Playing Let Serves?

UPPA/Photoshot Photo UGL 009807/G-29 01.07.1995

Division I college tennis and pro team tennis both have been playing let serves; so we have tried it in some of our friendly matches and find some interesting results.

No Big Deal

We were all amazed how infrequently a serve would touch the net and drop over for a more difficult shot.  In most cases when the ball actually did touch the net, the serve remained totally (if not easier) easy to hit.

So one could argue: why should balls that tick the net on the serve be replayed, while the same action during a point is not?

What Are the Rules?

If you do play let serves, can your doubles partner come across and take the net dribbler?  And what happens if, by reflex, you or your partner call out “Let” and still return the serve?  I asked USTA official, Allan Thompson…

“The USTA does have a Rule 15 Order of receiving in doubles whereby the team which is due to receive in the first game of a set shall decide which player shall receive the first point of the game. So, if the serve is a ‘let’ then the player designated to receive must be the one to play the ball. This is how it works in Div 1 College tennis.

“What happens if someone forgets and calls a ‘let’…. I would see this as a clear case of the ‘let’ not being allowed and if otherwise the serve was good and winning the point, the point would go to the serving pair. Otherwise, a receiving pair could use this as a ploy to replay an otherwise winning point. A little like finding some way to call a ‘let’ before the opposition blast an easy overhead!

“The removal of the let serve in College Div 1 causes no problems and players accept it as part of the game. In fact, there are few instances of served balls touching the net before landing in the service box and becoming a winning shot.

“The reason for introducing it, was to avoid the situation where a receiver would call a ‘let’ on a serve which had otherwise been an ‘ace’. 

“A change of rule would certainly help some of us older folk who have trouble hearing!”

So, what do YOU think: stick with the Let serves or play them?

P.S. I will give a copy of my book to the first person who can correctly answer (without doing a Google search): exactly who was Fingers Fortescue?

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13 thoughts on “Playing Let Serves?

  1. Fingers Fortesque was the net judge on Centre Court at Wimbledon via Bud Collins

    Hank, close, but one word missing! George

  2. I love playing no lets! The toughest part is remembering to NOT say let, especially at our age.
    I think Fingers Fortescue was the nickname of the person calling lets at Wimbledon Centre Court. I think it was a generic name used by Bud Collins.

    Steve, you win! The word missing from Hank was “generic/imaginary”… I believe Bud referred to all net judges that way, not just at Wimbledon (I could be wrong on that point). You get the book tomorrow! Thanks. George

  3. I think Fingers Fortescue was the name Bud Collins applied to the let serve judge at major tournaments. (I’m not sure if it was a specific person.)
    I would love to have let serves abolished for the sake of slightly speeding up the game. I also think it would help the game be more fun if the receiver’s partner could return any serve that touches the net. Let’s improve on the fun of the game!

    Spike, Steve beat you to it, but I agree with speeding up the game. Thanks. George

  4. Ok, is the missing word “Wimbledon Finals?”

    David, nope… “generic/imaginary”. thanks, george

  5. Serve lets are not played in D1 women’s game. Perhaps the women are less likely to call a let when being aced.

    John, are you suggesting that women are more honest tennis players than men? Maybe so. They usually have less of a “need to win.” thanks, george

  6. I don’t see any need to play let cords. If the statistics show no significant change in results when playing them, then what is the incentive to change.? The let cords that have huge impacts on results are the rally let cords. Let’s change those. But how? It would encourage cheating if they were outlawed and any player could end the point in his favor by saying he heard a let on his opponent’s shot. An expensive, and maybe impractical, solution would be to create a net that won’t allow a ball to go over when hit. I’m thinking velcro!! Any ideas for appropriate change?

    Dan, yea that’s it … velcro on the net and the ball and it sticks to the net rather than popping over!! george

  7. While you are changing the rules George, please add a rule that says that once the ball leaves the server’s hand in the serve toss it is in play ( no do-overs).

    Teddy, me and Brad Gilbert agree with you! thanks, george

  8. Stay with let serves……tennis doesn’t need any gimmicks.

    Mark, how about “Hawk Eye Live”? george

  9. Why when ball hits the net, is it called “let” and not “net”?
    It’s a let because you’re “letting” the ball pass and not counting it. Technically, the serve didn’t happen.

    PLAY IT!

    Fast 4 Rules:

    Alan, someone once corrected me on the wording … i believe the correct call when a player hears the serve touching the net is “Net” … only when it then lands in the box, does it become “Let” and you replay the point. i think. george

  10. Congrats to Steve D on identifying the infamous FF, and for Srs I like the idea of NOT playing lets…..doesn’t happen that often and we can use the extra serving practice. Stay safe everyone. Scoot

  11. I see no problem with not playing lets on serve. But I do think it could change the way we play the game a bit if it is implemented officially, especially among senior players, for reasons explained below.

    I think that most people familiar with college tennis will tell you the no let rule HAS more or less fixed this cheating problem, but it has not eliminated cheating by other means in college tennis by a long shot (such as calling true aces out.)

    As for whether not let serving has changed anything else, I think that most college players and coaches will say its impact on changing the outcome of matches has been small to non-existent. In other words, the number of times that a let serve might dribble over the net to become unplayable and give an unfair point advantage to a server that he would not have had to begin with is truly minuscule. The following is a link that I found to a NY Times article a few years back describing an ATP experiment that it ran temporarily eliminating service lets in lower level tournaments that seems to confirm this. Steve Johnson, for example, is quoted in the article as having played under the no let rule in his college career and he did not seem to mind it.

    The few times my friends and I have played sets and matches with the no let rule, it has not affected the outcome of our matches at all. Frankly, it has been kind of fun allowing this change. It has made playing a bit more interesting.

    The one case where I do think it MIGHT influence a change in senior tennis is this: I could see it leading to more serving underhanded and with intent to hit “drop shot serves” as players get older (and maybe even at other age levels). Currently, there seems to be a bias against serving underhanded in tennis at all levels. While some people do it, most do not probably out of both a worry that an underhanded serve might hit the net more frequently and also because there just seems to be something “unsporting” about getting up to the baseline to hit a normal serve and then suddenly hitting a soft underhanded serve that fools the receiver at the last second. While the “unsporting” issue would no doubt still remain, adopting a no let rule would do away with a player’s worry that an underhand serve might hit the net more frequently and reduce the effectiveness of this serve accordingly.

    In fact, I can almost see how some senior players who already have very good slice drop shots would start consciously hitting underhand serves with more frequency if no let serving became the norm, and some might even try practicing to see if they can hit the net with more regularity because underhanded serving could become a bit of a weapon in that case.

    Marty, i will give you ten tries to try hit a net cord serve; and bet $10 you can’t do it! thanks, george

  12. On the positive side — playing lets would allow certain players who have never hit a winner from the serve actually obtain an ace . Just saying….

    Paul, that would be one way to do it! thanks, george

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