By Ray Cornell
This article is about the “crotch shot,” which refers to hitting the ball into one of the many points on the court where two separate playing surfaces meet (aka “crotch”). My thanks to Mike Kennedy of Colorado Springs who prompted this discussion, after he had exchanged emails with Otto Dietrich, USAR National Rules Commissioner on the topic. That email dealt only with the floor and wall juncture, but we’ll apply Otto’s points to other affected areas. The places where a crotch shot can occur are:
- Floor and a wall
- Ceiling and a wall
- A wall and another wall
Quoting Otto’s email, his starting concept is: “Whenever the ball (on the fly) approaches the right-angle juncture of the floor and any vertical wall, that ball does one of three things, it (1) hits the floor before it hits the wall, (2) hits the vertical wall before it hits the floor, or else (3) hits both surfaces at the same time or else so close to the same time that it cannot be reasonably determined which surface it hit first.” Note: item (3) is the “crotch shot” in question.
Otto further explains: “To be ‘good’, any shot to the front wall (either on a serve or else on a shot during a rally) must hit the front wall before it touches the floor. See Rules 3.13(c)2 and 3.10(f). Thus, the ruling on the first two “things” listed above, should be obvious — for (1) is NOT good because it’s either a non-front wall serve or a skip ball, respectively, resulting in the immediate loss of that rally for whoever hit it and for (2) that is, by definition, a GOOD shot — it hit the front wall before the floor. But, the ruling for the third “thing” I listed above is not that obvious. It has to be one or the other, so the sport decided many years ago that it should have the same outcome as the ball having hit the floor first! So, at the front wall, the crotch is either a non-front wall serve or a skip ball.”
A tip from Otto for determining where the ball hit first: “When the ball hits that floor/vertical wall crotch, it will tend to “pop up” (as opposed to roll out from the wall with top spin) due to the physics of the shot itself which I do not have time to explain in detail. This is one tool that players/referees use to decide if the ball hit the crotch or not.” Note: So – on this basis – if the ball “pops up” from the floor/wall crotch, it’s considered to have hit the floor first.
So, let’s apply these explainers, and expand further.
On the Serve: Refer to Rule 3.10(g) for the full text of the Crotch Serve. Hitting a serve into the crotch of the front wall and floor, front wall and side wall, or front wall and ceiling is an out serve because it did not hit the front wall first (see Rule 3.3 – Manner of serve). Conversely, if a served ball passes the short line on the fly and hits the crotch formed by the floor and back wall, then it’s considered a good serve (i.e., the ball hit the floor first and did not go long). And, a serve that hits the crotch formed by the floor and a side wall beyond the short line is also a good serve. Note that on a Z serve a good ball typically will “pop up” at the crotch between the floor and side wall. If the ball angles to the center or continues to the back of the court at that point, it’s a 3-wall fault serve.
Regarding a crotch serve at the front wall and a side wall (typically when attempting a Z serve), it will tend to lose momentum, bisect the angle formed by the two walls, and land short. However, if the ball flies down the side wall from the corner, then it’s like a front wall “rollout” kill shot, owing to the physics that Otto referred to above, and so it hit the front wall first and is a good serve.
During rallies: When a “crotch shot” is hit during a rally, the following results assume that the ball has not yet touched the floor a second time, and the front wall has not yet been hit:
- A wall and the ceiling – keep playing until something else ends the rally
- A wall and another wall – keep playing until something else ends the rally
- Floor and any wall – skip ball, end of rally
In summary, there are many contexts for the crotch shot, so this article may not address all possible scenarios. But, consistently applying the above concepts and observing the associated rules should help to make the serve or rally result clear to all players.