Rules Rule! December 2023
by Dan Horner, National Rules Commissioner
Before we take a look at a few questions and answers in this issue, I want to take the time and wish you all a Merry Christmas! I hope that all of you had a chance last month to take time to appreciate the people and other blessings in your life that you are thankful for. Also, I’m eagerly looking forward to a 2024 with a full slate of National Championships. I will be at most of them and am always approachable for you to ask questions and try to stump the rules commissioner.
Q1. I know that if a player hits an opponent while returning a ball to the front wall, the entire play is redone (unless the opposing player did not give sufficient room, etc).
Here's my question: What if a player only tips the ball while trying to hit it back to the front wall and, on the fly, the ball hits the opponent who is standing behind that player. Is the play redone or is the player who tipped the ball out? The ball unintentionally tipped off the end of the racquet and continued backwards and hit the opposing player. He was not trying to hit it off the back wall. If the opposing player wasn't there, the ball would obviously be out as it continued backwards and eventually hit the floor. But since the ball hit the opposing player on the fly after it hit my racquet which is the same as if the ball was going forward and hits the opposing player on the fly, I did not know what the resulting ruling would be.
A1. I guess the opponent should consider themself lucky. The call would be a loss of rally on the player that ‘tipped’ the ball. Rule 3.14(a)(2) says: "Ball Hits Opponent. Generally, when an opponent is hit by a return shot in flight, it is a replay hinder. But if the opponent is struck by a ball, that obviously did not have the speed or direction to reach the front wall, then it is not a hinder of any kind and the player who hit the ball loses the rally...."
Q2. I got into a debate during a recreational doubles game this morning about whether the serving team is required to call the score (or “second serve”) before serving. The official USAR rules clearly state that the referee must call the score (or “second serve”) before the serving team may serve. However, it is not clear how this is handled when there is no referee. We have always played that, when there is no referee, the serving team must call the score (or “second serve”). Is this actually the rule?
A2. You are correct. The receiving team doesn't need to 'be ready' to return the serve until they hear the score or second serve call.
Rule D.1 in the Self-Officiating section reads: "Since there is no referee, it is critical that the server announce and for both players/teams to agree on both the server's and receiver's score BEFORE each serve. The server should do this before serving to ensure there is a mutual understanding of how the previous rally ended, such as with a loss of rally, replay hinder, or penalty hinder."
Q3. Hi. I was ready reading the screen serve rule and it is very vague. Is there an amendment or clarification? It mentions no distance, it just reads close. I think it should be clarified to avoid arguing about it.
A3. Rule 3.9(i) states that "Screen Serve. A served ball that first hits the front wall and on the rebound passes so closely to the server, or server's partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a clear view of the ball. The receiver is obligated to take up good court position, near center court, to obtain that view. (A referee noting a ball that passes “close” should NOT call it a screen until he is also sure that the opponent’s attempt to return the ball was impaired by that “closeness”.) Generally, the call should work to the advantage of the offensive player.”
I understand that this is very subjective. The problem with saying 6, 12, or 18 inches is there is no way to measure the distance other than eyeballing it. Instead, the referee needs to make sure that all 3 things occurred before calling a screen serve:
The ball passed closely to the server or their partner.
The receiver was in proper receiving position
The receiver was negatively impacted by the potential screen.
If any of these 3 is not met, then it is not a screen serve.
Q4. Tonight on the court two players got into a discussion about one of their shirts. They were playing with a Penn blue ball and player 1 said that player 2’s shirt was almost the same color of the ball and asked him to change his shirt. He refused and the argument continued. They asked me and I said that I remember back in the day that if a player’s shirt was too close in color to the official ball being used in the tournament, he could ask the referee or tournament director to ask player 2 to change it. I didn't think player 1 could ask player 2 to change it. I also said that I didn't think it was a specific rule. I just read rule 2.5(b) and it does not say that exactly, but it does say they referee, or tournament director can ask a player to change any clothing that is deemed to be a distraction. Does this apply to the events of tonight? Now this was not a tournament and there was no referee, so I think they should have just changed the ball. But that didn't happen, and play continued under duress.
A4. The rulebook doesn't come straight out and say that the color of a player's shirt can cause issues with visibility of the ball, but common sense would say that it can. The only mention of the word "color" in the rulebook is in rule 2.5(b) where it says that clothing can be of any color. If I were the player wearing a shirt the exact color of the ball, I would gladly volunteer to change my shirt, but the opponent doesn't have a leg to stand on to ‘demand that’, nor does a referee right off the bat (unless it is distracting). Now the player wearing that shirt shouldn't be unhappy if there are additional screen calls on his/her shots near their body, because this can play a factor.