What’s The Call?

jeff bostonCan PICKING UP a stray ball on the court during a point be the cause for a hindrance call?

Jeff Boston of Naples writes: “I was playing a friendly doubles match and served from the ad side & missed the first serve into the net. The ball stopped near singles sideline about 2 feet from the net.

My partner didn’t make a move to pick it up and the opponents didn’t ask for it to be moved. I served the second serve in & we played the ball back & fourth several times during the point. During the play I ended up on deuce side playing at the net.

My partner hit a nice drop shot across from me, I really didn’t think they’d get to it, but was watching and since I was very close to the extra ball, I bent over & picked it up. The opponent got to the drop shot, but hit it into the net. He then claimed I distracted him.

Although he felt he didn’t have time to stop play, which is usually required for a distraction, they gave us the point anyway. We’re all friends so we’ve had an ongoing discussion, with several friend opinions from their favorite expert sources.
What’s yours?

Jeff, Interesting question … Half of the rule is clear: once all players start the point with the ball on the court, they have accepted its position and cannot call a Let because of it (I saw this rule enforced against Clive Kileff on a match point singles match).

Can they call a hindrance because you then bend to pick it up? I don’t think so.

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “What’s The Call?

  1. If you started the point with the ball on the court you cannot pick it up . Rules state that all balls in the playing must be picked up.

  2. If he felt that he was distracted, he should have immediately called a let. His attempt to return the ball negated his right to request a let. The rule is that simple and that clear.
    Did you shriek in agony when bending down? Did you fall on your face? He still must declare a hindrance and stop play. He does not get two bites of the apple.

    Gerry, thanks for the ruling from an Official. george

  3. Gerry is right about what is formally called the “Two Chance Rule.” A player can’t first try to make a play on a ball in play, miss it, then call a hindrance. S/he must stop play first and call the hindrance, even when the proverbial hat falls off from his opponent.

    While the rules allow you to leave a ball on the court and start play, an opponent can ask to remove it before starting play.

    The Rules and the Code do not have anything to say about whether a player can bend down and pick up a ball or anything else for that matter, during play. I recently saw a girls player at the State Tournament move to the net and kick a ball all the way across the front of the court to get it out of her way, and then she proceeded to close on the net for the next volley. Play was stopped and she lost the point for that action – a clear hindrance.

    I doubt you would see an official rule that picking up a ball on court, during play, hindered the opponent(s). Players can jump, squat, shift around when receiving serve, and do all kinds of motions on the court before and during play. Why not bend and grab a stationary ball during play?

    George, you surely do come up with more fun and interesting situations in our sport than seems possible!



  4. Thanks Gerry. I’m just a little uncomfortable if the opponent can just “feel distracted” & call a let. Can I take my hat off during play and put in my pocket? Pick up a leaf? Head & shoulder feint? Move during his overhead? Innumerable situations, seems to me intent should make the difference.

    As a former baseball, basketball, football, soccer coach & 12 year soccer referee, intent is usually very apparent.

    Good thing really happens, but I believe picking up that ball wouldn’t be distracting.


  5. If you started the point with the ball on the court you cannot pick it up . Rules state that all balls in the playing must be picked. Therefore the player should have picked the ball up. Once left there he must leave it alone.

  6. A couple of thoughts on what “must” be followed regarding balls on the court. One, a player does not have to pick up balls on his side of the court, UNLESS his opponents asks him to, in which case the Code requires that the ball be removed. (See Code of Tennis, p. 42, Ball Issues.) Two, there is nothing in the Rules or the Code which requires the ball be left on the court during the point even if it was initially left on the court. However, if that ball is accidentally or intentially kicked out of the way by the player, or say the wind comes up and moves the ball around the court, in the middle of a point, then that would be a hindrance for the opponent, assuming he saw the ball rolling around, because it is considered intentional since the player left it on his side of the court and chose not pick it up. An intentional act is one that the player had control over, and clearly a player has control over balls on his side of the court.

    In 25 years of tennis officiating, this particular issue has never come up in officiating a match, I might add. Perhaps that is why the USTA and other rules committees have not felt the need to expand on the Rules clarifications.

    Another interesting aspect of a ball left on the court is that it can be considered “stalling” to “clear a missed first serve that does not need to be cleared” – under the Code of Tennis (p. 41-42, When to Contact Official). Stalling is subject to penalty under the Point Penalty System. This means that in some cases we are supposed to leave a ball on the court, such as after a missed serve, so as to ensure play is continuous.

    ITA & USTA Official in Colorado

    Paige, good and clear explanation! thanks, george

  7. Can you have the server clear the ball from his first serve that was missed into the net (though he hadn’t felt the need to do so)? I knew an old codger who would sometimes pull that (and many other things). 🙂

    How about the guy who returns a long serve into the net, then casually strolls up to the net to clear it? Saw that just last week. 🙂

    Kevin, see Paige’s comment (he is an official) for your second question. On your first question, i believe you can ask the ball to be cleared if it is “in the field of play.” george

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