Time for another rules episode! And I think you'll like this one because I bet you've seen this rule violated in your matches and you've wondered if someone is trying to “game” you with it. Yes, today we're going to talk about just how much time you get to do various things on court during a match and, more importantly, I'll give you my best tips for what to do when you think your opponent is taking too much time out on the tennis court. You can read the edited transcript of this episode below and you can listen to it by clicking on the media player above.
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, as gamesmanship. Maybe they were trying to fluster my friend and her partner a bit. 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, and more importantly, what should you do, if you think its happening in your match?
The Rules Of Tennis
First, it goes without saying, you should know the rules of tennis. In this situation, let's start with Rule 21. When to Serve and Receive. This rule states:
The server shall not serve until the receiver is ready. However, the receiver 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? The server has to wait for the receiver to be ready and the receiver has to play to the “reasonable pace” of the server. But the rules do get a lot more specific.
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 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.
That's more like it! Very specific and easy to understand.
Is It Gamesmanship?
Well, here's where you start having problems. Even though you know your opponents only get 20 seconds between points, a lot of times they'll take longer. Maybe a lot longer. It can almost seem as if they're trying to mess with you. Like they're trying to throw the rhythm of the game off through some type of gamesmanship.
Now, if this happens during a tournament or some other type of officiated match, you can get an official involved to enforce the time rules. And officials are usually pretty good about enforcing the time rules because they need to move the matches along so they can try and get all of the matches finished that day.
But, if you're not at an officiated match, how can you enforce the 20 second rule?
Well, first of all, you're going to have to start timing your opponent. Because, it's not enough that you think your opponent is taking too much time between points. You have to know that they are, in fact, taking too much time. You might be surprised to find out that 20 seconds is a lot more time than you think it is.
Let's say you do this and you find that the server is actually taking more than 20 seconds between points. Let me just say, if the server is taking 25 seconds or 30 seconds between points, I might just let that go. Yes, it is a violation of the rule. But it doesn't seem like enough of a violation to constitute gamesmanship.
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.
How To Enforce The Rules
So, here's what I would do:
- 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 – looking at your watch frequently – may solve your problem.
After egregious time violations have 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.” I always err on the side of being passive-aggressive in these situations.
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, Rule 29 allows only 20 seconds between points and your opponent is 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, sadly for you, a lot of people actually play better tennis once they get mad. So be prepared for that.
So those are my tips on dealing with the “slowly serving opponent.” Are these tactics you've ever used in a match? How have you dealt with this or any other type of gamesmanship. Let me know by commenting below as I'd love to know other thoughts on this topic.
Also – it's still summer around here and the perfect time to fit in some quick tennis workouts before fall league play starts. I've put together a great calendar with some quick and easy summer tennis fitness workouts you can do to add on to a day when you have a match or are already doing a workout. These are exercises that will not only help you get into great shape, they'll help you get into great tennis shape. Check out the post here: Quick and Easy Summer Tennis Fitness.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
- Quick and Easy Summer Tennis Fitness – visit this post to get a downloadable pdf calendar with bodyweight exercises that will help you get into better shape AND into better tennis shape
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Thanks so much for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!
© Kim Selzman 2014 All Rights Reserved
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