Ball on the Court

If there is a ball on the court from a missed first serve that eventually rolls into the play area, whose responsibility is it to call a Let … The player on that side?  The opponents?  A fan?

Whose Call?

During a Florida tournament match, that question came into play at a very critical moment …

We had split the first two sets and our opponent was serving to me at 4-4, 40-30.  His first serve was long and I let it go.  But I heard it “bong” on a solid post on the fence behind me and wondered whether it was going to roll back into play.

The server was going into his service motion for his second serve and I could see his net partner looking beyond me and figured he would call LET if that ball was going to be a problem.  He didn’t and play continued.

I returned serve and came forward toward the service line; but after a couple of shots I could see that first serve ball now sitting in the middle of our No Man’s Land and I stopped play.

There was some controversy over “Why didn’t you call the LET sooner?”  But both my partner and I were facing forward and didn’t see it roll onto the court. The net man admitted that he did; but “thought it was the returner’s responsibility to call the LET.”

(As it turned out, we replayed the point … won it … and won that critical game.)

What should have happened?

Another Example

I was watching my doubles partner Noble Hendrix play a singles match at the CAT II vs. the #2 seeded player.  Noble was returning serve and let a missed first serve go, like I did above.  And like mine, that ball eventually rolled back toward the court and was only 1-2 feet behind Noble as he was standing on the baseline hitting groundstrokes during the rally.

I was concerned he was going to step on that ball (and not be able to play doubles with me!!); but was reluctant to yell out, thinking it wasn’t my place to do so.

He eventually saw the ball, didn’t call LET; but missed his next shot.  He asked his opponent, “Did you see that ball there?”  Of course he did; but claimed he didn’t.

Should I have stopped play or is that improper?

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7 thoughts on “Ball on the Court

  1. In amateur play I always prefer to err on the side of safety and anyone, player or spectator, should notify the players that a ball is on the playing surface and might cause a problem.
    Many years ago while playing singles with two different opponents, I saw a ball which might cause trouble and asked my opponent to remove the ball. They each said it was no problem and both of them, on the next points, tripped over the balls and tore their Achille’s tendons.
    In professional play there are ball people and chair umpires to make the call.

    Doc, ok, next time i will speak up … and take the consequences! thanks, george

  2. My understanding is that spectators should NOT call a let. Personally, if my opponent doesn’t see a ball and I think it may be a hazard I will call a let (and would hope that my opponent will do the same for me). If my opponent DOES see the ball and does not want to remove it, that’s fine with me – play on. (And, I’ll usually aim for that ball.)

    Terry, i had a debate with an opponent over his NOT wanting to move a ball that was on the court. When i threatened to call an umpire, he picked it up and moved it just a couple of feet and put it back down! george

  3. Many years ago, I was on an adjacent court playing singles in a tournament when a friend of mine was playing another singles match on his separate court. I did not see the actual event (because I was in the middle of my own match), but what happened was this: A ball rolled onto my friend’s court behind him from the OTHER adjacent court to his (i.e., opposite from my court). My friend’s opponent saw the ball behind my friend but, for whatever reason, chose not to call a let or to tell him to watch out for the ball. Neither did the players on the court from which the ball came say anything.

    Unfortunately, my friend’s opponent hit a lob as my friend was coming into the net and when he backed up to hit the overhead, he stepped right on the ball that he did not know was behind him and he went down like a sack of potatoes with a severely broken ankle.

    He had to quit tennis completely after that occurrence when the reconstructive surgery on his ankle turned out to not allow him to play any more. It was most tragic, and upsetting to a lot of us who really liked the guy and enjoyed playing with him — not to mention depriving him forever after of a sport that he loved. He later got into long long distance cycling, and to a lesser extent speed cycling, as a replacement sport — and every now and then I see him on his bike so he obviously has found another passion to replace tennis.

    But stepping on an errant tennis ball can surely wreak a lot of havoc and I think that everyone owes, or should owe, a duty to other players to watch out for their health and safety. These issues are bigger and more important than who may win a single point now and then.

    Marty, i got chastised for yelling to an adjacent court about an errant ball; but i will take that vs he risk of injury. thanks, george

  4. George- not a matter of “rules.”
    This is simply not acceptable behavior. If the opposing net man saw the balling rolling back into the court, he should have stopped play immediately….we all do it. You could have been seriously injured. My old singles partner was out for 6 months with a sprained ankle after stepping on a ball.
    Is winning so important to this opposing player that he is HOPING for your injury and subsequent default???

    John, i am with you! thanks, george

  5. Do no harm. With all of the replaced parts in our bodies why risk it. I would rather warn the player and give him 2 serves than suffer the consequences. A USTA official once told me that we are not supposed to play with a ball on the court. If you do play with a ball on the court but knock it away while you play the point a hindrance or let can be called.

    Bill, agree… not worth the risk. thanks, george

  6. From Rebel Good (Tennis Magazine’s “rules guru”)…

    When a stray ball enters the playing area any player may call a let for unintentional hindrance. The point is replayed. Similarly, no player is required to call a let. If a ball comes into the playing area, comes to rest and is seen by all players and is ignored, a let may not subsequently be called unless the ball moves for some reason. Basically, for a player to call a let for an intruding ball they must do so when they first see the ball come in, not try to play around it and call the let later.
    And finally, no spectator, and a player on an adjacent court is a “spectator,” has a role in a match. They should keep quiet.

  7. George,
    Rebel Good stated it correctly and quite succinctly. I would hesitate to argue with Rebel.
    When I started officiating in New England my mentor was Don Cortese. To this day I hold him in great regard and respect. His mantra was always: Gerry, know the rules and apply them well but sometimes you must use common sense.
    In the first incident, unfortunately, your opponent claimed he did not know that the rules allowed him to call a let. So he was willing to risk one of you stepping on a ball rather than lose a point. Once you saw the ball, you immediately called for a let. You were correct.

    In the second incident, I would have thought of Don Cortese’s mantra about using common sense. As an observer seeing a ball on court that in my opinion was a hazard to a player, rules be damned I would call out. My most humble apologies to Rebel who conducted the first class that I had attended in Hartford. I know of too many players that have suffered serious ankle injuries from stepping on a ball. Too many players do not know the rules. Too many players who do conveniently forget them when they think that it might be to their disadvantage.
    Enough of my positing. Always nice to hear from you.

    Gerry, again, thanks for your “official” opinion! I agree totally. george

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