ready) is in asking one’s opponent to rule (if they can) on a line call when one is unable to do so himself.

    The problem would be better restated as “When is a receiver ready?”
    rather than as the “Phantom hindrance question”. I am taken with the fascinating cooperation that is taken for granted when a server serves confident that the receiver is ready.

  11. I agree with Joe Mac, it comes down to courtesy at this moment as there are no such calls as PHANTOM LETS or HINDRANCES. You are either distracted or not. If my opponent is distracted for any reason we replay or play 2 depending upon the serve timing. Goodwill and Courtesy because no official, we must use common sense and courtesy with each other, as there are so few of us playing and we will see each other in many events.

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