Mythbusters: Do You Think You Know All the Rules of Tennis? You Probably Don’t!

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Students of mine love to ask me what the rules are on the most random hypothetical tennis questions.

“Am I allowed to run to the baseline to serve?” (No.)

“Can I stand in the box to return?” (Well yes, but you can’t volley it so you probably don’t want to.)

I have been asked questions this month by high school players. Granted these questions definitely were meant to be silly, there are a lot of rules that people who play in tournaments, and even for myself as a director, don’t realize. They seem trivial until they happen. Some of them make sense, and some you may be surprised by. If you know half of them … kudos to you! You are ahead of the game. This list only covers the first third of the rulebook!

1. It’s a let if the ball pops during a point, but not if it loses all its’ compression during a point.

2. Players cannot use the ball to wipe off sweat.

3. Servers are actually required to say the score before each point. If an umpire thinks someone has been blatantly cheating on the score, the player can be coded for not saying the score before serving. If the umpire warns them, there may be consequences.

4. If players cannot agree on a score, they go back point by point that game. If they disagree on a point, have them replay that particular point and have them go back to the score as if the person who won the replayed point won the point that was disagreed on.

5. If a ball hits the net post and goes in, it is in play.

6. In doubles, either player can serve first in a super tie-break.

7. If a returner takes a swing at the ball, they are deemed ready.

8. A returner is considered ready when they make eye contact with the server for two seconds.

9. If a ball comes from a neighboring court between a first and second serve, the server does not get a first serve unless the returner thinks it was too long of a delay.

10. If a player’s hat falls off on the court and neither player calls a let, the hat is in play and any shot that hits the hat should be played back.

11. You lose the point if you throw your racquet at the ball.

12. If a player’s shock absorber comes out during the point and hits the net or goes onto the other player’s side during the point, they lose the point, but it has to be called while the point is still being played.

13. A player must honor the request of an opponent to clear a ball on or close to the court.

14. If a player in doubles yells “back” or “switch” while the ball is traveling towards the opponent and it is deemed by the opponent to be a hindrance, the team communicating loses the point.

15. A player cannot call a let if their hat falls off or a ball falls out of their pocket, but the opponent can.

16. In doubles, if the receiver returns from the wrong side and it is discovered after at least one point is played, the returning team stays at those sides for the remainder of the game and can then switch back to their original sides for all remaining return games in that set.

17. If two players play a third set when a super tie-breaker should have been played, the set is the first to three games with a tie-breaker at two-all if the mistake is realized before the second point of the fifth game.

18. If two players play a third set when a super tie-breaker should have been played, it’s a regular set for the third if the second point of the fifth game has been started.

19. If two players start a super tie-break instead of a full-third set accidently and the mistake is recognized after the start of the second point, the match should finish as a super tie-breaker (I regrettably have botched this before and have seen other directors mess this rule up too).

20. Worst, most vague rule ever: Toilet breaks are allowed when an official deems the need is genuine. They should be taken at set breaks unless there is a true emergency, in which case, the break preferably is taken during an odd game changeover, but may be taken immediately.

21. The 10-minute break between a second and third set does not occur if there is a rain delay of any kind in the first two sets.

22. A player must get permission before a match to wear an Apple Watch from an official since messages can be transmitted.

23. If a player erases a ball mark in question while the linesman is walking over to check the mark, the player automatically loses the point.

24. A player has the right to decline the five-minute warm-up with the opponent before the match … and if they do, the opponent can warm-up with another person!

25. If a player overrules him/herself, they lose the point even if they return the shot.

26. An out call should be made either before the return shot has gone out, or before an opponent has the opportunity to play the return shot. (My note, the “you have to call it before you hit it” mantra is totally untrue and sometimes nearly impossible.)

27. A player is not required to show his opponent a mark.