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What to Do When Your Opponent Is Moving During Your Serve – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 190

By Kselz @TennisFixation

Rules, rules, rules! It's time for more talk about tennis rules! And, specifically, more talk about hindrances! In this episode, I'm answering another question from a Tennis Quick Tips listener on hindrances. And I think you're going to want to know the answer to this question because I'm going to tell you just what I think you should do when your opponent is moving during your serve.

You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player in this post or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in Apple Podcasts by clicking on this link:


Now, let's dig into hindrances. If you have listened to past episodes of Tennis Quick Tips, then you already know how much I love to talk about the rules and especially how much I love to talk about hindrances. But here's a situation that I haven't ever discussed yet I bet many of us have faced this on court.

So Tennis Quick Tips listener Lolly asked this question:

Hi, I have a hindrance question for a doubles match. If I am serving, is my opponent's partner allowed to stand in the center of the court right next to the net moving from side to side with her racket in the air (not tip toeing in one place)? I found it very distracting and deliberate. I knew that if I hit her the point was mine, but it was difficult to concentrate with her moving from side to side. Can I call [a] hindrance? It was a tennis league match with no umpire.

Lolly, thanks for sending in this really good question. Because I am sure this has happened to very, very many of us and if you haven't thought about this situation before you get on court, you may not know exactly how to handle it when it comes up for the first time in your match.

To figure this one out, I first want to point out that Lolly mentions in her question that she was playing a tennis league match and there was no umpire or official available to help her. So this was an unofficiated match and my answer here is going to apply to that situation.

You probably know that there are some differences between officiated and unofficiated matches. I recently did a whole podcast episode discussing that so be sure to listen to that one if you want to make sure you understand the differences. That was in Episode 185 and was called What's the Difference Between Officiated and Unofficiated Tennis Matches? I'll be sure and include a link to that in the show notes for this episode which you can find at


So, we're going to start right at the beginning by looking to the rules to figure out what a hindrance is. If you've listened to this podcast for a while, you know what a hindrance is. But let's go over it just to be sure.

Rule 26 of the rules of tennis defines a hindrance. It says: "[i]f a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point." So notice two things there. First, the opponent's action has to be deliberate. And second, and this is important for doubles, the act can be of either or both opponent.


Now, let's look at the rules on receiving. Because these really come into play in figuring this situation out. First, Rule 8 tells us "The receiver is the player who is ready to return the ball served by the server." Okay, that's simple enough.

But then, in the USTA's version of the rules, there is a Case 1. And in the USTA's version, the cases and comments are considered part of the rules. So here's what that Case 1 says:

Case 1: Is the receiver allowed to stand outside the lines of the court?

Decision: Yes. The receiver may take any position inside or outside the lines on the receiver's side of the net.

So if you're the server and look across the net and see the receiver inside the lines, or outside the lines, or right in the service box, that's okay. The receiver can take any position they want to. And this applies to the receiver's partner too. They can be up at the net, back at the baseline, standing on the T, or even in their partner's service box. Yes, the service box that you're trying to serve into!

You won't see that too often because, as Lolly points out, if you hit one of your opponents with your serve before the serve bounces in the service box, you automatically win the point. This is set out in Rule 24(i) which says that a player or team loses the point if "The ball in play touches the player or anything that the player is wearing or carrying, except the racket . . . ." So players are usually smart enough to stay out of the way of the serve.


But what about receivers who are moving around while you're serving? Is that okay? Well, the rules of tennis do not address this situation but, good news, the Code does! See why you need to know the Code?

Here's what the Code says in the section on Hindrance Issues. Paragraph 35 says:

Body movement. A player may feint with the body while a ball is in play. A player may change position at any time, including while the server is tossing a ball. Any other movement or any sound that is made solely to distract an opponent, including but not limited to, waving arms or stamping feet, is not allowed.


Okay, now that we know what the rules and the Code say, let's go back to Lolly's situation. Remember Lolly's opponent was standing on court, right next to the net, moving from side to side with her racquet up in the air. The way I'm picturing this is, if I saw this happening on court, yes, it would be very distracting. I've seen something similar to this in matches I've played and you probably have too. Receivers moving around while you're serving. Receiving partners swaying side to side, hopping up and down, moving back and forth, waving their racquets around into the service box area.

Were they doing those things to distract me or hinder me? Who knows? Probably. It just seems like some of this excessive movement really couldn't have any other explanation. Surely, waving your racquet around doesn't help you to receive better.

But the problem is, if these types of actions are being done to hinder me when I'm serving, what can I do about it? While the rule on hindrances says that the movement must be "deliberate," which it is, how can we prove that it was done as a hindrance, solely to distract us? The Code says a player can "feint" and "change position at any time." For a movement to be impermissible, it has to be done "solely to distract an opponent." How can you prove that?

In other words, if I say, "Hey, you're waving your arms around for no other reason than to be distracting and that's hindering me," my opponent can just say, "Oh, this is just what I do. I'm not trying to hinder you." How can I fight that? And now I've told them that their arm-waving is distracting me so of course, they're very likely to keep it up. This is a situation where I just think it's very hard to get your opponent to stop doing the distracting movement that is hindering you by telling them that it's hindering you.

So what can you do? Well, I do have some tips for you on dealing with this situation. And these tips will avoid the problem of calling a hindrance on your opponents.

1. Realize That This Is A Tactic

First, and I honestly think this is the most important tip I can give you, realize and accept that this is an actual tactic. People do this intentionally to distract you and hinder you. So you need to mentally accept that and, in my opinion, not just get comfortable with it, but be happy about it.

Because I think, when people rely on these kind of distraction tactics, it's because they're not 100% confident in their game. I don't do things like this because it does nothing to serve my game. I won't play better tennis if I wave my racquet around or run in to the service box right before I receive. And I don't think there are many players who play better tennis by doing this kind of thing either. So I say, try a little mindset shift and realize that this is exactly what you think it is - an opponent who is using these kind of tactics as a crutch for some problem or due to a drawback in their own game.

2. Don't Look At The Receiver

Next, just don't look at the receiver or the receiver's partner. I know this seems very obvious and I also know it is difficult to do. Because I usually look right at the receiver when I'm preparing to serve. I want to see where they're standing. Are they standing inside the baseline or way back? Are they trying to squeeze over and avoid hitting their backhand? Are they even ready to receive? There are a lot of clues you can pick up by looking at the receiver.

But think of this - if your opponent is moving around in some way solely because they want to distract you, looking at them to pick up these clues might not be all that productive.

So, I'm not saying don't look at the receiver or the receiver's partner at all. Give them a quick look, process what you're seeing and then look away. Look at something else as you're standing there preparing to serve - maybe the ball as you're bouncing it, maybe the baseline. Just give yourself a moment to look at something else and not think about the movements your opponent is making.

3. Think About Your Serve - Not Your Opponent

Be sure you're thinking about your serve and not the movement of your opponent. You should be doing this anyway, with each and every serve. You should be thinking about where you're going to target that serve, what kind of spin and speed you're going to put on it.

But those thoughts can easily be derailed if your opponent is moving around and distracting you. And that's exactly what they're hoping for. That's why they're doing it.

So, get yourself back into the habit of thinking about that serve right before you go into your service motion. Make a conscious effort to think about what best serves your game and try to avoid thinking about what your opponent would prefer you to think about, i.e., their distracting movements.

4. Catch Your Toss Over And Over - And Over

Okay, now let's get into some interesting tactics that you yourself might not normally do but can try out in this situation. So, if you think your opponent is moving around to distract you, try catching your toss a few times.

Remember, the rules of tennis allow you to perform your service toss as many times as you need to get it right. Rule 19 explicitly addresses this and says:

Case 1: After tossing a ball to serve, the server decides not to hit it and catches it instead. Is this a fault?

Decision: No. A player, who tosses the ball then decides not to hit it, is allowed to catch the ball with the hand or the racket, or to let the ball bounce.

So it is perfectly fine for you to toss any number of times. You are allowed to catch your toss several times, or even let it bounce, as you make sure you get just the right toss, before actually hitting your serve. And this alone, tossing several times more than usual, may throw your opponent off as they may now be unsure just what your timing is and which of these tosses you're actually going to hit.

5. Try Using A Quick Serve

Another tactic you can try that is completely legal is the quick serve. This means that, instead of taking your usual time to hit the serve, you step up to the baseline and quickly hit your serve.

Now, yes, you must be sure that the receiver is ready for your serve per Rule 21. But this rule also says that "the receiver shall play to the reasonable pace of the server and shall be ready to receive within a reasonable time of the server being ready." So if you see the receiver standing at the baseline looking in your general direction, I would say they're ready and you can go ahead and serve.

Of course, this means that you might not have time to go through your normal service routine. You might not take the time to look at your strings and bounce the ball three times and adjust your hair or hat or whatever you usually do. But that's the whole idea. That's the point. You are trying to take away the time and the opportunity for your opponent to engage in their distracting movements.

And be aware, with these last two tips, the repetitive toss and the quick serve, you don't have to keep those up throughout the entire match. Just doing them a few times might actually put an end to your opponent's distracting tactics. And if not, well, you have these tactics to keep your opponent off balance.

6. What About Hitting Your Opponent With Your Serve?

Now here's the final tactic that some people will advocate - hitting the receiver with your serve. And I think this probably is something that could be used in a doubles match, hitting the opponent who is at the net.

Here's my thought on this. Yes, according to Rule 24(i), if the serve hits or touches the opposing player before it bounces, you win the point. And if that net opponent is stepping into the service box, they are taking a chance on this happening. But I doubt I would be able to intentionally hit that player. First, I think my serve is not fast enough to do that. Second, I don't think that I want to try intentionally hitting another player with my serve.

But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try and get close to that player. And maybe that's all that's required. If the net opponent is standing on the T, I have no problem trying to get my serve right up the middle and leaving it to them to get out of the way.

So, if your serve is good enough to do that, hit the net opponent, and you feel OK with doing that, that's up to you if you want to give that a try. It's a tactic that's out there. Me personally, as I said, I don't think I could intentionally hit another player. But as I going to try to get my serve in really, uncomfortably close to them and let them decide if they need to move to avoid getting hit, yes, I have no problem trying that.

So those are my tips for dealing with the opponent who is moving during your serve. I hope that helps you Lolly and everyone else when you face this kind of player. I think just having a plan to deal with this, in advance, before you face this player, can really go a long way toward helping you neutralize this as an effective distraction.


Check out the resources mentioned in this episode:


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And if you're interested in really tuning up your tennis serve, be sure and grab my totally free cheat sheet, 10 Quick Fixes to Improve Your Serve: No Lessons Required. In it, I give my ten absolutely best tips for getting a better serve fast. Just go to:

to get instant access to that free resource. It's a one page cheat sheet that you can keep in your tennis bag and pull out any time you're on court. Even during your matches!

And if you have any questions about any of this stuff, you can always reach out to me by emailing [email protected]. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for listening and, as always, . . . Happy Tennis!

© Kim Selzman 2020 All Rights Reserved

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