What is Acceptable?

Is it fair play to drop shot off someone’s serve?  That moral question comes from a reader.  But it relates to a host of other questionable tactics.

Unwritten Code?

“George, I have a question that has been rattling around in my head that you may or may not be able to answer…

My memory seems to have me thinking that when i was a younger man there was an unwritten code of conduct in Senior tennis that reigned supreme – one senior player didn’t drop shot the other senior player on his second serve – out of courtesy.

Did i dream this?

My sense of sportsmanship, decency, fair play or whatever you might call it forbids this heinous practice in singles.  Doubles however is another story.

I am considering instantaneous retribution for the second-serve drop-shotter though… i have been working on unleashing my underhand slice serve.  What is the saying?  An eye for an eye or something like that!

Thanks mucho,”

Terry Reeb

My Opinion

Terry, maybe when you were a “younger man” YOU didn’t drop shot a senior on his second serve!  But others do.  I think drop shots used to generally be viewed with less than admiration; but now, they are a very accepted part of the game (on any point).

How about on the SERVE?  Several pro players are now regularly using the underhanded/drop shot serve (ala Jimmy Parker).  It still comes as a surprise to both the returner and the TV announcers.

So while totally legal, is THAT “acceptable”?  If it is not now, give it a couple of years and it will be a regular part of the game.

So, what do YOU think about these (all legal) tactics?

  • Drop shot on return of serve?
  • Using the underhanded serve?
  • Using the drop shot on every other point?
  • In doubles, lobbing almost every point?
  • Using the “moonball” almost all the time?

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16 thoughts on “What is Acceptable?

  1. As long as the shot is legal, it should be acceptable. If we want the shot to be prohibited, we should incorporate it into the USTA rules.
    I am more concerned over those who don’t follow the rules, particularly when it comes to foot faults. I have played against some servers who step 1-2 feet into the court on each serve.

    Michael, as in life, there is “legal” and there is “nice.” Sure they can use those tactics, but given the choice, i may not choose to play or be with them. thanks, george

  2. I remember when I first started playing so may years ago, people would “warn” their opponents that an underhand serve was coming; though i’m still not sure why! Drop shot return of serves, underhand serves and any other “out of the norm” shots are legal and should be used as needed. You and I have had discussions as to why the pros don’t use an underhand serve when the returner is standing 20 feet behind the baseline. At the recent grass court final in Newport, Bublik used it numerous time against Isner, often successfully! My feeling is “you do what you have to do to win”. Would you NOT hit a winner on a very weak second serve? As the saying goes “The times, they are a changin”.

    Steve, years ago, we would be chastised for saying “Those tactics SUCK”… now, it is part of acceptable language. thanks, george

  3. Drop shot on serve in singles – I hope it is agreed to be OK – I had a string of successful drop shot service returns on my 1st break point opportunity that was over 10 when a player got to a good drop shot and won the point (and the match) – he knew my game and took away drop shots. The advantage in making your opponent respect the drop shot return is that it makes your medium deep returns more effective. Using the whole court is a valid option to me. I do not use it in practice matches, singles or doubles, against friends who have a hitch in their giddyup but in open, age group competition, not breaking an unwritten rule.

    Winder, good point about using one shot to make another more effective. thanks, george

  4. George,

    If I couldn’t use the drop shot and lob, I would have to quit the game. Those two shots and my legs are the only things that keep me in matches 🙂

    Dave, oh yeah? How about your excellent serve??! george

  5. George, I agree fully with your opinion about any shot within the rules being fully acceptable at any time. The only thing that occasionally riles me is a player stalling very excessively between points… tough to police.

    Peter, again, one of those “legal” things that get under your skin. thanks, george

  6. It is perfectly acceptable to run an opponent side to side. However, humans were not designed to move forward or back. Drop shotting, or otherwise abusing a weak second serve, might force an opponent to go learn an actual second serve, or at least be ready for what might come next against it. It’s practically the same as telling someone to their face that their second serve sucks. It’s as if the game of singles tennis is a confrontational activity.

    As to lobbing repeatedly against someone whose overhead is not up to snuff, again, that could lead to the pain of one having to go waste time learning and practicing to hit an overhead. Moving backwards should not have to be done by proper sportsmen. All should sign an agreement prior to play that one will not take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses.

    Seriously, one of my favorite tennis moments/memories was having Fred Robinson and his opponent come up and stand shoulder to shoulder on the service line as I was about to try to hit a second serve, knowing that one of the biggest weaknesses in my game is my nerves. It cracked me up, and I could only laugh, because I *also* know of the problem. Have worked on it for years in many different ways. If you have an embarrassing issue, expecting others to pretend it is not there is maybe not the best way to go. Just my two cents.

    Kevin, and one of my favorite Hank Irvine-isms is “And what did you do about it?” Love your line about signing the agreement! thanks, george

  7. Hi George, I always enjoy your column, though I rarely respond … however, on this topic I will weigh in. One of the guys that I play with, will (if he is losing the game) serve an underhanded drop shot with a wicked slice! …we all hate it when he does this! He is a very good player and has a variety of slice shots during play, however, I myself do not think it’s very nice in a ‘serve’ situation … legal, yes, but not nice, nor good sportsmanship!

    Caroline, as others have commented, “just wait” and it will eventually be accepted. But for now, the answer is … if you don’t like the tactic, don’t play with him! thanks, george

  8. Hey George
    Just curious. I don’t much like when an opponent drills a hard, top spin cross court forehand off my weak second serve. Is that fair? I also don’t much like it when they hit a low chip down the line and come in behind it. Fair? How about a lob off a weak serve when the opponent charges to the net? The idea that a drop shot is somehow illegitimate strikes me as a little silly just like it would be silly for me to complain about big ground strokes that force me to constantly run side to side.
    Rick W.

    Rick, i am with you most of the way. The only caveat i would add for the “non standard shots” is FREQUENCY. In tournament play, anything goes; but in a friendly match, an incessant lobber or drop shotter is someone i would choose not to play with. thanks, george.

  9. George,
    Interesting exchange!
    Agree, if it’s legal, it’s basically OK: if drop shots and lobs are effective, you should use them. Should sportsmanship extend to not using our best shots?
    However, common sense should prevail, e.g., not hitting overhead smashes to a defenseless opponent or (on a key point) moving up to the service line and placing one’s foot an inch from the service line when your partner’s receiving a second serve.
    Both examples legal, but bush league, in my view.

    Phil, yup, there is a line somewhere that some players do cross. thanks, george

  10. George, as we age up the drop shot becomes more and more effective. I never used to drop shot the serve but now it is effective as a surprise. Naturally I hate it done to me, but have to try to counter it with better serve, serve & volley, etc. The problem I see is that it is too dominantly used in 80’s & up. I would propose that a short line is made approximately 3 feet closer to the net to serve from for 80’s & up. The rest of the court is the same. This would make getting to the drop shot return easier and help make the serve better. To me this would make playing more fun and less drop shots off the return. On clay putting line down is a little more difficult but can be done. Worth a try?

    Larry, fascinating thought! I can tell you guys like Gordon Hammes (who at 81 still runs better than most of us) would not like it. thanks, george

  11. i have a different opinion about drop shots. if a guy is consistently dropshotting
    your serve effectively, it’s your fault. hit a better serve.
    how about spikes side serve? is that really a drop shot? ive been trying to
    master that shot for years.
    i can see your point about wanting to practice with someone who hits the ball a certain way and enjoying the process.
    i also now know why no one wants to practice with me!

    Joe, i have been trying to add Spike’s side serve to my game because it is so effective! thanks, george

  12. If a shot is legal than it’s just fine to use against the serve or any other time.
    I’m getting a new knee in December and I assure my opponents take advantage
    of my lack of mobility and they would be fools not to use that ploy. I would think
    it kind of sissy to complain.
    Fifty years ago we were the 8th seed in the state HS basketball tournament
    and we were playing #1 in the state with 2 all- americans. They played a2-3 zone
    to hide the big one on defense.We got the opening tip and refused to play until
    the refs made them come out and play man. We lost 63-62 on a last second shot.
    Did we do something wrong or simply take advantage of a weakness? As long as you call lines fairly there should be no complaints!!!

    Ron, “All’s fair in Love and HS Basketball” thanks, george

  13. George,

    I must admit that this one has me cracking up! It is my understanding that we are supposed to figure out solutions for whatever is thrown at us during a match. Lobbing, Dropshots, Moonballs are all part of this equation, especially in Senior Tennis. To the best of my knowledge, there have never been rules about when or where my opponent can hit the ball. They simply make whatever shot they choose and if it goes in, anywhere on the court, then it’s up to me to figure out how to get it back in play. In fact, I thought we were supposed to hit the ball as far away from each other as possible???

    One question for whoever came up with this list. How long will you be visiting our planet?

    My advice is that, if this is seriously bothering anyone, you begin reading some of my blogs on mental endurance. Particularly how to get rid of the monkey chatter in your head!


    * Drop shot on return of serve?
    * Using the underhanded serve?
    * Using the drop shot on every other point?
    * In doubles, lobbing almost every point?
    * Using the “moonball” almost all the time?

    The answer to all these lie in mental endurance and figuring out solutions, not changing the rules.

    move through It!

    Fred Robinson
    Body Helix

    Fred. Good stuff. While you can’t choose your tournament opponents, you CAN choose the friends you play with (and how they play the game). Thanks, george

  14. As everyone knows, I have long held the view that tennis is over regulated (as in TOO MANY RULES) as it currently stands, and I therefore have a strong bias against efforts to adopt, or even propose, even more restrictions on what players can and cannot do on the tennis court.

    I think all of this “let’s adopt another rule” nonsense every time somebody doesn’t like some occurrence for which there is no current rule or the current rules are ambiguous detracts from the essence of the game as well as the spirit of fair play and gentlemanly (and gentlewomanly) conduct that is what the game was originally founded upon and that is how I choose to still play the game.

    It may sound counterintuitive, but it has been my long held observation from my legal practice that, the more rules get made, the more people try to look for loopholes to get around what is expressly prohibited, whereas they may never have even thought about the issue or engaging in such conduct to begin with. This is the great unacknowledged downside to trying to micromanage human conduct through over-regulation.

    Now with the present question we have another example of perfectly legal tennis court conduct apparently in search of another unnecessary regulatory prohibition. There is no rule prohibiting drop shots in ANY situation that I know of, whether they occur in the middle of a rally, a server does this, or a receiver hits a drop shot return.

    As everyone who has been on the receiving end of a well placed, and especially unexpected drop shot, they are an extremely valuable shot for all players to have in their arsenal. Why oh why would anyone want to have a rule outlawing such a shot, or even just disavowing them as somehow unsporting? Isn’t the part of the court a few feet in front of the net just as “legal” as the part of the court from between the service line and the baseline?

    If you can regularly get the ball to barely clear the net and bounce close to the net, especially with side and/or backspin, then you have a skill that is every bit as important and useful as having the ability to hit 90 mph topspin forehands and other, more traditionally “aggressive,” kinds of shots. So why shouldn’t you be allowed to use a skill shot that you took the time to learn and get good at?

    As for the issue of whether this is not “fair,” or not “nice,” or bad “sportsmanship,” or “bush league,” or any of the other pejoratives that people use to describe a drop shot, my response is simple: Get over it, and quit whining. If you don’t like it being done to you, then focus on identifying the kinds of situations where such a shot can be anticipated and get better at using your reaction time to reach the ball before it becomes a winner. Also, learn to hit a good drop shot yourself and use it whenever you can against a drop shot artist opponent.

    I am 67 but I sometimes play with some guys who are in their 80’s. Yes, they cannot run anywhere as fast as I still can (and I am downright slow to what I was in my 40’s), but I never get upset if they hit their crazy good drop shots against me in a match. Often when they do so, I cannot reach the ball but the mere fact that I know they can hit the shot always keeps me on my toes a lot better than normal. It is a valid and effective shot and more power to my older opponents in being able to hit a shot so well that it effectively neutralizes any speed or reaction advantage that I have opposing them. And you can be damn sure I use a drop shot liberally myself whenever I am out against a player significantly younger (and faster/ fitter) than myself.

    Marty, if there were no rules, lawyers would rule the world. Oh wait, they do! 🙂 George

  15. George,

    Absolutely true about choosing “fun” matches. In fact, I typically play with a wide variety of opponents and line up practices that will match the possible styles of play I expect to see in my upcoming tournament. At home, if I am not laughing and having fun on the court with someone then I am on the court with the wrong person. This is still quite competitive but laughing and fun always ranks No. 1.

    Fred, exactly! thanks, george

  16. Many years ago my partner and I played two guys that were way better than we were. They could use any style of play and beat us. At one point, one of the opponents started serving underhand. I was not amused. If you are using the strategy to find a way to win, I think it is more acceptable. When it is an obvious attempt to humiliate an opponent, I don’t have a lot of respect for that.

    Rick. I agree. In our match yesterday at the Atlantic Cup, my partner and I won the first set 6-0. In the second set, our opponents tried using the underhanded serve. And we thought that was fine in that circumstance.

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