When is a let not a let and why is it called a let anyway?
You think you know where you are with tennis but do you really... Take the humble "let". Simply something to shout when the ball hits the net during a serve?
It turns out it is not quite so straightforward.
To start with the word itself. While some argue that the use of the word comes from the French and is an abbreviation of "filet" meaning net, and others say it simply implies you are "letting" the incident pass without affecting the score. A clue to the real origin of the usage of "let" is in the legal phrase "without let or hindrance".
Yes, you've got it - "let" in Old English is another way of saying hindrance. In tennis "hindrance" has its own specific meaning of course, but in some circumstances the hindrance leads on to a "let".
So what is a let?
Interestingly, the ITF rules of tennis decline to define a let. Think of it instead as an instruction to an umpire - or you the players where there is no umpire - to call a stop to the point, assess the situation and take the appropriate rules-based action. When a let is called, the point so far is scrubbed out and the point restarted. The most usual time you will hear the "let" called is during the serve...
The Service Let
If the server's ball hits the net but otherwise falls correctly into the receiver's court a "let" is called. That's the signal to start the point again. But while this is the most common use of the "let" there is something unusual about it too. Generally in tennis when a let is called, the whole point is replayed which means going back to first serve. But in a service let, if the let is called on the second serve, you don't get to go back to a first serve.
As well as the ball hitting the net in a serve, a let can also be called if the server has served when the receiver was not ready, but interestingly, if the server's ball hits a ball which has been left on court (in the service area) no let is called - it is the receiver's job to clear his or her side of the court.
When else can a let be called?
Welcome back to our old friend the hindrance. Sometimes, something gets in the way of the tennis and depeding on what happened the result may be a "fault" (in which case the point is lost), or a "let" in which case the whole point is played again.
Simply put, the let is played if the hindrance was unintentional or due to something outside the players' control. So, when a ball from another court rolls on to court during play, a "let" is played and the point replayed from first serve. And if your ball hits a passing bird, a let is also played. But if you touch the ball during play with your hand or body, no let is played and the point lost.