Returning an OUT Serve

Andy Bloom
Andy Bloom
Andy Bloom writes, “At the Sanchez-Casal tournament last week, a player had a dispute with his opponent. On a serve that was a bit long to the receiver, he would return it back towards his opponent. His opponent finally took exception to this and smashed one of those balls back towards him.

“On the changeover, the unhappy server told him ‘it is illegal to hit those balls over the net and they need to stay on your side.’ I’ve always been told to play the ball as if it were in, just in case. Would you happen to know the rule on this?”

My Answer: The answer lies in your choice of words…

“On a serve that was a bit long,” indicates that the returner really couldn’t tell if the serve was going to be in our out; so he IS allowed to hit it back over the net.

On the other hand, if the serve is OBVIOUSLY out, and the returner has time to see that, he should either bunt it back into the net or let the ball go behind him (which I think is the preferred option).

According to the code:
28. 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

Other opinions?

Tournament #3: Sterling Oaks/ CAT II

This tournament began today with SUNDAY singles matches in a couple of age groups. Although I had a minor seeding in the 70s singles, I had a first round match this morning vs. Butch Gorman, nobody I had ever met or played before.

Turns out he is a retired American Airlines pilot and a very nice guy, who lives on the east coast of Florida (and still flies small jets commercially). If I am a mid-Level 2 tournament player (see earlier post on this subject), then Butch is a mid-level 3 player, who I should have beaten 6-2, 6-2.

Those were the scores that I won by; but it wasn’t pretty… three of his four games came by breaking my inconsistent serve today (not normal). My next round match on Monday will be vs. Joe Dyser, the former head pro at Sterling Oaks and a very steady baseliner. Should be a good match.

For the rest of the results, draws and link to the tournament site, please click HERE

Last Week’s Winners

Men’s 55 Singles
F (3) Scott Shepherd d. Bill Nichols 6-3; 1-6; 7-6

Men’s 60 Singles
F (1) Bill Ashley d. (2) Larry Gagnon 4-6; 7-5Ret (inj)

Men’s 65 Singles
F (1) Larry Turville d. (2) Mike Dahm 6-2; 6-2

Men’s 70 Singles
F (2) David Nash d. (3) Peter Peczely 4-1Ret (inj)

Men’s 75 Singles
F (1) Charles Burns d. (2) Ben Varn 7-5Ret (inj)

Men’s 80 Singles
F (1) Gordon Hammes d. Thomas Mancuso 6-1; 6-1

Men’s 85 Singles
F Norm Taylor d. (1) Russell Fink 6-3; 5-3Ret (inj)

Men’s 60 Doubles
F (2) Gagnon/Landauer d. (1) Ames/Shreiner 6-3; 6-2

Men’s 65 Doubles
F (2) Barnes/Dahm d. (1) Dalphon/Wilkie 6-4; 6-4

Men’s 70 Doubles
F (2) Irvine/Jonsson d. Keenan/Moter 6-1; 7-5

Men’s 75 Doubles
F Mathias/Poist d. (2) Foster/Varn 6-3; 6-1

Men’s 80 Doubles
F Claffey/Prusinowski d. Abramson/Fields 6-2; 6-0

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6 thoughts on “Returning an OUT Serve

  1. Not so long ago I played a tournament match where my opponent returned EVERY out serve I hit – most of the serves were clearly out. Sometimes it may be due to a bad habit but more likely gamesmanship/rudeness. To me it is a real distraction and majorly annoying. Generally I think the most effective response is to then turn the tables and do the same to him for at least a few games – before making it an issue for discussion. I think the message translates pretty quickly.

    Dag, it is a shame that we even have to talk about what we should do when someone acts like a Jerk! George

  2. What’s wrong with asking for a let ?
    I would make it clear to my opponent that I am entitled to a let serve whenever his unnecessary return even slightly interrupts play.

    Spike, if you are going to go that route, why not a Hindrance and taking the point? George

  3. Congrats on your win George!

    The reason I asked this question is because when I talked to Larry Gagnon after his finals win he mentioned the incident to me. I had played that same person a couple years ago and had the same problem. If I win my match tomorrow I will play him on Tuesday.

    Andy, check out some of the suggestions in the Comments! George

  4. A variation on the same theme. You are warming up your serve before playing a match and the opponent starts knocking back your practice serves to practice his return. You assume he is done with his service warmup or doesn’t need one so you start to hit a fourth practice serve when he suddenly shouts out that it is “his turn” for service warmup and he wants you to go fetch the balls that he sprayed all over the place and hit them back to him. This would be bad enough in a friendly match but there is a guy I know who does this in USTA tournaments, where the warmup time is very limited and every second counts. The last time he did this to me in a tournament, I stopped practicing my serve after hitting 3 and him hitting 0 serves (but with him taking returns off of all 3 of my serves) and I walked to my bag, telling him if he wanted to practice his serve he could cross to my side of the net and pick up the balls there. I think he got the message.

  5. I’m the guy. I’m the guy who is very distracted by out serves that are returned. I don’t want to have to dodge balls or look around to see if the errant ball is in a safe place. It’s a definite “interruption of my service rhythm.”

    I have no problem, if the serve is close, for a player to return the ball. This might happen 2-4 times in a 2-3 hour match. I do it myself and always apologize when I do so. However, when a player relaxes and hits the ball back on every out serve this is definitely a violation of A Friend At Court, The Code/Serving/#28-Obvious Faults.

    The higher the level of player, the rarer this exists. And also, the higher the level of player, the easier it is for him to fix. Most can do it right away and I’m sure within two days of practice anybody can abide by the rules easily. It’s really not a big deal to accomplish.

    In June of 2006 I had a huge mess with a top 10 national player who did it constantly. I called over an official. Since then I’ve called over officials on several other occasions. Half of them don’t know the rule, and the ones that do don’t know how to enforce the rule.

    Those officials with some knowledge of the rule usually go to the wrong place, i.e., what is considered “obviously” out. Then the unsolvable arguments begin. The official needs to go to the spirit of he rule: is the guy doing it continuously.

    So I wrote to the head of the Rules Committee at the USTA, Rich Kaufman. He responded:

    “The official should have informed you both of the rule (and its spirit) and asked you to play on. She should have stayed the entire match to see that the spirit of the rule was being observed. Upon noticing that ALL out serves were being returned she should have interjected herself into the match by enforcing code penalties or issuing a let upon each infraction.”

    This usually happens to me once every ten matches, and mostly with players new to tournament tennis but not always. It happened last week to me at Sanchez-Casals against a very good player. Because he beat my butt so bad and so quickly I didn’t mention it to him during the match. But I did take the time afterward to mention it. I don’t think it was received too graciously. But, heck, personally I WANT to know if I’m breaking any rules and would thank anyone who informed me of such.

    I always carry Kaufman’s response in my tennis bag for officials when the problem occurs and any players who want a copy should just ask me.

    Unfortunately I always end up the “bad guy” when this code violation happens and I admit it’s a pretty arcane part of A Friend At Court. But to me it’s distracting, and I want to repeat here, the higher the level player you are, the rarer it occurs. I would hope that all players, especially tournament players, want to do what the good players do.

    Michael – I do agree with you that if the player is returning EVERY out serve, he is obviously not following the code. The more we talk, the more we expose to proper etiquette. Thanks, george

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