“Oh, it was out.”

What happens when you DON’T call an “obviously out” ball OUT?  Confusion and confrontation can follow; but what should be the ruling?

The Call vs. Sarcasm

We all have played in a match where a player hits the fence with his overhead and the receiving player/team jokingly calls “Just out!”  And there is a distance that a ball lands out that most of us feel it is almost rude to point out the obvious – that the opponent’s shot landed out.  But what happens when it is NOT that obvious?

Blog reader Baird Montgomery writes…

“George- On the adjoining court, the opposing league team was serving to players on my league team. The opponent’s serve was easily 2″ long (with a clear mark). The receiver nonchalantly slapped the ball back for a winner. No one called the serve long. The server’s partner at the net stood stunned that neither opponent called the ball out. He thereupon challenged the legitimately of the winning shot.

“What is the proper recourse in such a situation? (BTW, fireworks ensued.)

“Thanks, Baird”


Rule vs. Polite Play

It would seem to me that the ruling would be, since no one called the ball OUT and the returner hit a winner, that the point would stand; and the returners would win the point.

But if we are playing to a standard of fairness, the serving team would say to the receivers “Wasn’t that serve long?” … and the receivers would say, “Yes, it was 2” long.”  And at least allow the server to hit a second serve – if not go further and give the server two serves due to the delay.

What do YOU think?

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9 thoughts on ““Oh, it was out.”

  1. I believe the new rule regarding line calls causes us to play serves that are just long. Therefore all players should play every ball and not be concerned about line calls that are not theirs to make. I also believe that “well this is only a friendly game so play 2” is BS we should practice the way we play a league or tournament match. The rules don’t change because we are having a “friendly” match.

    I also wish players would actually read the code and rules of tennis and not guess at what they can and cannot do on the court.

    Bill, i agree that too many players default to the “play 2” instead of making a clear and correct call. thanks, george

  2. Rarely has happened to me, and even though my partners return of serve was crushed a clean winner, at the end of the day, tennis is a gentleman’s game and one of honesty, and I would simply say to my opponents, “The ball was clearly out, second serve!”

    Jim, but i think, from the questioner, that the returners then claimed the point. george

  3. Seems to me they should just check the mark to determine if it was in or out. If “in”, it’s a winner. If “out” it’s 2nd serve. (Same as a potential ace that lands close to the line.)

  4. “Obviously out” is the key phrase here, not just out. Two feet out is clearly obviously out; two inches depends on court surface, speed of serve, and where it lands (on the line but deep etc).
    There is no “heads I win, tails you lose ” in the tennis rules – If I miss the return I lose the point; if I hit a good return, it does not count is not correct.
    If a returner goes for his return on a close serve (not obviously out) and misses and then looks at a mark and say to me “the serve was out”, I say it does not matter, you returned it and I had to play your return – if your return too good, you win the point; if return out, you lose it. In the real world, if a reasonable opponent is adamant, I often will say “If you are 100% positive you would have called the serve out after you had hit a winner, then we will play the serve as out”. Usually, the opponent thinks about it, nods, and says your point. If he says absolutely he would have taken back the winner because it was a fault, I accept it and go on. Honor system unless the opponent has proven not to deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    Winder, i am with you … 2″ is too close to be “obviously out” and would require a clear call. thanks, george

  5. How about the player who grunts every time he hits the ball. It sounds like “out”. When he returns serve- it is always out, or so you think. To be fair, he remarked prior to the match that if his grunting confused he would gladly play two. So we played everything regardless of the call. This was working just fine until he started grunting just before I or my partner would hit the ball. He apologized and was willing to play 2. Very confusing but we felt sorry for our opponent and they won the match easily.

    Ralph, i have a good tennis friend whose grunt is just like that! He knows it and will replay points if the opponents call him on it. george

  6. This is copied straight from Friend at Court 2018:

    “26. Service calls by serving team. Neither the server nor server’s partner shall
    make a fault call on the first service even if they think it is out because the receiver
    may be giving the server the benefit of the doubt. There is one exception. If the
    receiver plays a first service that is a fault and does not put the return in play, the
    server or server’s partner may make the fault call. The server and the server’s
    partner shall call out any second serve that either clearly sees out.”

    The point of this rule is so that the server (or serving team) cannot call their serve out when you hit a return that’s a winner. As someone wrote above, it’s best when everyone knows the rules.

    Scott, thanks for the good research! george

  7. George, until I read Bill Plummer’s comment I would have said you are 100% correct. However, I am apparently missing something because I don’t know what Bill is referring to in his statement about “the new rule regarding line calls [that] causes us to play serves that are just long.” What is that new rule, and what does it say?

    Marty, the “new rule” that was put in place 6-7 years ago is … when you return serve, playing a ball as GOOD, you cannot then look at the mark and call it OUT or say “Play 2”. Or if your partner calls it out, you cannot look at the mark and then say it was good and play 2. You just lose the point. george

    Until I read Bill’s comment, I THOUGHT the rule about line calls was basically this: When in doubt — meaning the ball is close — the ball is good and everybody should play it accordingly. This means that if the serving team thinks they see the ball long but both members of the receiving team do not call it out but, rather, play the return as if the ball was good, then the serving team needs to expect that the return coming at them is a live ball…. Even if the ball truly was out. Therefore, the serving team should not stop play or not attempt to hit the return based on their own SUPPOSITION the ball was long (however certain they think they are that they are correct), but they should play out the point accordingly. If they fail to play the return that came back to them as good after not hearing an “out” call, then they lose the point. Plain and simple.

    Now, all of this presupposes a certain level of good faith among all of the players that the ball landed CLOSE ENOUGH to a line that, in fact, it is reasonable and just to invoke the “when in doubt it’s good” rule and allow this scenario to occur. However, I confess that, beyond some general admonitions in the Code about fairness and courtesy and all of that, I don’t know of any specific rule that would apply if an opponent is deliberately calling obvious out balls good so the opponent can gain an element of surprise and hit winners and other uncontested returns that the opposing team just does not even attempt to play. A more egregious example than your original example would be if the serve is a foot long instead of a few inches and the serving team, expecting a long call, simply do not react when the receiving team fails to make any call and hits an uncontested winner return.

    If this is just a one off mistake, never to be repeated again, I might be inclined to chalk it up to the opponents were probably just distracted when calling the serve — maybe they both looked up simultaneously to react to something happening off court at the crucial moment the ball hit the court — and so they didn’t actually see how long the serve was but felt it inappropriate for them to ask for a let because it was their fault they got distracted. So, they played the ball as if it was good because they really didn’t see the ball actually hit the ground.

    But if it happens repeatedly, then it would seem there are only two conclusions to be drawn: Either (1), both opponents sorely need new glasses or contacts; or (2) they are deliberately calling obvious out balls good to try to gain some kind of competitive advantage.

    Now, there is not much that anyone can do about # (1) unless one is an ophthalmologist or optometrist. But if # (2) is the occurrence, then you as the opponents would have to ask yourselves what kind of advantage your opponents truly think they are gaining by using this ploy. That is, except possibly a little on first serves, there is absolutely no advantage to your opponents in engaging in such gamesmanship. In other words, what is there really for you to complain about?

    Think about it. On a second serve, or in any other point situation except a first serve, if your team hits a ball that does not land in the court, then you lose the point. End of story. So, if your opponents are, for whatever reason, giving your balls the benefit of a doubt and are actually playing your out balls as good, then they are really doing you a huge favor. After they return your out ball, you are getting one more bite at the apple to still win a point that, by rights, you have actually already lost. All you have to do is stay alert, and make sure you keep playing every shot thereafter until the point is truly over. What’s not to like about that?? It is a gift.

    The only situation where this observation breaks down slightly is if your opponents do this on a first serve, like in your original example. In that case, even if the first serve was truly out, the serving team might actually PREFER to be in a position of having the truly out first serve called out so they can then play a well planned legitimate second serve, rather than having to be reacting in a millisecond to a fast return coming back to them that they did not expect.

    But, even in that situation, I don’t think it is a big enough issue to complain about for the most part. After all, had the ball been properly called out, the first serve would be over along with all of the advantages that getting your first serve in entails, and your team would now be having to play a statistically harder to win point on second serve instead. And if the situation keeps repeating itself, at least in tournament play you can always ask for a referee to come supervise everyone’s line calls — although admittedly you cannot do this in most league matches because no USTA officials are normally present.

    The overall moral of the story? Keep playing every point until you definitively hear an actual call being made by your opponents or the shot is so obviously in or out that nobody is questioning it.

  8. Marty, when you are my age, 6-7 years ago is a new rule. The point is, know the rules. My point is that this rule causes hesitation and sometimes you play a ball that is extremely close to the line. Therefore play every ball until a clear call is made.

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