You cannot play tennis without balls, but there are a number of crucial rules about these fuzzy yellow objects. If you don't know your way around them, they could cost you valuable points.
It was Sir David Attenborough who, when he was controller of BBC2, suggested tennis balls should be yellow. It made them so much easier to see on tv. A white ball against a white outfit at Wimbledon or on a white line was almost impossible to pick out. Now nearly all balls for adults are yellow, but it is how you use them, not what colour they are, that matters and there are a number of rules that may trip you up. Here is our guide to what you need to know based on the ITF’s Rules of Tennis and the USTA’s Code or the unwritten rules but accepted conventions.
If another balls rolls on to the court when the ball is in play, it’s a let. Replay the point.
If the same thing happens when the server is serving, the whole point is replayed even if the first serve was a fault. In other words, in this situation, the server gets two serves.
BALL ON COURT
If you hit a ball in play and it hits another ball lying on the correct court, it is considered a good return and play continues. But if it's not clear that the ball in play has been returned, it's a let.
If a ball gets broken or splits during play, the point is replayed. If the balls simply goes soft, the point stands.
CAUGHT OUT WITH THE BALL
If you catch the ball before it bounces and try to claim the point because the ball was definitely going out, you lose the point.
TWO STRIKES AT THE BALL
If you deliberately hit the ball twice, you lose the point. If, however, you hit it twice accidentally as part of a continuous swing, it's allowed
BOUNCING BACK BALLS
If a ball lands on the correct court, but is blown (or bounces) back over the net, the player may reach over the net to play the ball.
BALL MARKS ON CLAY
Clay is the only surface on which ball mark inspections can be made. But if you find yourself playing on clay at the Rafa Nadal Academy, or anywhere else, do not cross the net to check a disputed mark! It is not allowed! Instead, seek assistance from an official who may invite you round.
RUBBED OUT BALLS
If you erase a ball mark on clay before the chair umpire has made a decision on whether a disputed ball is in or out, you concede the call
DOUBLE TROUBLE BALLS
In doubles, players' rackets are allowed to clash, but only one racket may hit the ball. If both rackets do, you lose the point
Beware balls falling out of your pocket. If it’s deemed to be a deliberate act, your opponent can claim a hindrance and win the point. Andy Murray fell foul of this rule in 2012 at Wimbledon. When a ball fell out of his pocket a second, then a third time, the umpire decided this wardrobe malfunction was no longer 'outside of his control' and he lost 2 points. For his next match, he wore different shorts with deeper pockets.
If the receiver asks the server to stop discarding the second ball after serving and the server continues to do so, the receiver can claim the point under the deliberate hindrance rule.
If the server asks for three balls, the receiver should assist if a third ball is easily available.
Don't mop your brow with a ball! You are not allowed to materially change the ball in any way.
HAVING A BALL
Both players should take a decent set of balls to every LTL game. They do not have to be new but they should be good enough to play with. The rule of thumb for this is to drop them from forehead height. They should bounce to your waist. Alternatively, give them a squeeze. If you cannot compress them, they are ok!
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Don't forget Local Tennis Leagues has great deals on HEAD tennis balls all the time. See the shop here and look out for the special bundle offers when you join a round or claim your bonus prize!