Watching college tennis matches on tv recently, the announcers were talking about how the professional game needs to adopt the no-let serve rule. For those unaware, there is no such thing as a let serve in collegiate tennis in the United States. I’ve always thought that it’s sort of bizarre to play under one set of rules in the USTA, then change to a different set of rules in college, then go right back to the original set of rules in professional tennis.
I’m not a huge fan of the collegiate no-let rule. I think winning points on let serves is sort of cheap. Now obviously there are different types of let serves. I’m okay with the serves that barely clip the tape as they pass over the net, but otherwise look and act like a normal serve. The serves I have a problem with are the ones that hit the tape and drop right over on the other side of the net.
How is it fair to win or lose points on that type of a serve? When you watch tennis and a player wins a rally point by hitting the tape and having it roll over the net, the player who won the point almost always (half-heartedly) apologizes to the player who lost the point. The reason? The winning player knows they won the point in a lucky and cheap fashion. So why should it be any different on the serve?
One explanation I’ve heard for the no-let rule in college is that it prevents cheating. In collegiate tennis, players are often responsible for making their own line calls, as their is not always an official watching the match. Now imagine I hit a blistering serve that my opponent couldn’t return. But instead of losing the point, my opponent called “Let!” and gets back in position for a redo. I have no recourse to argue, since it’s my opponent’s call. By eliminating the let serve altogether, my opponent can’t use this tactic against me. I can certainly understand this explanation.
However, I’ve also heard the explanation that it increases the pace of play. And to me, this is not a valid reason. How many let serves are there in a typical match? And how much extra time does that really consume? Not enough to be concerned about, I believe.
“But wait”, you may ask, “you just said that let serves aren’t fair, but now you’re saying there aren’t enough of them to be concerned about. So why do you care if there is a no-let rule?”
The main reason I dislike the no-let rule is that while there may be only a few let serves that drop over the net in an unreturnable fashion, those few serves might drastically change the outcome of an otherwise close match. Nobody wants to see a match won or lost because of a lucky serve. I recently watched Andy Murray playing against Grigor Dmitrov in the Australian Open. On match point Murray clipped the tape during a rally and the ball blooped over the net to win the match. It brought a very anti-climatic ending to an otherwise exciting match. Now imagine if that had been a serve. Under the current rules, it would have to be a do-over, preserving the drama of the match. But under the no-let rule it’s game over, everybody go home. Is that really the best thing for the sport and the fans who pay money to watch it?
Now imagine, theoretically, that players became so accurate at serving that they could clip the net on purpose and get the ball to drop over into the opponent’s service box in an unreturnable fashion. How exciting would that be to watch? Who in their right mind would pay money to watch an hour or two of that?
My opinion is, do the fairest thing and keep the let serve rule in professional tennis. I believe the spirit of the game calls for the returner to at least have an opportunity to return a serve. Lets not sully the sport by rewarding lucky shots!