I play tennis regularly in 3 leagues, and though only one is a USTA sanctioned league, they all follow the ITF (International Tennis Federation) rules and guidelines regarding play. There are also rules that apply which are NOT enforced by the USTA, but by The Code, a summary of procedures and unwritten rules that custom and tradition dictate all players should follow. It’s like an honor code, if you will.
One such unwritten rule deals with removal of stray balls on the court. Rule #42 of The Code states that:
Each player is responsible for removing stray balls and other objects from the player’s end of the court. Whenever a ball is not in play, a player must honor an opponent’s request to remove a ball from the court or from an area outside the court that is reasonably close to the lines. A player shall not go behind an adjacent court to retrieve a ball or ask a player on an adjacent court to return a ball while a point is in play. When a player returns a ball from an adjacent court, the player shall wait until the point is over on the court where the ball is being returned and then return it directly to one of the players, preferably the server.
That seems pretty cut and dry, however recently, I experienced an interpretation of this rule that took me by surprise.
A couple of weeks ago, I was playing in a doubles league match (and winning) and the opponent who was serving
asked demanded that we pick up a ball that had rolled up against the back fence behind us (15+ feet away) because she could see it and it bothered her.
Considering that she had already served 3 times (and lost them all,) my partner and I were probably one serve away from winning that game; so, we asked if she could wait for the game to be over. Well, that prompted her to offer up rule #42 (or at least her very loose interpretation) that when a player requests that the ball be picked up from the other side of the net, the other player(s) had to comply. Period.
I tried to explain the rule, but was immediately shut down. Whatevs… My partner and I knew she was wrong, and that she was desperate for any break in our focus (because they were losing badly,) but I didn’t have my rule book with me to prove it; so we picked up the ball and proceeded to use our frustration to finish kicking their butts.
Now I have nothing against the rules… rules are good. But the ball was at least 15 feet away from the baseline, and I’m pretty sure that qualifies it as being NOT reasonably close. In my opinion, she was (intentionally…??) breaking rule #39 regarding stalling, specifically where it states “starting a discussion or argument in order to rest”, and “clearing a missed first service that doesn’t need to be cleared.”
Avoid those on-court conflicts by becoming familiar with all rules regarding match play – including those in The Code, and make sure to keep them in your tennis bag… just in case :) Have you had any experiences with opponents invoking their own version of the rules? Tell us about it in the comments below :-)
NOTE: While the The Code rules are based on customs and traditions and not ITF regulations, you should still abide by them. Doing so will ensure you have fair matches, which makes tennis more fun and a better game for all.