Riskey Business

What is the ruling when a player doesn’t hit an errant service toss but catches the ball on their racquet?  And, should catching a toss be allowed at all?  

Alison’s Riskey Business

During her excellent Wimbledon match with Serena, Alison Riske tossed the ball to serve, but then brought her racquet down and had the ball bounce off it on the fly.  Should that have been called a fault?

The chair umpire stayed silent and, in my opinion, rightfully so.  While someone like Curious Kyrgios might use the same motion to then hit an underhanded serve, the American woman did not “make an attempt to hit the ball,” which, I believe is the criterion for a fault call.

What is your call?

Brad’s Bias

If Brad Gilbert ruled tennis, he would have an errant/caught toss be called a fault.  If you have ever played against someone who continually catches their service tosses, you know how annoying it can be.  It also ends up becoming an ADVANTAGE to the server; because the returner never knows which toss is going to be caught and which is going to be served.

My opinion?  Players should be allowed ONE caught toss per serve; and the second one then must be put into play.

What is your opinion?

P.S. Who is that sophisticated looking, older gentleman who frequently appears in Nadal’s friend box?

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13 thoughts on “Riskey Business

  1. I’d totally be in favor of not allowing a toss/catch. The point should start when the ball is released from the server’s hand.
    Ironically, I think one of the most pernicious things tennis pros teach is “don’t swing at a bad toss.” Players hurt themselves judging whether their toss is perfect or not. They get in their own way with too much analysis.
    Tossing practice should happen off of the court, not during matches!

    Spike, good thoughts. When was the last time you saw anyone practicing their service toss!? PS I had a good practice hit with Chuck yesterday. thanks, george

  2. As one who now has to catch their toss now and then I disagree. Particularly as we get older, it becomes more difficult. What about windy days? You just have to lose the point if it’s a second serve. Perhaps in the pros you could have a two or three toss limit. Not sure that it’s really a problem.

    Larry, maybe on windy days, the umpire can be more lenient as they are with the time clock when the wind is swirling. thanks, george

  3. George:

    You: “It also ends up becoming an ADVANTAGE to the server; because the returner never knows which toss is going to be caught and which is going to be served. . . . My opinion? Players should be allowed ONE caught toss per serve; and the second one then must be put into play.”

    Me: Most respectfully, this is an unfair and frankly stupid idea. Why?

    (1) 99% of players who struggle with their service toss are not doing this on purpose or to gain some kind of unfair “advantage” over a receiver. Instead, there is some kind of problem going on that is outside of the server’s control. This can range from things like developing a case of the psychological “nips” on the toss (kind of like golfers developing the “nips” on their putts); to having to toss directly into the sun; to having the wind keep moving the toss around on a blustery day; to being distracted by movements not caused by the receiver in the server’s peripheral vision or in the background – such as other players running behind the receiver to retrieve balls from nearby courts or birds flying too low in the middle of the toss; to the receiver or the receiver’s partner themselves moving too much on the opposite side in the middle of the toss; to physical problems with the server like an elbow, shoulder or other injury to the tossing arm or the tossing fingers; etc. Your suggestion would penalize servers unnecessarily 99% of the time in order to favor the receiver during the only 1% of the time that a server’s catching the toss may actually be a strategy to try to give certain servers the advantage. Bad idea, and bad policy.

    (2) Also, because 99% of the time a server wishes that he/ she did NOT have to drop and catch the toss, it is actually the server who is being disadvantaged by the errant toss problem far more than the receiver may be the vast majority of the time. So, the reality is that not only would your suggestion seek to fix an evil that does not even exist, but it would actually create a greater evil by unfairly penalizing people who, for whatever reason, may be having issues with their toss on any given day. I assure you from personal experience that NOBODY who struggles with an errant toss problem, even occasionally, is doing this to try to gain an unfair advantage over a receiver. It is actually the exact opposite. All the server REALLY wants to do is basically two things – get the serve in play, and do so by a combination of placement, pace and spin that maximizes the server’s chances of winning the point. Servers do NOT win points by continually dropping errant tosses. Servers DO win points by getting their tosses in the right place so they can actually hit a serve that accomplishes the two goals stated two sentences back. If the server has to keep dropping the toss and to try again and again to hit a serve that meets these criteria, that is a problem for the server far more so than it is for the receiver. Having encountered this problem far too often when serving myself (I tend to be prone to the “nips” issue, especially in big matches), let me assure you that it is not fun. After a few errant tosses, what normally settles in is a combination of self doubt and more than a little frustration and embarrassment over the problem. The temptation is great to just give up and swing at the very next toss even if it is too low, too high, or otherwise not placed in the right spot for an optimal serving swing. This then leads to far too many double faults or, if the serve actually even goes in the service box, a really crappy serve that any competent receiver can take advantage of. Tell me again how this in any way favors the server over the receiver??

    (3). The bottom line is your suggestion presupposes that most servers who have errant toss issues do this on purpose or otherwise to gain some kind of unfair advantage over receivers. That is simply wrong. The vast majority of people who have this problem with their serves wish they did not have it at all. After all, what would be better than to have a hitchless, smooth, classic serve motion like Federer’s where he virtually always tosses the ball perfectly and almost never is compelled to drop the toss? Faced with that ideal, a person would have to be crazy to try to deliberately develop a toss that is never in the right spot and that has to be constantly dropped or caught to be tried again until it finally goes to the right spot.

    (4). In fact, if I am the receiver and I am seeing that the server across the net keeps dropping or catching his or her toss, I am secretly jumping for joy inside because I know this can only mean one thing — he/ she is having a problem with the serve for whatever reason and that can only mean an ADVANTAGE for me as the receiver as I am going to have a leg up breaking that person’s serve!!

    – Marty

    Marty, as usual, all good thoughts. But put aside the server’s intention or any advantage they may or may not gain, a regular and persistent toss-catcher is just annoying. Sorry, my friend. george

  4. A few years ago I wondered who this distinguished guy with the black hat is….he sits in many player boxes….not just Nadal’s. He’s part of “Wimbledon security” according to what I found out. He never applauds or shows any emotion, so this might be correct.
    I wonder if he carries a gun??? Or is his karate chop absolutely fatal??

    John, really???? george

  5. George, I am not saying this is not annoying to a receiver. When I am facing a “regular and persistent toss-catcher” I confess to getting annoyed sometimes too. But lots of things are annoying in life, and we muddle through. And, again, I try to say to myself that an opponent who is having toss issues is actually a good thing for me to see as a receiver because it is bound to result in his hitting more double faults and putting less on the serve overall. This usually reduces my annoyance level considerably.

    More broadly, in keeping with what seems to a common theme for you and me, you seem to want to legislate a lot more rules to fix a greater universe of perceived issues and problems in the game of tennis, while my philosophy is generally the opposite. Maybe it is because I am a lawyer and I have grown to see, and strongly resent, that our lives have become increasingly over regulated in the real world, so I just naturally am opposed to doing the same thing in the game of tennis. Anyway, I always enjoy the debate with you.

    – Marty

    PS. After my TSA (“mini stroke”) back in March and the discovery from my MRI that I had previously suffered a real but so-called “silent stroke” in the motor control section of the right side of my brain sometime in the last few years, I now have a built in excuse for why my left handed service toss often goes astray. Of course, the reality is that I frequently had this problem well before there were any physical health reasons to explain it — thus, my prior reference to having the “nips” — but it is always helpful to have a great excuse like a stroke to rationalize my otherwise crappy play. In fact, that is probably the ONLY good thing about having a stroke that I can imagine. 🙂

    Marty, didn’t know about your stroke issue! Hope all is good now. See you at Newk’s? george

  6. I would be in favor of one errant toss, then a fault thereafter. This would then provide a catalyst for those serious players of practicing their toss more. Just me little “ole” thoughts.
    Certainly windy conditions may provide a more lenient interpretation on occasion. But, we don’t get redo’s on let cords, so practice your toss……………………….

    Howie, i am with you! thanks, george

  7. Howie,

    I am all in favor of you tossing for my serve. It will surely be better than my current adventure.

    Patrick Swafford

  8. THE ANSWER: from Hank Irvine…
    George, If you are looking at the old guy in the blazer with the hat – he is the Marshall for the players box and has been there forever!!
    Just got back from there and had a great time. Exceptionally good weather and plenty of great tennis.



  9. Sorry George, I thought I had said something about the stroke here previously. I have told the story to so many other people I forget who I missed. Here is the down and dirty.

    The morning after St. Patrick’s Day this past March I was working from home on a work document on my computer when I started to have trouble seeing the computer screen. It was as if my pupils were dilating and my eyes were letting in too much light, but when I looked in the mirror there was nothing apparently wrong with my pupils. For the next 15 minutes, it got progressively worse, to the point that I guess I was about 90% blind at its peak. However, strangely, I could still see a bit if I tilted my head and I looked through only my peripheral vision. Then even more strangely, over the next 15 minutes, everything went the opposite. I was able to see normally looking straight ahead again, but I went almost totally blind in my peripheral vision. It was like looking through binoculars. This all came on suddenly and without any advanced symptoms. Within about a half hour, everything went back to normal.

    Meanwhile, I kind of early on deduced that it might be a stroke. So, I called my wife to come home from work and then I called 911 (when I could still see ahead enough to find the numbers to dial, of course). I told the operator I thought I was having a stroke and she had me stay on the phone until first the police and then the EMTs got there. My wife also arrived shortly after. Luckily I live less than a mile from the police station AND the main EMT station AND the biggest regional hospital, and my wife works only 5 miles from the house.

    I spent the day in the emergency room and then got admitted to intensive/ stroke care. I stayed for three days. I had seemingly every test in the book, including a CT scan , an MRI, various tests on my heart, numerous blood tests, physical movement tests, etc., etc.

    I was told I had high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (including high LDL), and that I was too damned fat. I previously knew about the fat part, but the BP and cholesterol were news to me. When I had previously checked both of them, they were each in the normal to slightly high normal range, with nothing to suggest any problems. But obviously things changed.

    I was specifically diagnosed as having had a TIA or “mini stroke,” which was in or near the optic nerve; thus, the temporary blindness. However, this episode was effectively over, with no lasting damage, by the time they discharged me from the hospital.

    But both the CT scan and the MRI also picked up evidence of a prior “real” stroke, albeit of the “silent” kind, in the right section of my brain that controls my left hemisphere motor functions. You could not tell this by looking at me, but the neurologist tells me that this has left a barely perceptible tremor in my left hand and, more germane to this thread, he recently confirmed when I asked him this specifically that the prior “silent” stroke is most probably the reason why my left handed service toss has had many more issues and problems recently than I ever had in the past. Quite simply, what has been affected are my fine motor skills on the entire left hand side of my body, including all of the things that I need to do to get my left arm and hand to work together to consistently put my toss in the right place.

    Since these events, I have been taking BP medicine, statins for the high cholesterol, and an aspirin a day — all as prescribed by my doctors. My blood pressure and cholesterol (including LDL) have come back down to the “normal” range. I also have been dieting, adhering mainly to the “Mediterranean Diet,” and I have lost about 25 pounds so far, with about 15-20 more to go before I reach what I and the doctors think would be an optimal weight for my age, height and body structure. I have forsaken ALL refined sugar and products that contain it (although I do still eat fruit), I eat a LOT more protein than carbs overall, and I haven’t eaten any bread in any form since mid March. I actually feel quite good physically, but I continue to have some issue with the BP medicine making me dizzy and woozy at times.

    I have been playing tennis too, but I have to confess that I feel like my game has slipped a fair amount. In doubles, I would objectively say that I am probably now only capable of playing at about 80 to 85% of my old best skill level. In singles, I feel the decline more. I don’t think I am playing any better than about 70 to 75% of my old highest skill level in singles.

    The doctors all assure me that, as long as I stay on the meds and, especially, as I continue to lose weight and adhere to a healthy diet, they feel my tennis game will keep getting better over time. But nobody is willing to say I will ever be back to 100% of what used to be my prior best game. I personally doubt I will ever get better than about 90% of my prior best, and even that would be a struggle. Yet, I am committed to at least try to make a full recovery.

    Then again, as you have probably observed from my play in recent years at Newk’s, my level of play had definitely started dropping well before my recent health scare. I guess that is just old age creeping in, which is inevitable, but it may also have been related to whatever was going on in my body that eventually resulted in the silent stroke and the mini stroke occurring. Hopefully, I can now slow down the decline in my tennis game, if not reverse it a bit, by continuing to pursue a more healthy lifestyle.

    Finally, I thought about not posting this publicly. But what the hell, I am not ashamed of what happened and there are no privacy issues here. Also, if I can do a public service by encouraging everyone else to regularly check their BP and cholesterol, get treated if they are high, lose weight, and show some discipline in their eating habits (like I was NOT doing until my health scare), then I feel good about revealing all of this in the open.

    Marty, WOW! Thanks for sharing your story; and let’s hope it inspires someone to watch the signs and save a life. And yes, YOU will be allowed multiple caught tosses! 🙂 george

  10. Marty, i’ve never met you but very much appreciated your honesty in that recent post about your health struggles. I’ve had a few of those health struggles myself, more mental than physical (a few dark episodes of depression….and everyone reading this, feel free to call me if you struggle w/this!), but I feel good now and am ready to play doubles w/you….any time! Scoot Dimon, Naples
    …..and disagree w/Spike (rare!)…..one should be allowed errant ball tosses!

    Scoot. thanks! george

  11. George,
    Here’s the scoop on the gentleman in the black hat:

    My wife Laurel and I had the good fortune to get even better Centre Court seats for “Manic Monday” at Wimbledon this year. I bought two front row courtside tickets right below the players’ boxes at face value (~$150/ticket) via the Wimbledon Overseas Ballot (lottery). We saw Federer, Nadal, and the Konta-Kvitova match up close and very personal. Your chances of winning the right to buy tickets via the ballot are slim, but they’re clearly not zero and the lottery is free to enter. You don’t get to choose the court, the day, or the seats– it’s a take it or leave it offer for a specific day and court if your entry is chosen by random drawing. It’s definitely worth a shot– persistence is the key as in so many other things in life. I also got tickets at face value for the French Open a few years ago via their online ticket system, which is a bit different. It lets you choose among remaining available dates and courts on a first come, first served basis. I’m now hoping to complete by own “Grand Slam” by making it to the Aussie Open before long.
    All the best,
    P.S. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Newk’s this October after missing last year due to other obligations.

    Joe, that’s great info about the lottery system. see you at Newk’s. George

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