Where Does the Ball Go?

When your opponent misses their first serve, what should you do with that ball? There are several options, some protocol, and no clear answer.

Obviously, if the serve is really close and you are returning and calling the ball out at the same time, there is nothing you can do about that. But if the serve is OBVIOUSLY out, then you choose what to do…

Hit it back across the net? Not sure there is anything in the rule book, but common courtesy says that you do not do this. One friend reported playing a match where his opponent constantly returned every missed serve… and said it was his right to do that.

Hit it into the net? This is what I normally do; but another friend suggests that it can end up distracting YOU more on your next return than your opponent.

Let it go behind you? Many have suggested this is “the right answer,” but my concern is that all too frequently the ball hits the fence and rolls back onto the court, stopping play while you have to chase it down.

Is there a right answer?

5 thoughts on “Where Does the Ball Go?

  1. http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/TheCode%20-%20From2011FriendatCourt.pdf
    Here is the code it actually is in there. IT IS NOT A RIGHT.
    In fact if you return a serve and the ball cause a prolonged delay 2 serves is the right call.
    27. 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 does not call a serve a fault and gives the opponent the
    benefit of a close call, the server is not entitled to replay the point.
    28. Receiver readiness. The receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of the
    server. The receiver should make no effort to return a serve when the receiver is
    not ready. If a player attempts to return a serve (even if it is a “quick” serve), then
    the receiver (or receiving team) is presumed to be ready.
    29. Delays during service. When the server’s second service motion is
    interrupted by a ball coming onto the court, the server is entitled to two serves.
    48 THE CODEWhen there is a delay between the first and second serves:
    • The server gets one serve if the server 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 is sufficiently prolonged to justify giving the server
    two serves.

    Bill – Good stuff! thanks. george

  2. For a while I would catch the ball and put it in my pocket; but a few weeks ago a fellow player served the 2nd serve before I could get the ball put in my pocket.
    It is no fun playing dodgeball after a way-long serve has been rifled back at you. That is a NO NO – long serves are not opportunities for practice. Very timely George

  3. You have the right to try to return a serve when the ball is close to the line (especially with the new rule saying you cannot reverse an “out” call). Where the ball goes is incidental, and is not the cause of possible “play a let” call.
    When the serve is obviously going to be a fault and is within reach, the best practice is to stop the ball and hold it or roll it softly to the net, or simply tap it back softly to the net. If this effort results in a delay of the second serve, “play a let” is to be offered. (The delay is the receiver’s fault.)
    When the serve is out of reach, don’t retrieve it unless the ball rolls back into the playing area. If that happens, no let is to be offered. (It wasn’t the receiver’s fault).
    That’s what I teach my students.

    Spike – Thanks. See Bill’s problem with catching the ball. And what happens when your return of a close-missed serve rolls back onto the court, do you think you need to Play A Let then too? george

  4. i,m curious what receivers do when they return a close first serve (that turns out to be out, you can see the obvious mark) into the net and the ball rolls back out to the service line. the receiver has to clear the ball. this causes a delay that is not the server’s fault. what’s the protocol?

    Joe – my same question after reading Spike’s comment! george

  5. Responses: When you are attempting to return a close serve, “where the ball goes is incidental.” If you hit the net, you are simply obligated to promptly get it out of the playing area. If you delay this retrieval, it becomes “your fault” and you should offer a let.
    You have a right to clear the ball (including putting it into your pocket) after a first service fault, so Bill simply could either try to return the next serve; or take a pass on it, saying he wasn’t ready, thereby playing a let on the second serve.

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