Polite or Pest?

ballsYou have the momentum and are getting ready to serve the next point; but your opponent raises his hand and slowly strolls across the court to pick up the third ball, while you say “I have two.” What should happen next?

But he disregards your comment and continues to pick up and toss the third ball to you. Is he being polite in giving you the third ball or illegally stalling?

This just happened in a practice singles match I was playing and my friend admitted that he was doing it to slow down the pace of the game and plan his strategy. If the server has two balls and is ready to go, is that legal?

Server’s Pace

The flip side of the rule is clear: the server can ask to have all three balls on his side before he serves (so he can pick the ones he wants).

And it is also clear that the rules state you should “play at the server’s reasonable pace.”

So, can the receiver ignore the server and pick up the third ball?

I think not.

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10 thoughts on “Polite or Pest?

  1. Depends if the ball is in the field of play or near the field. Don’t forget that hearing is also a problem in our age categories. This sounds a bit touchy.

    Bill, no, i meant to write in my post… the ball was clearly NOT in the field of play and posed no hazard. george

  2. George, I think this falls into the category of “it depends.” But mostly I would opt to advise the server to “chill” and don’t be so hyper sensitive to the supposed interruption of his service cadence. What would he do if a ball legitimately rolled on his court from an adjacent match just before he was about to serve the ball? Blame the receiver? Isn’t that the same thing, really?

    However, to better explain the “it depends” comment: If the third ball is anywhere on the receiver’s side of the court, I don’t see why the receiver doesn’t have the right to clear the ball away. It could be dangerous if it is left just about anywhere. And nobody knows before the point begins where the receiver may have to run in a rally and whether the spot where the ball was left might become dangerous as the point enfolds. To wit: If the server hits a drop shot and the ball is near the net, the receiver could trip/ slip on it while trying to run forward to retrieve the dropper. Alternatively, if the ball is left past the baseline but still in the area between the baseline and the back fence where the receiver might have to move to cover a deep ground stroke or a lob, it could also be dangerous. Even if the ball’s location does not create a serious risk of injury, why should the receiver have to contend with an obstacle course? I would mainly give the receiver the benefit of doubt because safety has to be of paramount importance.

    On the other hand, if the ball is sitting a court and a half away and the receiver insists on running over to get the ball while the receiver is standing, ready to serve, with two balls in his hand, then I would concede that you have a point. In that instance I think the admonition that the receiver has to play to the reasonable pace of the server would control.

    So, it depends.

  3. PS. Some players that I know – myself included – as a matter of routine preference just don’t like any balls anywhere on their court when they are playing (except in my case touching the back fence, which I don’t mind because I know I am not going to crash into the ball there) because of the psychological issue that, at any given moment in a point, the ball might interfere with the play or, worse still, they might step or fall on it and get seriously injured.

    I don’t know how many players have actually seen another person get injured on a tennis court, but I have – three times: Once a friend literally shattered his ankle and was in a cast for 6 months and out of action for over a year when he stepped on a ball behind him while moving back to hit an overhead. Another time a friend slipped on a ball that he had stupidly left in the middle of the service box after his first serve hit the net and he fell and dislocated his shoulder. And I myself slipped once playing doubles on an indoor court where the management had not cleared the ball fuzz off for quite a while, and the fuzz got on the lines making them very slippery. I slipped so hard I inverted myself and wound up hitting the court with my head. My doubles partner said it sounded like a watermelon being dropped, and I wound up spending the night in the hospital being observed for complications from a bad concussion. I was out of tennis action for over a month.

    Sh*t happens. Be careful out there.

  4. No way ! I have always made sure AT THE BEGINNING of the match if my opponent wants all 3 balls. If he does not I should leave the ball where it is unless it poses a hazard.
    There always has been that sort of baloney and sadly I suppose there always will. I want to beat you with my strokes and tactics otherwise doesn’t mean anything to me.

  5. Oh, and you ought come on over and hit some when you stop in Savannah. . .

    Kevin – i will try. tks, george

  6. If the receiver does it only once, don’t sweat it, give him a break and the benefit of the doubt. Take it as a compliment and feel good that he needs to slow down the game for a second and gather his thoughts. Nobody’s fooling anybody.

    If he keeps doing it, then you have a legitimate gripe and could invoke the applicable rule violation.

  7. Not a problem for me as I can always use a few more seconds to relax, but once I look to see if my opponent is ready and announce the score I would get very upset if my opponent interrupted me.

  8. If I am losing slowing the pace of play down is something I personally will do. I will not walk slowly but I will wipe off with my towel or walk after a ball on my side of the court. I have never felt I was stretching the rules. It is part of the game.
    Randy Beerman

    Randy, that is one (Beer)man’s opinion! I do agree with slowing down the pace if i am being steamrolled, but some things do cross the line. thanks, george

  9. We all have preferences – mine is to have all three balls before serving and for the 3rd ball to be in my opponents control (his side) when receiving. If my movement to get the 3rd ball in either case is immediate after the end of the previous point, should not be an issue. If I wait until the server is ready and then start for the ball, it is inappropriate gamesmanship.

    Winder – excellent distinction between right and wrong. thanks. george

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