Amateur tennis - calling foot-faults.

(This question has a GQ element, and an IMHO element, and possibly Cafe Society… MODS please move as appropriate!)


Club tennis is predominately self-policing… the players are responsible for calling the ball out, or identifying any other infringments during play.

Usually this works pretty well, but there’s one area that no-one I’ve spoken to seems to be clear on.

The rules around foot-faults are dead easy - if you touch the baseline with any part of either foot during the service action, it’s a fault.

Simple, huh?

Except that if I were to make such a call in a local league match all hell would break loose.

The Problem

We have a bunch of players who routinely take a step onto or over the baseline during serve. It’s arguable that this confers little to no advantage, given the level we’re playing at, yet no similar leeway is given to line calls etc.

Our club chairman is notorious for doing this, and there are several other players who clear the baseline on every serve.

The general feeling seems to be that it’s “poor form” to call foot-faults - our chairman gets extremely irate if anyone tries it on him - but one chap told me LTA rules actually *prohibit * calling an opponent’s foot-faults during a match.

Two questions:

  1. Am I entitled under LTA (or US equivalent) rules to call my opponent on a foot-fault when no umpire is present?

  2. What’s the etiquette where you play for calling foot-faults? Do you ever make those calls, or is it one of those things everyone just puts up with?

My own view

This has bugged me for a while. The law is crystal clear - touch the line, and it’s a foot-fault.

Every other infringment can be called as a fault - so why not this one?

There was one reason I could think of why it might not be workable in a club game… for line calls etc, there’s usually at least one player on each side of the net who can observe the infraction.

During serve, the server (and his/her partner in doubles) cannot watch the server’s foot during play, making it impossible to verify whether the fault has taken place or not.

However, if I hit a cracking passing shot my opponent can’t see the ball land, and has to rely on my honesty. Foot-faults should be no different?

I have a club match tomorrow, and I’m half-tempted to try a few foot-fault calls to see what the reaction is. :slight_smile:

Of course, it relies on me ensuring my own serve is whiter-than-white, but that’s no bad thing!

So… any thoughts, before I end up wearing my raquet tomorrow evening! :dubious:

First off, if you play this chap who claims league rules prohibit him calling a foot fault, ensure you clarify it before your match. Then, when you can afford to fault, walk right up to the net, serve and then argue that he can’t call the foot fault.

For a minor foot fault violation, I’d also consider it poor form to call it if it is generally not called in your setting. To my mind, rules like this exist to prevent gross advantage being taken, like running up or serving from very close in. It differs from a line call which defines the entire point of game play, hitting the ball inside the lines. The goal of the service rules is to confine the server to an area, so that game play is setup properly. If your opponent has his toe over the line, game play is not affected, so there’s no reason to nitpick, the intent of the rule is maintained. If the guy’s whole foot is going over, I’d mention it once before calling it, but then I’d call him on it.

When you get to highly competitive arenas, fairness dictates that rules should be rigidly adhered to on all sides, and you will have an impartial umpire to judge. The fact that the server cannot see the fault himself is another issue, it’s more palatable to hear it from an umpire rather than the opponent who just called the fault to win the game.

Try a more informal approach. Instead of calling a foot fault, after a point, say something like “You might want to watch those foot faults – if we were playing in a serious competition, you’d be in trouble.” (Besides, coaching the other person can be even more annoyingly satisfying than calling a fault on them :slight_smile: )

I would never attempt to call a foot fault on an opponent in an informal match. Line calls are something else–either you can see the ball when it hits outside the line, or sometimes there’s a mark.

But note that some people when serving whack the ball while they’re in the air, then land inside the back line.

For the official way to handle unofficiated matches, get a copy of The Code. What this says about foot faults is:

Having said that, it’s not worth raising in social tennis - you’ll only annoy people and be thought of as a jerk. I do not know why people get upset if this one particular rule is enforced, but they do. Even pros get pissed if they are called on foot-faults. So unless you want to find the number of players willing to play with you dwindling to nothing, I’d let it go.

If you think that a “club match” is sufficiently formal, then by all means give it a try - but follow the approach given in The Code - you can only give a warning at first. “Do you realize that you are foot-faulting regularly?” may be one way.

I play local league tennis and many people foot-fault, but it is rarely called. It just isn’t worth it.

I agree with the let it slide approach. While I’m can be pretty competitive, a foot-fault is an “iffy” thing to call unless it is extremely obvious and a continual problem. I don’t think I’ve ever played a match where calling or not calling the foot-faults would have changed the outcome (Mr. Brown, my 65 year old neighbor, regularly cleans my clock and I’m an above average player. Maybe I should ask if I can start committing foot faults - it certainly couldn’t hurt).

If you’re playing singles, the argument could be made that you as the returner are not in the best position (some 120 feet away) to reliably call a foot fault on the server.

Doubles is another story.
If your partner is returning and you’re at the service line, I’d say you’re in a decent position to see if the server is committing a foot fault.

If you are so inclined, you could point out: “You realize you’re foot faulting on your serves. Are we in agreement to call them or to let them slide?” This puts all players on notice and lets you and them know that the rule violations will be duly enforced.

As for me, I’d personally never bother. Unless my opponent is taking a running start or playing serve and volley (which does come up more in doubles) I wouldn’t even be looking for it.

I’m not a tennis player, but I’d say the best way to bring attention to it, and maybe change attitudes, is to call it on yourself once in a while. Step over while serving and as they’re returning say “Whoops - I foot-faulted there.” See if anyone really cares. If they don’t - hey it’s just a game. But if they feel like you’re willing to call t on yourself, they may be willing to adjust their play.

Passive-Agressive isn’t always bad.


Go full passive-aggressive. Just serve while standing completely in front of the line. If called on it, raise hell about the nerve of these people to worry about something as piddly as foot faults.

That’s not passive-aggressive, it’s regular aggressive- and very poor sportsmanship. It’s poor form to abuse the rules as the chairman and others are doing, but that doesn’t make it okay to do the same.

Bits and pieces of what I understand to be best practices are already in this thread. Most of the time, you are not going to want to bother in a friendly match. If it is important to you, the most you will want to do is warn your opponent during a side change that you thought you saw a foot fault and that (s)he should watch out for it.

If you feel you have too much vested in the game to let it slide this easily, you will have to find and agree on an impartial judge to call foot faults for both of you. I’ve never done this, but I can assure you that you are no longer playing a friendly match. I’d argue that it is better form to find some excuse not to play that individual next time.

Thanks for the thoughts - confirms my experience that foot-faults are rarely (if ever) called in social tennis.

Most of the time it does indeed make little or no difference, but we have a couple of players whose serve does seem to get most of its impact from the extra 6-9 inches afforded by a step through the baseline.

I’d never call it in a monday-night social hit, unless one of my opponents started getting cheeky about something else, but I’m suprised that in league matches it’s not viewed more strongly.

I just find it strange that in a sport where etiquette and rules are so strongly enforced - not least minor dress-code and on-court rules - such an easy and clear infraction is overwhelmingly passed over.

I like the idea of serving inside the baseline to make a point, although I would start at the service line - pushing it into hyperbole is perhaps less confrontational that just sneaking a yard over the baseline :slight_smile: