Let’s Talk Lets

Any engineers out there? I need a new product developed asap.

One of the biggest annoyances of playing outside is the frequency of balls rolling onto neighboring courts. A few private clubs provide net dividers between outdoor courts, but they’re rare. And they’re non-existent at public courts, the usual haunt of schlubs like me.

What I need is a portable netting system, compact enough to toss into my tennis bag. I envision it working like those old prank snakes, coiled in a soup can-sized box. Remember those? The unsuspecting victim unsnaps the lid and the snake springs out, life-sized.

Net dividers between courts are large, but let’s face it. They’re mostly holes, right? There’s not a lot of actual material to them. So we just need to compress it all down into a small box, add some springs and whatnot, and presto! Instant tennis curtain.

(True, stuffing it back into the box after the match could present a challenge. Maybe the loser has to do that.)

If someone could get to work on this product, I’d appreciate it. In the meantime, we’re left to deal with annoying ball interruptions every few minutes. So let’s talk about lets.

My match last week featured three different stray ball scenarios. I tend to think I’m right all the time–it’s not one of my better qualities. But as it turns out, I was wrong in Scenario 2! And maybe even in Scenario 3! It was a tough week for my ego.

Scenario 1: During play, a ball from an adjacent court rolls onto your opponent’s side of court.

Our opponents addressed this topic right after our introductory handshake. In their previous match, their opponents had insisted that they alone had the right to call a let for a ball on their side of the court.

(Got that? I’m Team A, playing Team B. The previous week, Team B played Team C. Team C told Team B that only Team C can call a let over a ball on Team C’s side of the court.)

Well, that’s just silly. I may not trip over a ball on the other side of the net, but I’m surely going to be distracted by it. In fact, I may be more affected by it than my opponent is.

The USTA Code proves me right (Yes!): “When a ball from another court enters the playing area, any player on the court affected may call a let as soon as the player becomes aware of the ball.”

Scenario 2: A ball from your own court rolls onto a neighboring court during a point.

After my court agreed on Scenario 1, I asked what we should do if one of our balls rolls onto a neighboring court. We all agreed that we’d want players on neighboring courts to call a let for us if one of their balls came onto our court.

However, a quick survey revealed that none of the players from the other courts wanted a reciprocal arrangement. They wanted us to say nothing–even if a ball was only a couple of yards behind someone’s feet.

I have to say, I don’t get that at all. It’s recreational league tennis, with no oversized check at stake. Why would anyone want to risk serious injury? I’d be furious if I twisted my ankle on a ball while players on the other court just stood there watching. I may not know the ball is there, and even if my opponents do, they may not call the let if they have the advantage in the point.

However, as far as I can tell, these other players are correct. Once you start watching the match on the next court, you become a spectator, and spectators have no place interfering in a match.

That’s the official answer. But again…recreational tennis. Half of the people on the courts are my teammates and friends. The other half are people I would be happy to be friends with. (Okay, there are a few exceptions.) How can I just stand there and watch an accident about to happen?

So of course I googled this. Apparently the best way to handle this situation is to call out “Ball on the court” or “Ball at your feet.” This heads-up alerts the players without ending the point for them.

Doesn’t that seem like something I should have learned a long time ago?

Scenario 3: A ball rolls onto your opponent’s side of the court just when you’re putting away a sitter.

Oh, this one really irked me.

During our match, one of our opponents hit a tremendous topspin groundstroke that bounced high. Although my partner could get her racquet on it, it was impossible to return effectively. At the same time that her racquet contacted the ball, a ball from the next court bounced onto ours.

Could we have called a let? Sure, but that would just be poor sportsmanship. The stray ball had no effect on the outcome. Our opponents were winning that point regardless. We said nothing and conceded the point.

Later in the match, I was at the net, sharply angling a ball off the court. The opponents were both at the baseline, in no position to return my volley. A stray ball came onto the court by the baseline, and they called a let.


They were very nice ladies, but in my mind that’s a misuse of the let call. (They were also losing, so perhaps they were less inclined to be generous.)

I’m not aware of a rule that directly addresses this scenario, and I’m sure some of you disagree with me on this one, just like you disagreed with me in an earlier post about overruling a partner’s line call. (You were persuasive, too. I’ve since become much more circumspect in my overrules.)

So, let me have it in the comments section.

Go ahead. I can take it.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Lets

Add yours

  1. I wish I could disagree with you but unfortunately you are right (and who wants to feed an already over-sized ego?). I have run into scenario 2 many times, and no matter what the “law” says, the mature middle-aged never-to-hit-the big-leagues woman in me, always calls it out. If someone gets injured, I don’t want it on my watch. So this may be a case of “rules be damned.” Good post that combines humor and substance. Glad you’re back

    1. Rules be damned! You are a rebel!

      I do question whether it’s any less disruptive to a match to call “Ball at your feet” rather than “let.”

      Clearly the only real solution is a portable net divider. I hope someone is working on that.

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