What’s The Call?

(Photo by Ralph Grieco)
(Photo by Ralph Grieco)
Can you call a Let for a ball that is in your path if it was there at the start of the point?

During a singles match with a friend, I let his missed first serve go by me toward the back fence; and he served his second serve. But neither of us noticed that his first serve ball had hit the fence and rolled back toward the baseline.

He hit a ball to my backhand side and then to the deuce court; but as I started to run for it, I saw the ball in my path and stopped play.

What’s The Rule?

During a tournament match at World Tennis, I saw the referee tell a player (Clive Kileff) that he could NOT call a Let for a ball near his sideline during a point; because it was there at the start of the point.

But that ball was in front of them; so they both could have seen it. In this case, neither of us saw the ball roll back behind me.

So, What’s The Call?

Congrats to Phil Landauer

Naples own Phil Landauer teamed with Tony Dawson (Texas) to win a Gold Ball at the 65 Grass Court Championships last weekend at the Seabright Lawn Tennis Club, NJ. And Mike Dahm won the consol doubles too. For the full draw, click HERE

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7 thoughts on “What’s The Call?

  1. George, I don’t know what the exact tennis rule may be, but common sense tells me that you play a let in the situation that you describe. Nobody wants to see a fellow player accidentally step on a ball and twist an ankle, break a bone, or even worse. In the example that you provide, it should be obvious to both players that neither saw the ball that had migrated to the baseline because, if they had, it is impossible to believe that either of them would have allowed the point to proceed without picking up the ball. So, you play a let. If a tournament official told me differently, I would respond like Mr. Bumble: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass – a idiot!” – Marty

    Mr. Bumble, i agree! thanks, george

  2. The rule is a ball that was there before the point that started cannot become a hindrance during the next point. After the first serve you need to make sure the ball is cleared if it will potentially be a hindrance. As Marty should know, “Ignorance is not a valid plea.” Also, the clearing of the ball is within reason. If the ball is against the fence in the corner, you probably should not hold up the opponent’s 2nd serve to go retrieve it.

    The other side heard from. thanks, george

  3. Hi George, my question might not fit but I was wondering how these players prepare for grass court tournaments ? I would love to play on grass but I am very reluctant having never played grass and not having any courts in my area. I know some would have access to grass courts but are others going early to the tournament site to practice etc.

    OhioJack, let’s post this and see if we get any replies. If not maybe will do a post on this subject by itself. Thanks, George

  4. In response to OhioJack, it is true that it is hard to find grass courts to practice on. The vast majority of such courts remain confined to venerable old clubs, mainly in the Northeast US, although there are some newer grass courts that occasionally pop up now and then elsewhere. One of those new clubs is near Pontiac, Michigan where for the last two years they have been playing the men’s 55+ and 60+ grass court nationals, having wrested the event away from the West Side Tennis Club (Forest Hills) in Queens, NY. I have never played there, but I hope to maybe get out to Pontiac for the 60s next year.

    I am lucky, because I live near Philadelphia where there are venerable old, private grass court clubs like Germantown, Philadelphia and Merion Cricket Clubs. Also, the Wilmington Country Club in Delaware (primarily funded by the DuPont family) has very fine grass courts. I also live a little over an hour away from Seabright, in Rumson, NJ, where the 65+ event was just played. And, of course, the aforementioned Forest Hills, as well as Orange Lawn in West Orange, NJ are two other grass court clubs that I have played at with some frequency because they are relatively close to me. I have also played on the courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island (more on this below).

    In terms of practice before a tournament, all of the nationals that I am aware of do give out of town players a day or two practice time before the actual matches start, so that is one opportunity to get warmed up if you don’t normally have access to grass courts.

    Also, if you know any players who happen to live in locations where grass courts proliferate (Boston is another good grass court town), nearly all of us have one or two friends who belong to such clubs and who can get us in to play as guests. This is primarily what I do, because it is otherwise very expensive to be a full time member of these clubs (and some of them, like Merion, have waiting lists for membership that are reportedly 25+ years long).

    Another thing that one can do — but it also requires traveling — is to visit the Hall of Fame courts in Newport, mentioned above. The Newport Casino courts are actually open to the general public, for a fee of course, and anyone can book playing on them. You don’t need to be a member to play.

    Additionally, while I have not taken inventory, I have seen over the years individual grass courts in some seemingly unlikely locations. For example, I don’t know whether it is still there, but there used to be a grass court that was available to guests staying at the Port Royal Plantation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I am sure there are other resorts like this.

    Finally, I have personally found that some artificial grass courts (i.e., the ones that look like Astroturf) can and do play a bit like real grass courts in the sense that the ball skids and does not come up all that much. However, you have to be careful of such courts where the installer may have added too much sand to the court, which has a tendency to slow the ball down so it is much slower and less skidding than on a real grass court. The best ones for grass substitution have only a modest amount of sand.

    Hopefully this helps.

  5. I have played in 12 or so of the annual grass court nationals in my age group over the last 20+ years and enjoyed the experience very much. The hit you get one day before the start of the tournament is very helpful but you need to make technical adjustments in your practice for a week of so beforehand.
    As nubbed, grass court shoes are not permitted, clay court herring bone bottom shoes work best to me. Some technical hints:
    a) less back swing and more follow through
    b) keep angle of strings on ball straight up and down longer on follow through. If slicing and normally start angling racquet face down after 4 inches of contact (movement of racquet through the ball) add 4- 6 more inches. Same with top spin. More of a flat shot for longer in the contact with the ball.
    d) As the ball stays lower and side spin “bites”, serving wide to the deuce court is more effective and should be used more than on other courts (ad court for lefties). If you have the ability to make more side spin and less top spin on the serve with consistency, do so. Always try to make your opponent (s) hit up on the ball.
    e) As we all know, drop shots and short angles work better on clay than hard court. Grass rewards the shots even more than on clay. A short, angled approach shot can be harder to pass on than a standard deep approach.
    d) Net play should be more aggressive and tighter to the net as the low, heavy balls are harder to lob as well as on other surfaces.
    e) You take balls in the air rather than after bouncing much more than in your normal game.
    f) Grass rewards athleticism more than other surfaces. Getting to better positioning with balance than your opponent is a key to success. Technical tennis skills are still important but a better athlete will beat a better technical tennis player on grass more than other surfaces. If you need incentive for upping your fitness efforts, an upcoming grass court event should be strong motivation.
    g) obviously there are many more valid thoughts on grass court tennis and from more
    qualified players but I hope the above is helpful. Take the opportunity to compete on grass. It is very special!

    Winder. Good stuff. George

  6. I think Winder Bill’s grass court tips are very accurate for anyone who has never played on the surface, especially the comments about slice, angles and athleticism. I have actually played a lot on grass over the years — the first time I remember playing on the surface was at Seabright when I was invited to play in a member/ guest at the age of 17 or 18 — although I only started playing the older men nationals a few years ago.

    I write separately to add a few tips that I have learned over the years:

    1). If you can at all reach the ball in the air instead of letting it bounce, do it. There is a reason why Boris Becker, in his heyday, was known for his dives to reach the ball at Wimbledon. Once the ball hits the court surface, it can and will skid quite low and, depending on the skid and any imperfections in the grass (more on this below), will be very difficult to reach or hit back. Sacrificing your body to catch the ball in the air can be a bit radical, but it will definitely earn you more points than waiting to hit a ball after it bounces. Clay court players, especially, seem to have a much harder time adjusting to grass than others.

    2). Keep moving forward at all costs. Control of the net is key. Learn to hit a short backswing take-the-ball-on-the-rise-while-moving-forward style service return and use it as often as possible. You may not be able to do so on first serves, but definitely use this return on second serves. Also, go out and practice half volleys until they are second nature. The ball simply will not sit up the way it does on other surfaces and, unless you can half volley with a high degree of proficiency, you are cooked.

    3). When hitting groundies and volleys, stay on your toes at all times and keep your legs more bent than you might otherwise do when playing on clay. You want a compact, athletic stance that relies on strong quads and being on your toes to give you spring and bounce to your movement. Standing flat footed and tall are not good. Some quad exercises in the gym for a few months before the tournament will pay off dividends.

    4). Winder is right about angles and drop shots. While there is a time and place for a deep volley on grass, generally speaking I try to hit my volleys with far more angle on grass than I do on any other surface. Therefore, trying to close closer to the net than you would on any other surface to give you more angle into which to hit your volley is the key. Whereas you might choose to volley from a foot inside the service line on clay, move forward and hit that volley from two to three feet behind the net on grass to get the extra angle. Primarily use the deep volley if your opponent has also closed in a bit to the net and you need a volley to hit behind him. If your opponent is on the baseline, avoid hitting deep volleys up the middle or back at him since you are just neutralizing the advantages that you have with grass in a volley position and he may well get it back. Instead, hit your deep volleys more to the baseline corners.

    5). You don’t want to be hitting very many groundies on grass at all, if you can help it. But if you are stuck in that position, remember that the court surface will promote some pretty strange bounces at times. All it takes is for the ball to unexpectedly land on a clump of crab grass and the ball can, literally, shoot out at a 60 degree angle right or left off the bounce, suddenly bounce straight up in the air, or skid so low that there is only about 6 to 9 inches beneath the ball for your racquet to hit it.

    6). Different grass courts can have very different “feels” and bounces. The disparity is much more uneven than it is with hard courts, Har-Tru or even red clay. Some courts (like at Philly Cricket and Merion) are kind of lush grass that is very well maintained, has no weeds or crab grass to speak of, and gives a pretty even bounce. However, the grass on these courts is normally mowed a bit higher than on other courts (like Germantown) and also has a more “mushy” feel under your feet, thereby promoting slightly lower bounces in my experience. At a club like Germantown, in my experience the bounces are normally slightly higher, the grass seems to be mowed a bit closer to the ground and, unfortunately, there is a bit more crab grass so there is more tendency to get really bad bounces now and then. When I last played at Forest Hills several years back, the grass was very bad — filled with crab grass everywhere. However, people who have played there recently have told me it is now much better. Also, you need to pay attention to the soil surface that is beneath the grass. Some clubs (like Merion and Philly) roll the soil much flatter and more evenly than others, and you will get a more “true” bounce anywhere on those courts. Other clubs (like Germantown and Forest Hills) have at least a few courts where the soil seems to undulate like corrogated cardboard, even within the boundaries of the same court, and you can get some pretty funky bounces depending on whether the ball hits the ground on an upslope or downslope of the undulation.

    7). Finally, and with all due respect to Winder in his comments about how to strike the ball, I have a much simpler tip: Switch to a continental grip for ALL shots that you hit, i.e., forehands and backhands, volleys, serves, overheads, in short EVERYTHING. In other words, never change the grip. The continental will allow you to hit every shot that you will ever need to hit on a grass court. You really do not need topspin and it will only make your strokes that much easier for your opponent to handle if you try to hit topspin. Also, given how low the ball bounces and how much it can skid, you will be robbing yourself of precious milliseconds in preparation time if you insist on switching grips as you would on clay or hard courts. Forget what you see on TV with the top level modern players all using topspin groundies at Wimbledon. The grass at Wimbledon, I have been told by several American friends who have played there, is set up differently and more for the modern pro game than are the traditional old grass court clubs in the US, where we still adhere to the “old school” grass surfaces that I have referred to above.

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