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League Tennis Players, Know Your USTA Rules…Especially 21 And 22!

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Tennis Rules

League Tennis Players, Know Your USTA Rules…Especially 21 And 22!

A couple of days ago, I was talking with my friend and co-blogger Jane Forman and she was telling me about an incident that happened with her 3.5s in the USTA Tri-Level Doubles League. Apparently, the opponent served while the #TeamForman player had her back turned…and what do you think happened next? Or should I say, what SHOULD have happened next?

Of course, an argument broke out (one of many throughout the match.) The opponents claimed it was their point because the USTA rule states that you must play at the pace of the server or lose the point, and #TeamForman said that you can’t serve when the receiver’s back was turned or it’s a let. The squabbling got so loud that the other 2 lines couldn’t play and had to stop until things quieted down.

The opponents wouldn’t budge on their stance, and because they didn’t know the rules either, #TeamForman was eventually bullied into letting them have the point. However, if any of these ladies would have known the rules or had the handbook in their bags, they would have found out what to do without all the drama, which was partially to blame for #TeamForman ultimately losing the match.

Rule 21 in the ITF (International Tennis Federation) handbook regarding serving states:

RULE 21. When to serve and receive: 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. A receiver who attempts to return the service shall be considered as being ready. If it is demonstrated that the receiver is not ready, the service cannot be called a fault.

The opponents were half correct in that the receiver should play at the REASONABLE pace of the server, however, Team Forman was obviously not ready to receive so the point should have been re-played.

Another rule also applies in this situation:

RULE 22. The let during a serve: The serve is a let if:

a. The ball served touches the net, strap or band, and is otherwise good; or, after touching the net, strap or band, touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner or anything they wear or carry before hitting the ground; or

b. The ball is served when the receiver is not ready. In the case of a service let, that particular service shall not count, and the server shall serve again, but a service let does not cancel a previous fault.

The second scenario clearly applies in this instance.

I cannot stress enough that it’s beyond important to be familiar with the ITF rules and to have them in your bag at all times. Ignorance, incorrect assumptions and the drama they can cause really can cost you (and your teammates that have to listen while they play) the match!

4.5 USTA rated/open champion level tennis player, vegan, fitness freak, animal lover, and smart ass who firmly believes that champagne is anathema for all ills. Right now I'm either up to my eyeballs in paint swatches and fabric samples, or kicking some butt on a tennis court (hopefully the latter).



  1. sbbegin

    July 22, 2018 at 8:55 am

    Just curious – with reference to the following part of rule 21: “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.”
    What is the definition of “reasonable time”? We had opponents who upon overhearing that my partner would eventually need to leave the match for an appointment, proceeded to take minutes to be ready each time one of us was serving. They would turn their backs and converse, while we stood at the ready to serve. When we asked them about the delay – they denied that they were taking an inordinate amount of time to be ready for the serve. We ended up defaulting the match (after 3 hours) because my partner needed to leave. We were ahead in the match too! The whole thing sounds silly – but it was incredibly frustrating. The only redeeming part of the whole episode was the opposing team captain apologizing in the parking lot to us for the gamesmanship of her players.

    • Jen Campbell

      July 22, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Hi sbbegin :-)

      Yep…there’s a rule for this too – and penalties. Rule 29 states:


      As a principle, play should be continuous, from the time the match starts (when the first service of the match is put in play) until the match finishes.

      a. Between points, a maximum of twenty (20) seconds is allowed.

      Then there is a comment which elaborates on reasonable additional time if:

      USTA Comment 29.1: The 20-second time limit does not apply if a player has to chase a stray ball.

      Your opponents clearly broke Rule 29, and while there is no officiating in league, there is a penalty:

      First offense: a warning
      Each additional offense: loss of one point (each time.)

      I know the captain already apologized, but that neither helps you nor stops them from doing this again. I would definitely report this to your local USTA league coordinator and explain in detail what happened. I don’t know if anything would be done, but I know of one winning team here in Houston that had all points taken away from them for an entire match (all 5 lines) due to such types of infractions.

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