One of my tennis pals was playing a doubles match where she felt like too much time was being taken by her opponents between serves. It wasn't just that too much time was passing. It was more that her opponents seemed to be using this as a tactic, maybe trying to fluster my friend and her partner. Is that OK?
I think we've all seen this happen. Heck, every time Rafael Nadal plays a match, the issue comes up. Even Novak Djokovic is suspected of bouncing the ball before he serves just a little too much. But what can you do, what should you do, if you think its happening in your match?
First, of course, you should know the rules. In this situation, let's start with ITF Rule 21. When to Serve & Receive. This rule states:
The server shall not serve until the receiver is ready. However, the receive shall play to the reasonable pace of the server and shall be ready to receive within a reasonable time of the server being ready.
Sounds pretty vague, right? However, in USTA Comment 21.4, it is explained:
How much time may elapse from the moment the ball goes out of play at the end of the point until the serve is struck to start up the next point? When practical this time should not exceed 20 seconds. This limit does not apply if a player has to chase a stray ball.
In fact, this 20 second rule is clearly stated in ITF Rule 29. Continuous Play:
As a principle, play should be continuous, from the time the match starts (when the first service of the match is put into play) until the match finishes.
a. Between points, a maximum of twenty (20) seconds is allowed. When the players change at the end of a game, a maximum of ninety (90) seconds are allowed. However, after the first game of each set and during a tie-break game, play shall be continuous and the players shall change ends without a rest.
At the end of each set there shall be a set break of a maximum of one hundred and twenty (120) seconds.
The maximum time starts from the moment that one point finishes until the first service is struck for the next point.
That's more like it! Per Rules 29, you get 20 seconds between points, 90 seconds to change ends of court between games, and two minutes between sets. End of story, right?
Here's where you start having problems. Even though you know your opponents only get 20 seconds between points, how do you enforce that?
This is where your tennis game can quickly turn into some kind of weird mind game. If you think your opponent is taking too much time between points, you have to start timing them. Just to make sure what you think it too long is actually too long. So let's say you do this and the server is actually taking more than 20 seconds between points. Well, if she's taking 25 seconds or 30 seconds, I would probably let that go. Even in a USTA tournament match with roving officials, I would probably not think it work tracking an official down just because someone's taking 30 seconds between points.
But if the server is taking way more than 20 seconds, like maybe 45 seconds to a minute, between each and every point, and you're getting the feeling that it is some kind of annoyance tactic, I think you have to do something. Here's what I would do:
1. Make it very obvious that you're keeping time (so you better be wearing a watch) (which I do not) (but now I'm thinking maybe I should). Just doing this one thing may solve your problem.
- After it has happened continuously, say throughout one entire game, you should say something like, “I think you're taking too long between points. We need to get going here.”
3. When the server points out, as they probably will, that the rules say you have to play to the “reasonable pace of the server,” that is your chance to point out that while you're well aware of that provision of Rule 21, you assume your opponent knows that Rule 29 allows only 20 seconds between points and she's going way over that.
At least, in my mind, that's how the conversation would go.
I will point out that, once you go down this calling people on the rules path, things usually go from bad to worse. And a lot of people actually play better tennis once they get mad. So be prepared for that.
Have you had any experience with a “slow serving opponent”? Is this a tactic you use? Comment below and let me know as I'd love to know other thoughts on this topic. In the meantime, Happy Tennis!