Excerpts from an email regarding how to handle cheaters taking too long between serves, first or second during a tennis match. Make no mistake, the delay of tennis serve by your opponent is a cheap attempt to get in your head and play mind games. And it’s against the rules. The bottom line from the USTA rules:
Between points, a maximum of twenty (20) seconds is allowed.
More info on players delaying during a tennis game – you need to read and memorize the rules to prevent the cheating and gamesmanship. Knowing the rules of tennis is a good thing.
Commentary on cheating and gamesmanship:
ITF rules of tennis
29. CONTINUOUS PLAY
As a principle, play should be continuous, from the time the match starts (when the
first service of the match is put in play) until the match finishes.
14 a. Between points, a maximum of twenty (20) seconds is allowed. When the
players change ends at the end of a game, a maximum of ninety (90) seconds
are allowed. However, after the first game of each set and during a tie-break
game, play shall be continuous and the players shall change ends without a
At the end of each set there shall be a set break of a maximum of one hundred
and twenty (120) seconds.
The maximum time starts from the moment that one point finishes until the
first service is struck for the next point.
Event organisers may apply for ITF approval to extend the ninety (90)
seconds allowed when the players change ends at the end of a game and the
one hundred and twenty (120) seconds allowed at a set break
When your opponent is cheating during a match by excessive delays between serves, the next step is to remind your opponent politely
“You only get 20 seconds between points. Do we need to call a line judge?”
Commentary on a blog post about delays at the professional level tennis are below. This post points out that wandering around the tennis court to find the best ball, toweling off during a game, wandering to the back-court to seek the meaning of life, just pisses everyone off:
For this article I chose to specifically focus on one of these virtues: the continuous rhythm of the game. The players were not only watchful not to interrupt this rhythm, they were actually contributing to it by not returning serves that were obviously out, by helping the ball boys do their job (!!!) etc. Actually they tended to make the intervals between points so short that they would give a headache to the contemporary TV director, who would struggle to find enough seconds for a slow motion of a highlight.
According to the ITF rules of tennis, during a game, the server has no more than 20 seconds to start the next point (25 seconds for any ATP event, still 20 seconds for Grand Slams that prefer to have their own rules). USTA goes even further by saying that typical sportsman – like play is supposed to be 12-15 seconds for a first serve. Nevertheless, excessive ball bouncing, choosing the newest ball between 4-5 balls the ball boy gave to the player, asking for the towel, arranging socks and other even stranger habits of some players, regularly lead to intervals that last 35-40 seconds or even a minute!!!
Again, the solution is to print and study the rules. Have a copy printed and highlighted in yellow in your bag. Have a spare copy you can hand your opponent in case they need to be educated on how the game is played.
Regarding notes, the USTA says it is OK to read notes and study during changeover. If you don’t want to challenge a dweeb taking 2 minutes between serves, you can have notes in your right hand pocket laminated with study notes and a game plan. From this post:
Q. Is it legal to look at written notes or reminders to yourself during changeovers; such as “Remember to keep your chin up during the serve” or “Slice approach to his backhand works best”.
A. Yes, this is permissible. In fact, it is a good idea. It is not uncommon for your thoughts to become chaotic during the stresses of match play, and having some reminder notes can only help.
Bottom line – learn the rules and use them to your advantage to win more matches ethically. If a kid’s coach has taught him to cheat and you hand him a print out that tells him he is a cheater, it would really mess with their head and ruin their crappy game plan. Who knows, maybe we can just play tennis!?
The last thing I would say is ask the tournament organizers if USTA rules are in force or if they allow extended delay. If you ask them this specifically you can back up the print out.