This is going to be a fun one because, in this episode of Tennis Quick Tips, I'm answering a listener question and providing a lot of extra material that wasn't even asked about. Lorna asked me about communicating with your partner during points – just how strict should we be on following the calls of “yours” and “mine,” especially when the player who calls the ball is not always in the best position to hit the shot. And, as a bonus, I'm also talking about verbal hindrances – what they are, what the rules say about them, how to deal with them and how to avoid committing them yourself. And, even more bonus material, you're going to learn how to effectively communicate with your doubles partner so that you both know what's happening on court, you both support each other, and neither of you commits the dreaded verbal hindrance. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
I recently received a great question your Lorna. And while her question seems pretty basic, something I could have quickly answered in a minute or two, I decided that I would lead into my answer by addressing a rules topic. Specifically, I'm going to talk about verbal hindrances! This is something all of us see on court during matches. We may have even committed these verbal hindrances ourselves. But no one is sure how to deal with them effectively. So that's what I'm talking about today.
But first, let's look at Lorna's question, the question that opened this can of worms. Lorna writes:
Hi Kim, I love listening to your topics every week, and so I have a question for you. What do you have to say about doubles partners calling or saying “mine”, “yours” and so on? Sometimes when my partner call the ball as theirs, I am more close to it than they are. What is your take on that ?
So let's get into Lorna's question and the issue of verbal hindrances. Because by talking this rules issue out, we'll get to the answer to Lorna's question.
The Tennis Rules on Verbal Hindrances
ITF Rule of Tennis 26 addresses hindrances and states:
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.
The USTA comments to this rule go on to explain the difference between a deliberate and an unintentional act. Comment 26.1 states:
Deliberate means a player did what the player intended to do, even if the result was unintended. An example is a player who hits a short lob in doubles and loudly shouts “back” just before an opponent hits the overhead. (See The Code sec. 34.) Unintentional refers to an act over which a player has no control, such as a hat blowing off or a scream after a wasp sting.
The good news is – that's not the end of the story on verbal hindrances. The Code provides even more help and clarification. Section 33 tells us that “A player who claims a hindrance must stop play as soon as possible.” And Section 34 on talking when a ball is in play further explains:
* Singles players should not talk during points.
* Talking between doubles partners when the ball is moving toward them is allowed.
* Doubles players should not talk when the ball is moving toward their opponent's court.
* When talking interferes with an opponent's ability to play a ball, it is a hindrance.
For example, if a doubles player hits a week lob and yells “get back” and the yell distracts an opponent who is about to hit the ball, then the opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. If the opponent chooses to play the lob and misses it, the opponent loses the point because the opponent did not make a timely claim of hindrance.
For example, if a player yells after an injury or getting stung by a bee, this is an unintentional hindrance that would entitle the opponent to claim a let.
Okay, enough quoting the rules. Let's talk about applying them in a match and get to Lorna's question.
Communicating with Your Doubles Partner
So we all know the importance of communicating with your doubles partner both on and off court. In fact, you can hear a whole podcast episode on this if you check out Episode 81 of Tennis Quick Tips, How to Communicate in Doubles Tennis. And as we talked about in that episode, and as I'm sure you know if you've been playing doubles for any length of time at all, it is not only inevitable that you will talk to your partner on court, during a match, while points are being played, it is strongly encouraged. Because that's the one of the best ways, if not the only way sometimes, that you and your partner can tell each other what you're doing and coordinate your movements and court coverage.
Committing a Verbal Hindrance
However, as the rules and Code sections I quoted show, you have to be careful about when you talk to your partner. Specifically, you should avoid talking after you've hit the ball and it is traveling in the direction of your opponents because that might hinder your opponents. And if you cause a hindrance, you lose the point. Simple as that.
I think the example given in Code Section 34 is a perfect example of this because I'll bet most of us have been in this situation. Your partner is up at the net. You're back. You hit a short lob that you know your opponent is going to slam back as an overhead. You want to warn your partner if only to prevent him or her from getting creamed by that overhead. The danger is, if you call something out to your partner while the ball is traveling towards your the opposing team, like “It's short!” or “Back up!” or “Watch out!”, you may hinder your opponent and lose the point.
But, the catch is, your opponent must stop play as soon as he or she is hindered. Basically as soon as you call out to your partner. So if your opponent chooses to hit that short lob, he or she is not hindered. And if your opponent hits that short lob and misses, well, then he or she has lost the point and cannot try to claim a hindrance after hitting the ball. Your opponent does not get two chances to try and win the point.
The important thing to remember, the thing that people constantly get confused about or just get wrong, is that the hindrance occurs only when the ball is moving toward your opponents. It does not matter what side of the net the ball is on. If the ball is traveling towards you but is still on your opponents' side of the court, you can be hindered by your opponent saying or shouting something. Even though the ball has not yet crossed the net to your side of the court.
Let's go back to our example of the short lob. If you hit a short lob and say “Watch out!” to warn your partner, who knows how your opponent might interpret that. They may think there's something they need to watch out for, like a ball rolling in from another court. They may look around to see just what is happening. And that could happen even though, when you called out, the ball had not yet crossed the net to your opponents' side of the court. But your shout is distracting and could easily hinder your opponent in playing out the point.
Bottom line – be careful about when you call out to your partner. And if your partner is about to get creamed because the lob you just hit is way too short, well, you may lose the point by warning them. Although that might be a reasonable price to pay to stay in the good graces of your partner.
The Reality of Calling a Verbal Hindrance
Finally, let me say one more important thing about these verbal hindrances. The reality is – they're not called very often. Especially in the type of social or recreational tennis that most of us are playing. In fact, if you call this without warning your opponents the first time it happens, you may be perceived as a less than nice player. Or something worse. Some name that I'm not going to use here to keep my G rating on this podcast. Anyway, if you have an opponent who is verbally hindering you, I think you first need to give them a warning about it. Let them know what they are doing and why it is a hindrance. You may have to pull your rule book out on this. And then, if it happens again, you call the hindrance and take the point.
Ball Calling Between Doubles Partners
So, now, let's answer Lorna's question. How do you deal with calls between you are your partner, especially if your partner calls a ball that you are closer to or that you think you have a better chance at? Here's what I think.
First, when communicating on court with your partner, be very careful about committing a verbal hindrance as I just talked about.
Second, my answer is – it depends. And here's what I mean.
When I play with someone for the very first time, I tell them that I like to talk on court a lot and I hope that it doesn't bother them. And to let me know if it does bother them. Because I want my partners to know that I am going to communicate with them and I hope they will do the same with me.
Then, during the match, at least to start out, any ball they call, no matter what I think as far as whether I can hit that ball better than my partner, I let my partner have it. I don't want there to be any confusion or ill will on court as to who is taking what balls.
Now, if it happens that I think my partner is willing, I will let them know that they are free to take any ball they think they have a better shot at, whether I have called it or not. I try to reassure them that, as long as they are going for the ball and, frankly, trying to be aggressive, I will support them and they are not going to make me mad by taking a ball that I have called.
This is really an issue of communication between partners, understanding between partners, and support between partners. If I am playing with a completely new partner and I am not sure how we are going to play together, initially, I am going to let her take care of any ball she calls, even if I think I have a better shot at it. Once things get going, however, I may change that. Especially if I see that my partner has no problem with me stepping in to take a ball that she has called because she has confidence in me. And that may not come right away. It may take a little time to develop.
Not everyone thinks the way I do. Some people think that when one partner calls the ball, that partner is the one who is going to take the ball, no matter what. Other people will tell you that whoever has the better play on the ball should take the shot, no matter who has called it. I take more of a middle ground, trying to figure out what works best with the partner I'm playing with. Ultimately, I would love to step in and take every ball I can, especially if I think I can hit it better than my partner. But I'm well aware that that course of action will not work with every single partner I have to play with. So, like I said, who should take the ball may depend on who my partner is.
Answering Lorna's Question on Calling the Ball
So Lorna, my answer is, first, definitely communicate with your partner by calling the ball. But second, be careful not to commit a verbal hindrance. And third, as to whether you need to strictly follow the protocol of the person who calls the ball hits the ball, that often depends on the relationship you have with your partner. You definitely don't want to ruin that.
I hope that answers your question Lorna. Thanks so much for sending it in. And I encourage all of my Tennis Quick Tips listeners to submit their own tennis questions or suggestions about what you'd like to hear on Tennis Quick Tips by leaving your comments below.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
- How to Communicate in Doubles – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 81
- How To Be A Great Tennis Doubles Partner – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 32
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