The Errant Toss

Brad Gilbert
Brad Gilbert
You are waiting to receive serve. Your opponent tosses the ball and catches it. He resets. You reset. He tosses the ball and catches it. He resets. You reset. He tosses the ball (you are now on your heals, waiting for him to catch it) and he serves an ace!

Brad Gilbert thinks that should not be allowed. He and fellow TV announcers were talking during the US Open; and Brad feels “the point should start once the server tosses the ball… if he chooses to catch it, it should be a fault.”

Other Choices?

Pam Shriver suggested “maybe it should be like the line call challenges: they get three per set and THEN it is a fault.”

Another parallel I would suggest would be like The Hat Flying Off Rule… the first one is not a problem (the opponent can call Play Two); but the second occurrence is deemed to be a hindrance and loss of point. Using that example, the first errant toss on a given point (or during a service game) could be no penalty; but all others after that – during that point (or game) constitute a fault.

What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “The Errant Toss

  1. Fully agree with all you have said, and in tennis you already get 2 chances to serve (not so in squash, badminton or table tennis), so not serving a tossed ball should be a fault. Also, I thought the current rules allowed a player to let the ball drop, but if he touched it (ie caught it) on the way down it was a fault. But I am not a “Rule King”, so I defer to others! Andy

    Andy – no, i believe there are no restrictions now on how many times you can “toss and catch”… as long as you don’t actually swing at it. george

  2. George,
    I talked to Sally Utiger (tennis rules expert — attends all the Charger’s tournaments and is frequently consulted on rules issues) about one woman player who tosses (repeatly) and catches the ball with her racquet. I (mistakenly) claimed this amounted to a serve and cautioned the person accordingly. Sally said, no, as long as there is no attempt to hit the ball, it is not a fault. We also consulted her rule book and confirmed her statement. As to calling faults during multiple aborted tosses, I think it’s probably not going to ‘fly’ since on windy days, we all find ourselves chasing errant tosses. The rule Brad Gilbert envisages would become very arbitrary.

    Sheldon, thanks! George

  3. Windy days can create ball toss problems for all of us. If there were to be a change, your proposal (two attempts) is much more reasonable. I don’t think this happens frequently enough to cause an overall problem – but there are always a few quirky individuals out there. Certainly more noticeable on TV where every second counts.

  4. The let cord service winner will be a new rule before the ball toss catch. I always feel that a guy catching that many balls is only screwing himself up and an advantage to me. Yelling and screaming during and after hitting a ball is much more of a distraction and totally against the tennis code, sorry Laurie. Lets enforce the rules and code we have before adding more.

    Bill – well, said. thanks, george

  5. George, in the interest of full disclosure, I occasionally have a problem with my serving toss and I am prone to resetting the toss sometimes myself. However, regardless of my personal predilections, I respectfully disagree and I really see no reason to change the current rule, which has been the rule since — well, for as long as I can remember, and I am old. As with most rule change proposals in tennis, my general view is toward retention of the status quo. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and there is nothing that I can see that is broken in the current rule.

    Yes, I grant that it can be sometimes disruptive to the receiver if the server resets his toss. But just like the debate over whether an ordinary grunt or speech should be counted as a hindrance — as to which I have previously argued strenuously that we don’t need such a rule and also that such a rule would apparently make it illegal even to shout out mid-point instructions to one’s partner in a doubles match — the desire to make everything in tennis “perfect” will inevitably lead to more and more silly rules that will remove all enjoyment of the game and turn people away. We already have far too many rules, regulations and laws in the real world about which sensible people have become increasingly upset (and I am a lawyer, so I can say that with some conviction and experience). Do we want to continue making the same over regulation mistakes in our favorite sport too?

    Further, I have really never seen a multiple toss resetter who was doing this intentionally or to gain an unfair edge over the receiver. Rather, there are all sorts of reasons why people do it, and there is almost always a good reason that has absolutely nothing to do with any desire to disrupt the receiver. Probably the most common reason (mea culpa) is having a sucky toss, and the second most common reason (also mea culpa) is having a case of nerves or the yips on key points or in pressure situations. But other factors like too much wind, having the sun in one’s eyes, distracting movements of other players in the server’s peripheral vision (including the receiver – more on this below), birds flying overhead — in fact, just about anything — could cause one to have to occasionally, or even frequently, reset one’s toss.

    It is also axiomatic that servers want to start the point just as much as receivers do. No server that I know who has this problem views it as a positive. All servers that I know who have this problem would much prefer not having to reset their toss at all. That is, servers want to put the ball in play efficiently and easily because, quite simply, they have no chance to win the point if they don’t do that. But they are also trying hard not to fault. So, if anything, resetting a toss is probably MORE disruptive to the server’s rhythm, consistency and confidence than it is disruptive to the receiver. So, imposing a new rule to penalize the situation would be like rubbing salt in an existing wound for any server who happens to be plagued by this problem.

    Also, in view of the fact that servers are generally not trying to do this intentionally, imposing a new rule penalizing toss resetting would actually have the unintended effect of causing unfairness to a server who is plagued with this problem, thereby giving a receiver an unfair advantage in such a situation. Why so? Because there is no companion proposal to have an offsetting rule that would likewise penalize a receiver for doing things that may be disruptive to a server, intentional or not. For example, if we are going to penalize servers for resetting their tosses, maybe we should also be penalizing receivers who (take your pick): (1) hold up their hands frequently to indicate they are not ready when the server is just about to serve; (2) shout out “play a let” just after a serve has been made by claiming that some nearby ball or player on an adjacent court distracted them (even when it logically could not); (3) start taking steps to move toward the ball to intercept it on the rise (or conversely start moving backwards to take the ball later in its bounce) when the server is in the middle of his motion; or (4) stand right on or behind the service line to disrupt the server, especially on a second serve when the server is known to have placement or confidence issues. Now, to be clear, I am NOT arguing that we should have rules against these kinds of things too. Quite to the contrary. But I am pointing out the slippery slope that comes from almost all do-gooder but short sighted attempts to fix or “reform” one perceived problem by making rule changes that are not really necessary. The problem is: Once you start down this path, where exactly do you stop before you wind up fundamentally ruining the game as we now know and love it?

    The bottom line is that there are a lot of things about tennis that may be unfair, or are seemingly unfair, but that is just the way it is. For example: Why do we allow multiple lets on a serve but if a ball strikes the net anytime during the rest of a point and still goes in no let is played? Why do we give two serves to servers at all, instead of only one, especially when the common wisdom is the server already has an inherent advantage over the receiver? Why is it the rule that players are supposed to call things like double bounces on themselves, and there is no appeal from their own self-serving call even when they are obviously wrong? Etc. My point is, if you want perfection, aspire to the clergy or go have multiple plastic surgeries. But if you want to play and enjoy tennis, then just go out and have fun with the game as it exists — warts and seeming unfairnesses in its present rules included. Stop trying to constantly make it “better,” because there is a high degree of probability that by trying to “correct” one perceived issue or problem, you are only going to create new ones.

    Marty – Please take a minute to tell us what you REALLY think!!!! (“Methinks the Lady doth protest too much.”) thanks, george

  6. re: Errant Tosses—Perhaps you younger folks have not heard of BPPV [benign paroxysmal positional vertigo] , an inner ear disorder causing repeated episodes of positional imbalance triggered by change in head position. Millions of us, particularly, older folks, suffer from this disorder. Ever try to serve without turning your head back? Some of you youngsters may live long enough to join us, so give us a break while we catch a few tosses before acing you. Geo

    George – I can sympathize with that. (but, most of the violators would most likely not be afflicted). thanks, george

  7. I think two rules should change: the toss is in play as soon as it leaves the servers hand and get rid of service lets. Both would from my perspective “improve the game”.

    Ted. And speed it up! Thanks. George

  8. Not protesting too much. Just trying to give you fodder for your next book. 🙂

    Marty – “fodder”? That was about five pages worth! George

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