Rule Change Refresher

Ray Cornell

Not too long ago (okay, maybe it’s been a few years), there were some rule changes made that may still prompt questions before or during sanctioned match play. Although they’ve been in place a while, a refresher is good, especially for some who might have had trouble adjusting to, or recalling, them.

For example, there are some who still want to call “avoidable” hinders – even though that term was replaced with “penalty” hinder many years ago. So let’s review the nuances and considerations for each of the more recent rule changes listed below, by following along in the online rulebook and taking a look at each one in turn. Do you know …

  • There is no carry unless it was on purpose
  • Length of the safety cord is limited
  • Audio devices are not allowed during play
  • Doubles partners may serve in any order
  • Court hinders must be designated prior to the start of the match

There is no carry unless it was on purpose | This rule is covered in two places: serve and rallies. Rule 3.10 lists various out serves, with 3.10(e) defining an illegal hit, which “includes contacting the ball twice, intentionally carrying the ball, or hitting the ball with the handle of the racquet or part of the body or uniform.” Rule 3.11(c)(10) defines “Failure to make a legal return” as “Intentionally carrying or slinging the ball with the racquet.” In each rule, the key word is “intentionally.” If you do it on purpose, then you lose the rally or the opportunity to serve. (Previously, any carry lost you the rally or the serve.) However, an accidental carry is not penalized. This rule is also true in IRT play (see rule 11.9). It can be difficult for an observer to distinguish between the two, but if there’s an intentional carry (say when trying to “dink” the ball at the front wall), it should be called. Otherwise, play on!

Length of the safety cord | This is covered in detail in rule 2.4(d) Racquet Specifications. The rule is that “The wrist cord can be no longer than 18 inches as measured from one end of the cord to the other. When stretched to its maximum, the cord cannot be longer than 24 inches.” I’m not sure, but I think the 24 inch maximum was the change. Measure for the 18 inch length without any stretching of the cord. And, always attach the safety cord to your wrist during warmup as well as during games. It’s a safety thing along with wearing goggles during warmups (see rule 2.5(d) – Equipment Requirements During Warm-up).

Audio devices not allowed during play | Under Rule 2.5 Apparel, paragraph (c) states that “Players may not wear audio devices during play unless they are needed to amplify one’s hearing.” There is no mention about during warmup time, so you can use your music or other motivational audio while warming up (use ear buds or headphones, please); but, there are no other allowances made for audio devices being used during a game.

Doubles partners may serve in any order | Rule 4.2(a) states that after the very first server of a game is out, “either partner can serve first each time the team steps in to serve.” Note that it also says that “The referee must make sure that neither partner serves again after that partner had previously lost a rally while serving.” So, when you’re a referee, be sure to pay attention to who’s serving each time on a doubles team, and call the out when it’s not correct. When self-officiating, all players should keep up with serve order of both teams and own up to mistakes when they occur. For additional credit, check out rule 4.4(a). Serving again after losing a rally results in an immediate out for that team.

Court hinders must be designated prior to the start of the match | Rule 3.14(a)(1) defines a court hinder. It states that play will stop immediately when “the ball hits any part of the court that was designated prior to the match as a court hinder (such as a vent grate)” (emphasis added). It’s not a court hinder if not declared prior to the match starting. However, play should also stop when the ball takes an irregular bounce as a result of contacting an irregular surface (e.g., light frame, uneven door) or a wet spot, and when the irregular bounce affected the rally (in the referee’s opinion). The distinction here is that a pre-match designated court hinder can be called, regardless of whether the ball has taken an irregular bounce. And in general, an irregular bounce that affects the rally should result in a replay hinder, regardless of designated court hinders.

Rule changes don’t happen very often (there is a formal process defined in rule E.1 and includes input by the general membership); so when they do occur, be sure to incorporate them into your play as often as you can. That way, they become second nature over time, everyone’s “on the same page,” and you won’t have excessive arguments among players and/or referees.

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