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WTA Tennis




Cummings and Goings - The Code (Part 5)

December 11, 2013 03:33 PM

Continuing  on with this series on The Code - the way tennis should be
played when there are no officials to enforce the rules -  we come to the
section on Hindrance (Codes 33 - 38). The Glossary in a Friend At Court says
hindrance applies to making a shot but it is really broader than that.
Merriam says hindrance is interference with an activity or progress thereof.
Hindrance really applies to playing a point.

There are 2 kinds of hindrance: unintentional and deliberate. To claim
either, play must stop as soon as possible per Code 33, otherwise hindrance
cannot be claimed and the point must be continued to completion.

Unintentional hindrance is an act over which a player has no control that
could disrupt a point. It results in a let being played if called by the
player's opponent, but per Code 36, only if the player claiming hindrance
could have made the shot. It includes a hat falling off,  a ball falling
from a pocket, a yelp of surprise when opponents both swing at a ball and
one gets hit in the head etc. Per Code 36, you cannot call hindrance on
something you yourself caused such as the above hat and ball examples. But
something outside your control can be a hindrance such as a player from
another court invading yours and interfering with a shot you are trying to

 Intentional hindrance is a deliberate act that a player meant to do even
though the intent may not have been to disrupt a point. If called by the
player's opponent, it results in loss of point and includes communications
between partners while the ball is headed toward the opponents (Code 34) and
body movement made solely to distract (Code 35). Feinting a tennis move is
not a hindrance but moves such as jumping up and down, waving a racket, or
you name it is a hindrance.

And now, I interrupt this column (deliberate hindrance) for a tip of the old
hat to Roy Van Brunt who recommended that intentional and unintentional
hindrance be better defined in a draft I sent him for comment. Roy is a
long-time friend and colleague and my go-to guy whenever I feel the need for
a fresh look at a matter. As a former Chair of USTA Officials and Chair of
the Rules committee, they do not come better qualified. Roy came through
with flying colors because his suggestion definitely added clarity to what I
found to be a tough subject to get a handle on. Roy hays HI! to all his
friends in Mid-Atlantic and he and Ginny send their Best Wishes To All For A
Merry Christmas.

Continuing on, Code 34 says singles players should not talk during points.
Well ........... OK. Where doubles players are concerned, the word talking
used to refer to communications between partners is a misnomer. I have never
heard partners talk during a point. What I have heard and use almost every
time I play are calls such as "out" - "yours" - "mine" - "go" and "switch."
During a point, there is only time for a quick call that is loud, short and
to the point. Code 34 says "talking" between partners is allowed as long as
the ball is coming toward them and it does not interfere with an opponent's
ability to play the ball. After your team has struck a return, mums the
word. Any verbal communication then could be a hindrance and the opponents
could stop play and claim the point.

An advisory call of "out" can be a problem if made just as the ball is
hitting the court. Actually, a call made that late is of no help to a
partner and an opponent would have a good case to claim the point on a
hindrance. But in all my years of doubles, I have never been confused by an
advisory out call. An opponent would have to be really unaware of what was
going on to confuse an advisory out call with the real thing, especially
when the ball is still well in the air.

Grunting (Code 37) joins talking as another misnomer in The Code and it's
about time we come up with a better term for the high decibel sounds being
made by some players as they hit the ball. Grunting doesn't even come close
to describing what has gone on. But here is the good news, as far as the
tennis you and I play, and this is what this series is all about. Grunting
to the extent it is a hindrance is a rarity. And if it does happen; it's
almost always ignored. Consider that in 45 years as an official and nearing
70 as a player I have never had to deal with it. As far as our play is
concerned, it's much ado about nothing.

But what can you do if you run into it? Well, with no official available -
and that's what this series is all about -  nothing. Per Code 37, only an
official may rule that offending mouth noises are a hindrance. OK, maybe
there is something you can do about it, but it's not in the book.

The last Code in the Hindrance section (#38) addresses injuries caused by an
opponent.  If the injury is accidental and the injured player cannot
continue play within a reasonable time, he has to retire and the player who
caused the injury wins the match. The best example I can think of is a
player whose racket slips out of his hand when hitting an overhead and the
racket hits his opponent. If the opponent is injured and cannot continue
play within a reasonable time, he has to retire and the player who caused
the injury wins the match.

If a player deliberately commits an act that injures his opponent and
affects his ability to play, the injured player wins the match by default.
Two examples of a deliberate act are a racket thrown at an opponent and a
ball hit in anger or frustration after a point is over.

That's enough for this issue of Match Point. Trying to give you a better
picture of The Code has taken more than I thought it would, but I don't want
to leave you short. The next column should see the series to completion.

See you then. Wait! One more thing. Merry Christmas!  And Happy New Year to


By Jim Cummings

Jim Cummings Bio:
   Born in Marinette, WI
   Boyhood friend of the Cook family
   Played varsity tennis for UW-Madison in the 50s
   Officiated at over 25 US Opens as a chair and line umpire
   Served on USTA's Rules Committee when Jack Stahr and Nick Powel were Chairs
   Active senior player and Referee
   Presently helps edit the Friend At Court