Let's say you're serving during a tennis match. If you fault on your first serve, start playing the point off your second serve, but then call a let because a ball from an adjacent court rolls onto your court, how many serves do you now get to restart the point? One, because you already served a fault, or two, because you're restarting the point?
While I thought the answer here was pretty obvious, it turns out not everyone knows all of the in's and out's of service lets. In fact, this issue came up in a match that I officiated. And since the players in that match were top-level teens (Girls Super Champ Division A 18s) and one of them didn't know the correct answer, I realized the answer might not be so obvious.
The question you might ask, and which one of the Super Champ Girls asked me, is why should the server get two serves? Why not just one? If the server faulted on her very first serve, why should she now get two serves?
ITF Rule of Tennis 23 – “The Let” – comes into play here. Rule 23 says that, “In all cases when a let is called, except when a service let is called on a second service, the whole point shall be replayed.” Seems pretty clear. If the “whole point” is being replayed, that means start from scratch which means take two serves.
But if that's not clear enough for you, Case 1 of Rule 23 addresses the exact situation that occurred in my Super Champ Girls match:
Case 1: When the ball is in play, another ball rolls onto the court. A let is called. The server had previously served a fault. Is the server now entitled to a first service or second service?
Decision: First service. The whole point must be replayed.
Conclusion – replay the point, take two serves.
There are, however, two little things to keep in mind here. First, just because a ball from an adjacent court rolls onto your court doesn't automatically mean you get two serves. For example, if the ball rolls onto your court between your first and second serves, you might only get your second serve. USTA Comment 23.3 explains:
What happens when a ball from an adjacent court rolls on the court between the first and second serves? The time it takes to clear an intruding ball between the first and second serves is not considered sufficient time to warrant the server receiving two serves unless this time is so prolonged as to constitute an interruption. The receiver is the judge of whether the delay is sufficiently prolonged to justify giving the server two serves.
So a ball rolling in from another court while you're between your first and second serves only restarts the point if there has been a “justifiable delay.” That would mean more than just the minute or so it might take to retrieve the ball and return it to the court from where it came. And, note that the receiver, not the server, is the judge of whether the delay justifies two serves. (So the polite receiver will say something like, “Take two serves.” To which the polite server might reply, “Thanks.”)
The second twist to know is that, should that stray ball come rolling onto your court during your second serve, you once again get two serves per USTA Comment 23.1:
What happens when the server is interrupted during delivery of the second service? The server is entitled to two serves.
And, in that situation, taking two serves is not dependent on the receiver's judgment of what constitutes an interruption of delivery of service. If you're taking your second serve and you think you've been interrupted by a stray ball, you get to take two serves.
Frankly, in my opinion, that's a little weird. Why not just retake your second serve? Why should you get two serves?
The only thing I can think is that the USTA is concerned about safety. Most of us are looking up at the ball when hitting a serve, not down at our feet where stray balls may be rolling around. By allowing the server to take two serves in this situation, you avoid the possibly unsafe situation of the “impolite” receiver who doesn't say anything about that stray ball in hopes that he or she wins the point off a service fault.
And you thought there wasn't much to say about service lets! I would love to hear your questions on tennis rules. If you have any, let me know in the comments below and I'll try to get you an answer (with lots of quotations!).