I like to play up at the net just as much as the next person. I play a lot of doubles and don't have the greatest groundstrokes so the net is the best place for me to be. And a lot of ladies I come up against also like to be up at the net. Good for them! That's where you're supposed to be in doubles.
But a small percentage of ladies seem to play literally right on top of the net. And when the ball comes to them, they very often come up with incredible volleys. So it seems like a good idea. The closer, the better, right?
Well, I don't play 6 inches from the net as these ladies do for two reasons. 1. I need a little room to react and (hopefully) hit a good volley. 2. I don't want to contact the ball on the wrong side of the net.
So what do you do when you come up against these ladies who are playing right on top of the net, ladies who you THINK are so close to the net that they may be making contact with the ball before it crosses the net?
First, be aware of the rule against this. Rule 24(h) of the USTA's Official Rules of Tennis says that a player loses the point if “[t]he player hits the ball before it has passed the net . . . .”
A great explanation for what Rule 24(h) means is given on the USTA's website in their article “Reaching Over The Net” (click on the title to read the whole article). This article explains:
A player may break the plain of the net on a follow through from a shot as long as the ball was on that player’s side of the court when the ball was struck. (The player can only reach over to play a ball in the situation stated in the paragraph below).
The player in either situation may not touch the net, or the opponent’s court with anything he wears or carries or with any part of the body.
OK, so now that you understand the rule, what can you actually do if you think this is happening during a match? Before you do anything at all, be aware that the call as to whether the player hit the ball before it crossed the net is made by the player hitting the ball – not by you. So the most you can hope for is to make them aware of the rule (honestly, some people don't know) and to let them know you're watching. Do it like this:
- First, watch the player carefully. If someone is constantly playing so close to the net that this might happen, it probably will happen (in my opinion).
- Second, if you think the player has reached across the net, just ask them, “Did you reach across the net to hit that ball?” They will most likely say “no” but now you've put the idea in their head and they'll know you're watching.
- Third, if this maybe-they-reached-across-the-net situation keeps happening, keep right on asking about it and bring up the rule: “You do know you can't reach across the net to hit the ball, right? You lose the point if you do.” For the vast majority of people, these few steps will not only ensure that they don't reach across the net, but will actually get them to back off the net.
- Finally, if you're convinced someone is repeatedly reaching across the net but is denying it, let them know you need to bring in a linesman or a captain to watch for this. At this point, you're basically accusing them of cheating. Most ladies will not want it to go this far and, again, should back off.
© Kim Selzman 2009
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