I hope you're thinking the title of this episode, Can You Use a Tennis Ball as a Towel? is a weird title for a Tennis Quick Tips episode. You may even be thinking “I'm not sure I even knew that was an issue in tennis.”
But I'm putting that title out there because I want to talk about the rules. I'm going to answer the question, “can you use a tennis ball as a towel?”, but I'm going to use that as a jumping off point for an explanation of why I think you need to always be up to date and fluent with the rules of tennis and I'm going to tell you how you can easily get to that point.
The Latest Version of the Friend at Court
Recently, the USTA here in the United States did recently come out with its latest version of the Friend at Court publication that it puts out year. This is a publication that, for us here in the U.S., contains the rules of tennis that we abide by as well as the Code and any USTA regulations that control what we do, especially when we play in USTA-sanctioned tournaments.
And I'm a big advocate of always having the latest version of the rules in your bag. I know a lot of players do not have any version of the rules in their bag and I also know that, when you do find players carrying the rules around, they're often carrying old, out of date versions. And I can tell you from several years of going through the Friend at Court, the ITF rules of tennis are constantly being reviewed and updated as is the Code. And you really need to be aware of that. You do not want to be in the position of arguing a rule of tennis that has changed and that you're unaware of the change.
Using the Tennis Ball to Wipe Off Sweat
So, for example, let's talk about my question, can you use a tennis ball as a towel? This really didn't come up for me in a match recently. It came up because I was looking through the Friend at Court, and I was like, “Huh. I didn't even think of that being a rules violation.” The experience I have had, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of you have seen is a player who uses the ball to wipe sweat off their face. I know it sounds weird but I have seen this done. I, as you know, live here in Houston and it does get very hot and very humid and I have seen a player do this. More commonly what I've seen, I've seen more than one player do this, I have seen women hold the ball, hold the second or the third ball, down the front of their shirt. Are you understanding what I'm saying? They are wearing a sports bra and they'll hold that extra ball by actually putting it inside their shirt in their sports bra. If you think that's weird or kind of yucky, I'm with you. I also think that. But I've had the experience of getting that ball from that player and it's kind of damp and wet.
Rule 3 – You Can't Materially Change the Ball
And so, there is a rule on this in fact. It is Rule 3 of the ITF Rules of Tennis that tells us about the ball in tennis. And specifically, it tells us what the approved types of balls are and the ball change policy during tournament matches. And what to do if a ball gets broken during play or if a ball is soft during play. But, in the USTA comment to this rule, USTA Comment 3.1, it specifically says:
May a player cause a ball to become wet by using the ball to wipe perspiration from the player's body? No. A player may not take any action that materially changes the condition of the ball. Therefore, a player may not use a ball to wipe off perspiration.
So when this is happening in your match, when someone is using the ball as a towel to wipe away sweat, if you have one of these women that believes there is nothing wrong with sticking the ball down the front of their shirt to hold onto it, you may let that player know that they are in violation of Rule 3 of the rules of tennis because, by getting the ball wet or damp with perspiration, they're materially changing the condition of the ball and that's in violation of Rule 3.
Are you actually going to do that in a match? I don't know. I can't imagine, having witnessed it myself, that I'm going to raise that. However, I might raise it after the match. I might raise it with someone before a match if I know that player has a reputation for doing that very thing.
Be Sure You Have the Most Recent Version of the Rules
But, my point here is to be a little bit humorous in raising this but also to tell you that this is in the rules of tennis and if you are not up to date on the rules, you might not even be aware that that is a rules violation. As I said at the beginning that that was a rules violation but I became aware of it only by looking over the 2016 Friend at Court.
The reason I truly am recommending that you go on-line and get the Friend at Court or try to find the comparable publication from your tennis authority in whatever country you're in if you are not in the United States is because, as I said, these things do change. In fact, the 2016 Friend at Court points out that in this version of the publication, things have materially changed. In the Foreword, the USTA says:
We have transferred many USTA comments from the ITF Rules of Tennis and USTA regulations to an online document called USTA Officiating: Scenarios and Interpretations.
So not only is there this Friend at Court publication, but there is a new document called USTA Officiating: Scenarios and Interpretations that is also available on the USTA's website, also completely free for you to download and review. I have read through the whole thing and it is very helpful in telling you how to deal with some of the weird situations that come up in tennis.
In the Introduction to the Friend at Court, in the Introduction, the USTA goes on to say that:
This publication will give you the ITF rules of tennis, the USTA regulations, the Code, as well as a glossary of terms commonly used in tennis.
So pretty much everything you need regarding tennis, especially if you are playing in USTA-sanctioned tournaments, can be found in this publication. The introduction then goes on to explain this significant aspect of the Friend at Court:
The rules of tennis are determined by the International Tennis Federation of which the USTA is a member. The USTA may submit proposals to amend the rules but it has no authority to change them. USTA comments on the ITF Rules of Tennis clarify certain rules and provide examples. USTA comments are not part of the ITF Rules of Tennis but they are considered binding authority and therefore enforceable in USTA sanctioned tournaments.
I want to make sure that you have the most recent version of the rules. If you are here in the United States, you should have the most recent version of the Friend at Court and that you take the time to look at this new publication, Usta Officiating: Scenarios and Interpretations, so that you are completely aware of what the rules are in 2016.
Now if you happen to be listening to this in 2017, I would say the same thing. Go online or contact your tennis authority in your country, in the United States that would be the USTA, and find out how you can get access to the most recent version of the rules and regulations and the Code. This is so important. I know it is a silly thing to ask can you use a tennis ball as a towel? But the truth is, you need to know the rules to make sure that what happens in your match is what the rules provide for and that someone is not taking points away from you because they are incorrect about the application of a rule and you just don't know the answer. You don't know if they're right or wrong. You really need to be that person out on the court who either knows the rules or can whip the most up to date version of the rules from your tennis bag to discover exactly what the applicable rule is.
So the answer to the question can you use a tennis ball as a towel is No!
Let me know what kind of weird rules violations you've seen on court. You can leave your comment in the box below. I'd love to hear from you!
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE
Click here to go to the USTA's Rules page and get a PDF download of the 2016 Friend at Court and Officiating: Scenarios and Interpretations: USTA 2016 Officiating and Rules Page
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