If you've been listening to Tennis Quick Tips for any length of time, you know I always ask you to send in your questions. And I recently got some really good ones from Astrid in Chicago. Good enough that I wanted to answer them in a podcast. So, in this episode, let's talk about talking on the tennis court. 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.
Here's the email I recently received from Tennis Quick Tips listener Astrid. She says:
I am a relatively new 3.0/3.5 rec doubles team player. I have questions on the usage of certain words/language during a match. (This is related to your episode on hindrances.)
Here is an example: my partner yelled “out!” to let me know not to run down a lob on our side because she saw that it was going out of bounds. One of our opponents criticized her for calling the ball out before it hit the ground. The ball was definitely going out, not a close call. I was told to say “bounce it” in that situation.
Another situation is when I know I can't get a ball (lob or passing shot) and I say “you” or “yours” to let my partner know that she should hit the ball if she can. I was told I should say “help” instead.
What if a ball from another court rolls onto my court during play? Do I say “let”? How do I indicate we should stop play? Put my hand up or point to the ball? This can be a safety issue, too so I want to let my opponents know right away.
What if I say “mine” and my partner is there, too and she thinks can get it? Should she just go for it or should she say something to let me know she thinks she has a better shot at it, e.g., if it's her forehand or if she is in a better position. (Obviously, as I advance my skills and am not out of position, this won't be as much of an issue.)
My questions are as much concerned with the rules as being a polite partner/opponent.
Any guidance you can offer on appropriate language/terminology during matches is appreciated.
Astrid, these are great questions because they raise the kind of issues that happen to all of us at all levels on the tennis court. All of your questions involve talking on the tennis court. So first, let's look at what the rules of tennis tell us about the appropriateness of talking on court.
If you go to The Code, paragraph 34, you'll find this:
Talking when a ball is in play.
- 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 weak 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.
I'm quoting that portion of The Code because I want to make sure we are all aware that talking on the tennis court is not something to be taken lightly. In singles, we're not supposed to do it at all. And in doubles, we're only supposed to do it when the ball is coming towards us. If we talk when the ball is moving towards are opponents, we can actually lose the point because we've hindered our opponent. So be very careful when talking on court, during a point.
Now, turning to Astrid's questions, the fact is that these kinds of questions come up all the time but aren't the kind of questions that you'll find answers to in the rules of tennis or in the Code. In fact, these are mostly questions that are answered by knowing what is acceptable tennis etiquette. So I'm going to tell you what my answers are but then I'll throw in a few thoughts on other possibilities.
Let's start with Astrid's first question. Her partner yelled “Out!” when a lob was headed to their side of the court because she thought it was going to land out and Astrid thought her partner was telling her not to bother running that lob down. Astrid says she was told to say “Bounce it!” in that situation and, further, that her opponent was critical of her partner calling the ball out before it had landed out.
Astrid, I think your partner definitely needs to avoid using the word “Out” in that situation. “Out” means something very specific in tennis – it means the ball is actually out. If my partner yells “Out” on a lob, at best, I'm going to be confused because that sounds like she is in fact calling the ball out and I'm not even going to try to run that lob down. If she wants to warn me to pay attention because the ball MIGHT be out, she needs to say something different. And that something different could be “Bounce it” or it could be “Watch it.” Those are the two phrases I hear most of the time around here where I play. There might be other phrases that work in this situation but “Out” is definitely not one of them. If I hear someone say “Bounce it” or “Watch it” then I know exactly what they're communicating to me – my partner thinks the ball might be out but I should probably at least pay attention to where it lands and be prepared to hit it if my partner turns out to be wrong. So, yes, your partner should not say “Out” in that situation.
As for the opponent being critical of your partner calling a ball out before it lands, yeah, that's a little rude. Even if a ball is clearly going out, I always wait for the ball to hit the court before calling it out.
Because you just never know what might happen. The wind might blow a ball back in. The ball might have some weird spin on it that causes it to drop in. So an “out” call might not turn out to be out at all.
The other problem with making a call like this before the ball lands is that, you run the danger of automatically losing the point. If you look at The Code, Paragraph 12 states:
12. Out calls reversed. A player who calls a ball out shall reverse the call if the player becomes uncertain or realizes that the ball was good. The point goes to the opponent and is not replayed.
So if your partner says “Out” on a good ball and then the ball is in, your opponent might just claim the point under this Code provision. Conclusion – do not call a ball out until it actually hits the court and is out. And do not use the word “Out” as a way to warn your partner that a lob MIGHT be going out.
Okay, Astrid's next question was about letting her partner know that she didn't have a play on a ball and she wanted her partner to go for it. She said that she was told to say “you” or “yours” to let her partner know that she should try for the ball. But she says she has been told she should say “help” in this situation instead.
Well, Astrid, in that situation, I think you say whatever you can say to let your partner know that you're not going to be able to get that ball. If the first thing that pops out of your mouth is “help,” that's great. I myself not only say “you” and “yours,” I also say “you-you-you” or “get it” or “you've got it.” I can't even think of all of the different things I've said in this situation. The bottom line is that you want to say something that clearly communicates to your partner that you cannot get the ball and it's up to her to try for it. While I think saying “help” is perfectly fine, I myself like saying “you” or “yours” because I think that truly communicates to my partner that I am not getting that ball. So go with whatever you feel comfortable with, with what your partner feels comfortable with, and perhaps with what is most common with the people you most frequently play with.
Astrid next asks about the situation where a ball from another court rolls onto her court during play. Should she say “let”? How does she indicate that play should stop? Put her hand up? Point to the ball? This is, in fact, an important safety issue and yes, Astrid, you want to make sure that your opponents know about it right away.
The rules do address this situation. Rule 23 is the rule on lets and it says that when a let is called, the whole point is replayed. It specifically talks about a ball rolling on court and says:
Case 1: When the ball is in play, another ball rolls onto the court. A let is called. The server has previously served a fault. Is the server now entitled to a first service or a second service?
Decision: First service. The whole point must be replayed.
So you can see from this rule, that a ball rolling on the court is a let and the point must be replayed when this happens. But the rules don't tell us HOW to make the call in this situation.
Astrid, I think it would be great to yell out “Let!” and raise your hands and stop play. But frankly, I don't usually think of the word “Let” that quickly. I just yell out “Stop!” or “Wait!” or “Ball!” or whatever I can get out at that moment. All of these words get the idea across that I'm calling a let. Since a ball rolling on court can be a serious safety issue, you want to say whatever you need to say as quickly as possible and sometimes “Let” just isn't the first word that comes to mind.
Astrid's final question is a good one. She asks about the situation where she says “mine” but her partner is there too and thinks that she can get the ball. Should her partner just go for it or should the partner say something to Astrid to let her know that she thinks she, the partner, has a better shot at it, e.g., if it's her forehand or if she is in a better position. Astrid adds the comment, “Obviously, as I advance my skills and am not out of position, this won't be as much of an issue.”
Astrid, I hate to tell you this, but no matter how good you get at tennis, this will always be an issue. Because it's not a positioning issue as much as it is a communication and partner etiquette issue.
So first, let's look at the rules just to make sure we know what we're talking about. Rule 24 tells us that a player loses the point:
l. In doubles, [when] both players touch the ball when returning it.
So there definitely is a danger that both of you will touch the ball if you're both going for it. But that's not usually what happens. No, what usually happens is that you both go for it and your racquets crash together. And the rules address this situation by explaining that:
USTA Comment 24.6: Does the clashing of rackets make the return illegal? No. Unless it is clear that more than one racket touched the ball.
I don't think the danger of two partners hitting the ball at the same time justifies holding back so let's just get back to how to handle the situation etiquette-wise.
My philosophy is that anyone who has a play on the ball should go for it. And when both partners have a play on the ball, it is not necessarily wrong for both to go for it. And, even if my partner says “mine” or “got it,” sometimes I am STILL going to go for the ball if I think I have a better play on it than my partner. This may result in some clashing rackets. It may result in my taking some shots that my partner might have been able to hit better than me. But I think it is always better to go for something than to stand there and watch my partner not get the ball, or even worse, have both of us standing there not making a move because we think the other one is going to go for it. I believe when you're playing doubles, you have to look at every ball as potentially being your ball. And if you stand around thinking your partner is going to get something that you might be able to get, well, a lot of balls are going to pass both of you by.
You can try to analyze these situations as they arise during a match by thinking, “well, that's to her forehand so I'll let her have that one.” But, as you know by now, doubles points happen very quickly and a lot of your shots are quick, reaction shots. You may not have time to think out who can take it with a forehand or a backhand. So I just go for the shots I think I have a good chance at. Or, in some situations, any chance at.
Now other people believe differently. They think if they say “mine” and you go for the ball, you are interfering and stepping into their territory. And sometimes when you do this with these people, they will make it clear that they think you have screwed up and you need to back off when they claim a ball. If you have a partner like that, you may have to accept that that is how you're going to be playing that particular match.
Honestly, there's no right or wrong in this situation. I'm just saying that if I say “mine” on a ball and my partner steps in and takes the ball, I'm not going to be mad at her. I'm just going to believe she thought she could do something more or better with it than I could. Other people might feel differently. They may want you to back off if they say “mine” and may be upset if you don't. You're just going to have to figure out how best to play with each partner that you're paired with.
Well, Astrid, and everyone else, I hope those answers are helpful for you and give you some insight into playing doubles and working with a partner. As you yourself point out, over time and with more experience, these situations will become more familiar to you and your responses to them will just be a natural part of your game.
h2>LINKS & RESOURCES:
“What's The Rule On Hindrances?” – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast Episode 39
SHARE THIS EPISODE:
If you enjoyed this episode, or know someone who might, please feel free to share it with them. You can simply direct people to:
There are also sharing and email buttons at the bottom of this post.
PLEASE SUBSCRIBE AND REVIEW:
Be sure and subscribe to Tennis Quick Tips so you never miss an episode:
- iTunes: Visit the Tennis Quick Tips iTunes page and subscribe (click on the “Subscribe” button or the blue “View in iTunes” button) or search for “Tennis Quick Tips” in the iPhone Podcast app.
- Stitcher: Visit the Tennis Quick Tips Stitcher page and subscribe.
- RSS Feed: Go to the Tennis Quick Tips Podcast RSS feed to listen in.
- Podcast Page: Find every episode of Tennis Quick Tips in one easy-to-navigate place by visiting the Tennis Quick Tips Podcast page.
I hope you'll consider leaving your review and rating on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show become more easily discovered by like-minded, awesome people just like you. I really appreciate it!
Thanks so much for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!
[ois skin=”End of Blog Post”]