21 February 2020

Caught up in the rules: If you touch the net prepare to accept the consequences!

Like all sports, tennis has its own long list of rules. But can you break them, or at least bend them, sometimes. If, for example, you accidentally crash into the net, and your opponent does not want to claim the point, what is the best thing to do?

There are 93 mentions of the ‘net’ in the ITF’s Rules of Tennis for 2020. Many of them are about its height and the type of sticks that keep it up. But the net has its boundaries and, as with people, you infringe boundaries at your peril! Rule 24.g is all about keeping your distance and respecting the net while the ball is in play. It says the player loses the point if:

The player or the racket, whether in the player’s hand or not, or anything which the player is wearing or carrying touches the net, net posts/singles sticks, cord or metal cable, strap or band, or the opponent’s court at any time while the ball is in play


This sounds simple enough especially if you're a baseline player who hates approaching the net. But mid-match, things can be very different.  What happens for instance if you rush to a short ball, hit a winner, but you’re going so fast, your momentum means you continue a few steps and collide with the net.

When this happened to one of us recently, we put up our hands and said: '"Your point." “Nonsense,” said the opponent. “That wasn’t your fault. I am not going to take a point off you for that.”

What to do?  Graciously accept or stick to the rules?

In non-umpired matches, we understand there can be a bit of give and take. Local Tennis League is about friendly, competitive tennis; it is not a Grand Slam. While the rules should be observed, two players may sometimes agree that if there is a minor or accidental infringement, no one needs to pull out the rule book and get too officious. Being generous can establish a friendly tone in a match and make the encounter much more enjoyable.

But there are a few things of things to bear in mind.

  • Unless a fault or a let is called, the ball is 'in play' from the moment the server hits the ball, until the point is decided. So even if you think the ball is going out, strictly speaking you cannot touch the net until the point is finished
  • If someone is generous to you, he or she will probably expect you to be generous to them in return.
  • If your opponent commits a minor fault, say a ball falls out of their pocket during a rally but it hasn't affected play, they will probably not expect you to pick them up on it. The feeling that there should be reciprocity runs deep in all of us.  

That said,  don’t expect it. If you are the one being magnanimous, be so for its own sake and without the hope of getting the same treatment in return. When it comes to minor rules, your opponent may even be unaware they are breaking the rules, and calling him or her out on something small, might cause problems!  And whatever you do, don’t be generous, than retract it later if you think they are being mean to you.

So, the rule of thumb is: know your hot buttons a tennis court. If you know you'll get riled if you are generous and your opponent is not, stick to the letter of the law and if they get something wrong, simply say, sorry, those are the rules. But if it doesn't bother you and you are the type of person who wants to be generous (even if the other player is not), be our guest!  

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