Well, this happened to me last week. I was playing a doubles match and in the middle of a point, my hat blew off. We continued playing the point which our opponents ended up winning (but we won the match so whatever). After the point was over, one of our opponents said to me, “Well, just so you know, this is your warning for your hat blowing off. If it blows off again, we get the point.” Hmmmm. Is that so?
What's the rule on hindrances?
The rule that I believe my opponent wanted to call me on is ITF Rule 26 on hindrances. That rule provides:
If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.
However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player's own control (not including a permanent fixture).
So there are two issues here. Was the player hindered? And was the hindrance intentional?
Was the action intentional?
As to the second issue, clearly, my hat blowing off was unintentional. I certainly didn't intend for that to happen and, in fact, it messed me up more than it messed anyone else up. But I can't call a hindrance for something that I do or cause. The comments to the rule make this clear:
USTA Comment 26.2: Can a player's own action be the basis for that player claiming a let or a hindrance? No. Nothing a player does entitles that player to call a let. For example, a player is not entitled to a let because the player breaks a string, the player's hat falls off, or a ball in the player's pocket falls out.
Was there a hindrance?
As to the first issue, was the player hindered, I say she wasn't. We kept on playing out the point which my opponents ended up winning. Since neither of them called a let when my hat blew off, I would say they weren't hindered.
I would also say that giving me a “warning” was inappropriate. If my opponent was hindered, the appropriate action to take was to call a let. And then maybe after that tell me that if my hat blew off again, they would take the point. That would have been my warning.
What do Andy Murray and I have in common?
Maybe you remember this exact issue came up in last year's U.S. Open semi-final match between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych (and maybe you don't remember this incident which probably shows that you are a more normal person than me). Anyway, Murray's hat blew off during a point in the first set and the umpire called a let. As the players approached the net to “discuss” this, Murray kept asking Berdych if he was really hindered. And Berdych was sort of saying yes in a not very forceful manner. Murray's point was the same point I had with my opponent – just because his hat fell off, there's not an automatic hindrance. It's only a hindrance if the opponent is actually hindered!
So now what?
The outcome? In Murray's case, they played a let. In my case, I let my opponent “warn” me. While I should have told her that no hindrance occurred and her “warning” was, at best, a laughable attempt to distract me from thinking about her sorry shots, I guess I'm just too dang nice to say something like that. I just put my hat back on and kept playing.
Have you had someone call a hindrance on you lately? How'd that go? Let me know about your hindrances and your other “weird” tennis rule questions!