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USTA Rules: What If Someone Serves Out Of Order During A Tennis Match?

tennis team discusses rule

Tennis Rules

USTA Rules: What If Someone Serves Out Of Order During A Tennis Match?

I had a team drill this morning, after which four of us (myself included), played a practice doubles match. Halfway into the second set, one of my “opponents”, Norri served, and no one realized it wasn’t her serve until the game was complete.

What should we do?

Do we play the game over again with the correct server? Do we keep the new score as is, but correct the service line up? What do we do?

Here in Houston, the USTA (United States tennis Association), the WHLTA (West Houston Ladies Tennis Association) and HTA (Houston Tennis Association) leagues are governed by ITF (International Tennis Federation) rules, and during every match – especially a league match – at least one of the team captains should have a rule book handy for situations just like this.

Had we not had a rule book (or four, lol!), we would have simply started the game over. And we would have been wrong.

In this case, the applicable rule would be:

Rule 27: Correcting Errors

As a principle, when an error in respect of the Rules of Tennis is discovered, all points previously played shall stand. Errors so discovered shall be corrected as follows:

c.  If a player serves out of turn during a standard game, the player who was originally due to serve shall serve as soon as the error is discovered. However, if a game is completed before the error is discovered the order of service shall remain as altered…

and during a tie-break game:

d.  If a player serves out of turn during a tie-break game and the error is discovered after an even number of points have been played, the error is corrected immediately. If the error is discovered after an odd number of points have been played, the order of service shall remain as altered.

The comments to Rule 27 explain why the rule works like this:

Comment 27.1:  Errors as to Ends, Sides, Rotation and Service Order, etc. The general guiding philosophy regarding any mistakes made by players in failing to change ends, serving from wrong ends, serving to the wrong court, receiving from the wrong court, etc., is this: Any such error shall be rectified as soon as discovered but not while the ball is in play, and any points completed under the erroneous condition shall be counted.

If you’re a team captain, it’s best to either have your own copy of the rule book, or at least borrow one and become familiarized with the rules. And even if you aren’t playing a league match, you should still play by the rules.

Though situations like the one above rarely occur, it’s always nice to know the correct court protocol :-)

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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. Heidi Maguire

    December 30, 2017 at 4:30 am

    I do not agree with this. If someone serves out of order they should lose the points they played while serving out of order. I just had this happen in a Mixed Match last night. The man on the other team served and won two points serving out of order. He had a strong serve and this was to his teams advantage to “conveniently” serve out of order!!! This is something someone could do purposely. You should be responsible for making sure you do not serve out of turn.

    • Jen

      December 31, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      I’m with you, Heidi! It doesn’t seem fair that those points should count. We all just need to be more aware of who is serving at all times :-)

  2. Emma

    April 7, 2015 at 6:11 am

    I just had this happen in a game yesterday! After switching to get a Iob, the server served the next point from the wrong half of the court. Since he wasn’t announcing the score after each point, we didn’t pick it up until after the point was played.

    • Jen

      April 7, 2015 at 10:13 am

      It’s so easy to get caught up in the game and lose track of who is serving :-) So did y’all win?

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