Pick Up The Ball?

big mouthIf you hit your first serve into the net and it rolls a few feet back from the net, do you have to pick it up if your opponent requests (and disrupt your service rhythm) … or can you say, “it doesn’t bother me”?

I was playing practice singles with a USPTA pro (who shall remain nameless, unless he wishes to respond), and he thought he didn’t have to – and if he was forced to, that he would be entitled to a first serve.

Here is the rule:

42. Retrieving stray balls. Each player is responsible for removing stray balls
and other objects from the player’s end of the court. Whenever a ball is not in play,
a player must honor an opponent’s request to remove a ball from the court or from
an area outside the court that is reasonably close to the lines.

And since it is silent on granting a let, I would assume that none is given.

My Experience

A couple of years back, I was playing a singles tournament match and asked the server to move a ball that was about three feet off the corner of the baseline. He refused, saying “It doesn’t bother me.”

I insisted, saying “It DOES bother me!” He refused again; but when I threatened to go get a referee, he relented and moved the ball.

Opinions or similar experiences?

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12 thoughts on “Pick Up The Ball?

  1. Often players receiving serve and the serve is fault, will block the ball back to the net rather than let it clear the court and end at the fence. With ball on the court, it is a bit distracting but I hesitate as the server to say anything and break stride. I think this blocking back habit should be discouraged. If ball hits a post and comes onto court l think a let should be played?

    Ralph, i actually had this debate with someone: block back the fault or let it go to the back fence? there is no rule that i can find; but i usually would rather see the ball in front of me at the net, than not know if it bounced off the back fence into my running area. thanks, george

  2. First of all, it seems to me that asking someone to remove a ball that’s on their side if the court is pretty picky. I don’t see how it could physically bother you, and if it mentally bothers you – well, that’s your problem. But if you’re going to demand that someone remove their errant first serve, why not give them another first serve? Wouldn’t that be the sporting thing to do?

    Terry, see Alan’s story in his comment. It is not only the visually distracting, it goes into your concern where you can (and should) play a shot if there is a ball in the area. Just a distraction not worth having. thanks, george

  3. I had a very similar experience. The server was preparing to serve and I informed him that a ball was just a few feet in back of him. He replied that he knew and waved me off. I requested that he move it. I did so, not because it distracted or bothered me, but because I didn’t want him to step on it and possibly get injured. He shook his head no and proceeded to bounce the ball several times. I stepped away and again asked him to move it. He was adamant that it was his choice as to whether or not to move the ball. I knew the ruling and I assured him and his partner that I was knowledgeable about this. He wasn’t buying it. And he was intent on having his way. His partner moved the ball and he was scolded for doing so. That was the last time I set foot on the court with this guy. I never leave balls on the court. Some opponents seem to get perturbed and impatient when I pause and go pick up the ball.

    Alan, it would have been sad, but poetic justice, had he left it and stepped on it! thanks, george

  4. I do find errant balls lying in front of the net to be a distraction, especially when I am struggling on indoor courts with difficult lighting. I always quickly pick up my partner’s netted first serve, and ask that they pick up mine or kick it back to me. Why would I deliberately leave distractions in the way of playing my best game?

    terry, i agree! george

  5. George, you are too nice. If someone refused to move a ball near the net on their side of the court after I asked them to, I would just wait for an opportunity during the next point to aim a drop shot right where the ball is left. I guarantee my opponent will not leave any balls anywhere on the court after that.

    Marty, first, congrats on your shortest comment ever!! Now, my reply will be longer. Bob Wilkie and i practice over the summer in NH and he frequently does not pick up the errant ball on the court and we comment that i will be aiming for it. One time, i actually HIT it! My point. thanks, george

  6. I was not aware of this rule and seems a bit unreasonable. It is appreciated and good sportsmanship, if your opponent let’s you know there is a ball around your feet that you are not aware of. However, I want to leave a ball in the court on my side , it can only hurt me not my opponent. Also, it takes time to clear a ball and if it’s only two feet from the net, why take the time to clear it between serves? The same is if a ball is two feet from the back fence do I have to put it next to the fence or in my pocket, if requested? This is not normal, but an opponent could ask to do on a regular basis or important point to gain advantage. I disagree with the rule and think it should be changed.

    Larry, my pro friend and i had that exact discussion: how far from the net or the fence makes it a “hindrance”? One foot? Two feet? Five feet? But remember, the distraction is not just for you, your opponent now has to worry that he shouldn’t be hitting a ball to near that location (or will in fact be aiming there). Granted, like all rules, there will be a very few among us who will abuse it. thanks, george

  7. Older guy who used to play here – good player – was the gamesmanship maven of the tennis planet. *Everything* that he did on the court was designed to get under yer skin. He would always save this one for a big point. Yer first serve misses into the net and stops a couple of feet away. He ever so politely asks you to clear the ball, grinning all the way. He *did* know the rule. And, no, he did *not* offer you another first serve. I credit him with motivating me to learn a safe, topspin second serve. 🙂 Hadn’t thought about ole Charlie for a long time. Had never heard of anyone else pulling this one in the past thirty or so years.

    Kevin, there is always that one out of a hundred who makes the game less than fun. thanks (good to see you at Longboat Key), George

  8. I’m far less finicky and “OCD” than I was years ago when I refused to move my pivot foot between serves or needed to serve an “ace” ball again on my next serve or… But I do have one quirk that must have developed years ago when I did a lot more serve and volley tennis. While I do not mind a ball lying within a couple of feet of the net I try not to forget to ask my opponent not to place the third ball at the screen behind him. No, I’m not easily distracted by a majority of what goes on and around a court during a match, however, I have found that on that rare occasion when my opponent hits a ground stroke in close alignment with the ball at the screen my eyes see two balls of similar size and one which grows larger as it approaches me. When at the baseline, no problem. But when quick reflexes are required at the net the slight hesitation as my eyes re-focus on the one that’s getting larger can result in a miss hit or even a whiff. Of course, this then leads to a topic I call “ball management.” When the server opts to roll the third ball back to the screen I offer to carry and tend it and assure him that I will have it ready at any instant he needs it. I find that the match goes much quicker when all three balls are in control of one or both players and can be put into play when at least two are needed. In fact, I have played with people who place the third ball at the screen and ten insist on getting the original two he served back and almost ignoring the third ball for the entirety of his service game. The guy I played several times per year for thirty years and I practiced good ball management and we could play many more games as we kept all three balls in control and we each were attentive to when the other needed a second ball for the serve. Too many players are time and rhythm killers when they stroll thirty feet away to retrieve a ball when they could have allowed me to flip them the one I was carrying as a tender. Given this ball management concept seldom should a ball ever be lying at the screen to distract anyone. I have no problem when another player tells me about a preference regarding something he prefers so I hope others don’t mind my simple request. Of course, since the rules don’t require that a ball at the screen be cleaned up I have no problem with that either. Now I hope I haven’t caused anyone else to be distracted by a bright, yellow ball on a sunny day lying at the screen.

    Bernie, i have played vs guys who hold the third ball while i am serving because THEY WANT TO CONTROL THE PACE OF THE GAME. You are not one of those are you? thanks, george

  9. My understanding is that any disruption between a first and second service is reason to allow another first serve. This is good sportsmanship.
    With that said I have seen many teams even pick up a ball and still not say first service.

    Phil, in a friendly, “who cares” match, sure; but there are many “interruptions” that do not qualify for a first serve being given. thanks, george

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