The Oddball/ Third Ball

balls3While a few tennis players use the four-ball can, most of us use three balls when playing a match. And sometimes, that third ball can become an “issue.” Here are some examples…

Off The Court

You’re playing a doubles or singles match and the third ball goes over the fence during a game. Should you stop play and chase it or wait till the server ends their game?

I believe it should be “server’s choice” … in other words, if they are willing to have an interruption in their serving rhythm for the ball to be retrieved, OK. If not, wait.

Ball In Receiver’s Pocket

There are some players who usually will hold the third ball while YOU are serving; and then give it to you when you ask for it. My belief is this is gamesmanship and they are attempting to control the pace of play by holding the ball.

The rule/etiquette is clear: when convenient or requested, all three balls should be on the server’s side of the net.

At The Net

Some doubles partners don’t want to hold their serving partner’s third ball in their pocket; so they roll it to the base of the net. Other players don’t like the visual distraction of having that third ball in their line of sight when returning and playing the point.

I agree with the second viewpoint… if the server’s partner doesn’t want to hold the ball, roll it to the back fence.

What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “The Oddball/ Third Ball

  1. George, I will make this short: I agree with you on all three comments.

    I write only to reinforce how annoying it is (especially in singles) when you tell your opponent at the outset if a match that you prefer to have all three balls on your side of the court when serving and he does not listen to you and insists on poking a ball in his own pocket.

    I am not as sure as you are that it is outright gamesmanship. I think some people do it because they perceive they are being helpful by keeping all of the balls “under control” and out of the way where they cannot be tripped on. (Or at least that is what some opponents will say.) However, I don’t want the opponent keeping “control” of the balls when I am serving. If I am serving, I expect to be in control.

    Plus, I confess to having some weird superstitions. One is that I will continue to play with the same ball for as long as I am winning points with it, but I immediately discard that ball and want to serve with the other two balls for the next point. But I cannot do that if the third ball is in the opponent’s pocket.

    Marty, and when serving, you want to be able to choose the “best ball” of the three to use. thanks, george

  2. I say” If this bothers you seek help”. My feeble mind can only handle so much garbage.

    Bill, becoming very Zen in your old age! george

  3. I try to provide all three balls for my opponent(s) at the start of a game, unless he has indicated he is okay with just having two balls. To always be chasing the 3rd ball and giving it to the server takes too much time and effort for both sides and slows the pace of the game. As long as it is not a hazard for stepping on, where the ball is should be irrelevant as long as a player’s concentration and focus is at a good level.

    As to when to retrieve a ball hit over the fence, this is a simple matter of mutual agreement and consideration(good sportsmanship).

  4. George:

    You may recall an incident I experienced during a USTA 4.5 singles match a few years ago. My opponent wanted me to hold the third ball while she was serving….the reason being she didn’t want to have to “chase down” the third ball between points. I told her in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t do it and that to my knowledge the balls are supposed to be on the server’s side of the court. I don’t know if that is a USTA rule, but I stuck to my guns and refused to hold the third ball. If it had been my partner during a doubles match that wanted me to hold the third ball, there would be no question. But my opponent in a singles match? No way!!

    Susie: yes, i remember! I believe you are totally within your rights to refuse to be her ball girl. thanks, george

  5. I personally like to hold all 3 balls, and when I play with a 4 ball can, I prefer that my partner hold the 4th. What really irritates me is either when the opposing side returns the ball to you out of your reach so you have to retrieve it at the back fence, or when my serving partner has the ball returned to him/her and let’s it roll to the back fence. The problem I have is that this both slows the game and affects the rhythm.

    Michael, you are among a shrinking number who hold three balls! thanks, george

  6. George, I love that this post had so many comments! I agree about the “control” issue and when I face an opponent with this issue I do all I can to ignore it.

  7. One player on the 75+ circuit did not like to see the 3rd ball on the court, He offered to hold it. A referee ruled against him. But, there is a point to his side, though I said that I liked to have a choice of which balls I served. Ahem…isn’t that a little bit of “gamemanship” in flavor?

    Nick, play well in Baton Rouge! george

  8. I agree George, all three balls on the server’s side . If a ball is hit outside, I believe it should be retrieved only after the game is over. You only need two! No balls should ever be left on the court during play…ever. And in case anyone is wondering, a player has the right to ask their opponent to pick up a ball on their side. Why should anyone risk injury or, potentially, be distracted by a ball on the court?

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