“Weird” Tennis Rules: When Is Your Hat A Hindrance?

Hat-Hindrance-Murray-BerdychWell, this happened to me last week.  I was playing a doubles match and in the middle of a point, my hat blew off.  We continued playing the point which our opponents ended up winning (but we won the match so whatever).  After the point was over,  one of our opponents said to me, “Well, just so you know, this is your warning for your hat blowing off.  If it blows off again, we get the point.”  Hmmmm.  Is that so?

What’s the rule on hindrances?

The rule that I believe my opponent wanted to call me on is ITF Rule 26 on hindrances. That rule provides:

If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.

However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player’s own control (not including a permanent fixture).

So there are two issues here.  Was the player hindered?  And was the hindrance intentional?

Was the action intentional?

As to the second issue, clearly, my hat blowing off was unintentional.  I certainly didn’t intend for that to happen and, in fact, it messed me up more than it messed anyone else up.  But I can’t call a hindrance for something that I do or cause.  The comments to the rule make this clear:

USTA Comment 26.2:  Can a player’s own action be the basis for that player claiming a let or a hindrance?  No.  Nothing a player does entitles that player to call a let.  For example, a player is not entitled to a let because the player breaks a string, the player’s hat falls off, or a ball in the player’s pocket falls out.

Was there a hindrance?

As to the first issue, was the player hindered, I say she wasn’t.  We kept on playing out the point which my opponents ended up winning.  Since neither of them called a let when my hat blew off, I would say they weren’t hindered.

I would also say that giving me a “warning” was inappropriate.  If my opponent was hindered, the appropriate action to take was to call a let.  And then maybe after that tell me that if my hat blew off again, they would take the point.  That would have been my warning.

What do Andy Murray and I have in common?

Maybe you remember this exact issue came up in last year’s U.S. Open semi-final match between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych (and maybe you don’t remember this incident which probably shows that you are a more normal person than me).  Anyway, Murray’s hat blew off during a point in the first set and the umpire called a let.  As the players approached the net to “discuss” this, Murray kept asking Berdych if he was really hindered.  And Berdych was sort of saying yes in a not very forceful manner.  Murray’s point was the same point I had with my opponent – just because his hat fell off, there’s not an automatic hindrance.  It’s only a hindrance if the opponent is actually hindered!

So now what?

The outcome?  In Murray’s case, they played a let.  In my case, I let my opponent “warn” me.  While I should have told her that no hindrance occurred and her “warning” was, at best, a laughable attempt to distract me from thinking about her sorry shots, I guess I’m just too dang nice to say something like that.  I just put my hat back on and kept playing.

Have you had someone call a hindrance on you lately?  How’d that go?  Let me know about your hindrances and your other “weird” tennis rule questions!

© Kim Selzman 2013 All Rights Reserved


  1. Sheila Wood says

    HAHA I loved this post! I just finished a week with strange calls and I thought it was me. First an opponent heard my doubles partner’s phone and charged us a hindrance point for that. The goofy thing was we were on a change-over and standing by the bags. I said since it was ringing in the previous game, they could have a point in that game (which we won 40-love so that would mean we won the game 40-15). They kept arguing so we were hijacked into giving them a point in the next game… how is that a hindrance? It just made us mad so we showed no mercy with our shots. Another match my partner and I clashed rackets, I dropped my racket and we both tripped so I ended up on the ground. The ball popped up and gave them an easy sitter that they hit 6 feet out. It was a hindrance having to play against the Stooges, but they needed to call that before they hit it out!! We didn’t give in on that argument.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    I have had this same phone ringing on the changeover issue before!!! Some people are truly desperate for points to sink to that kind of argument.

  3. Bob Young says

    I believe a rule is a rule and should be followed. It is there for a reason and a lot of recreational players run into it when an opponent hits a poor shot and screams and tosses their racket or worse. It is distracting and they often do it repeatedly after they realize it helps them win the point. We should keep the rule and at best maybe refine it.

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