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What Does Hindrance Mean in Tennis? (ITF Rule 26)

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Whether it was a let, a point was awarded, or your favorite player lost the point for apparently no reason, you probably were a witness of the so-called “Hindrance rule.” And you are wondering, how exactly does it work? Well, let’s find out.

What Does Hindrance Mean In Tennis? Hindrance means to stop, resist or obstruct an action. Hindrance in tennis refers to the obstruction of an action when the game is in play.

In this article, we’ll break it down for you.

How does hindrance take place in tennis?

Just as it is in many other sports, in tennis, there are specific rules when some kind of obstruction occurs while the game is being played. Be it basketball, football, cricket, or even ping pong have some form of regulation when it comes to hindrance. So, how does the word hindrance applies in tennis? These are some situations of hindrance in tennis:

  • If a deliberate act by the opponent causes a hindrance while the point is being played, the player is awarded the point.
  • If a player creates hindrance to the opponent or his partner, hindrance will be observed.
  • Or, for example, If a bird gets hit by a ball while the game is in play, this is considered a hindrance, and to point is replayed.

ITF Rule 26. The Hindrance Rule.

When a player is hindered while playing a point, caused by the deliberate act of the opponent or the opponent’s partner, the player shall be awarded the point.

Notwithstanding, the point shall be played again if a player is hindered while serving the point by an unintentional action of the opponent and/ or the partner or something outside the server’s control.

Two things to considered

There are usually two parts in the hindrance rule:

  • Is it considered a hindrance?
  • Is the hindrance considered to be intentional?

Let us look at an example from 2011 between Serena Williams and Australian player, Samantha Stosur. In this case, Serena Williams shouted “Come on!” before Samantha had the chance to hit the ball.

Was the hindrance an intentional act? The answer would be YES. This is because Serena Williams had full intention of shouting what she said and it was before the point was over. Therefore, both parts of this rule applied, and Samantha Stosur was awarded a point.

The umpire’s obligation was to call a hindrance. However, this was not the first time that this happened to Serena Williams. It had happened before with the same umpire.

The same situation happened, and Williams yelled “Come on” just before the point was over. This time, the umpire called it a let. Remember that this was the same umpire and she did the opposite.

So, why is that?

When a player hinders his or her opponent, it can be ruled as either voluntary or involuntary hindrance.

Here’s how you go about them:

  • Involuntary Hindrance
    When a player creates a hindrance for the first time, a let is called. Involuntary hindrance occurs, for example, if a ball falls out or a hat goes off. Yes, even a hat. After this happens, the player is warned that any other form of hindrance after this will be pronounced deliberate.
  • Deliberate Hindrance
    If a player deliberately causes a hindrance, this will automatically result in a loss of the point. However, the rules are different in terms of where the intention lies. Umpires can rule differently when it comes to intentional or unintentional hindrances.

The definition of the intentions varies, hence the different outcomes for the exact same scenario. Deliberate Hindrance refers to the act of doing something with the purpose of disrupting your opponent as they are hitting the ball.

When you yell, such as that of Serena Williams, while your opponent is hitting the ball, that would be considered a hindrance. However, if you grant while hitting your shot, that would not be considered a hindrance.

Not, unless your grant is too loud and long enough that continues while your opponent is hitting the ball. Therefore, a short grant while you hit the ball is fine. But a loud and prolong grant that interferes with your opponent’s action will be considered a hindrance.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Hindrance always has to come from the opponent. You cannot hinder yourself. Imagine asking for a replay because you’ve hindered yourself!
  • If the opponent could return the ball but was hindered by the player, the chair umpire could rule this out. And the point will have to be replay.
  • If the ball kid starts to run as if the point was finished, the umpire will most likely replay the point. Imagine someone running in front of you as you’re trying to hit the ball. This will automatically cause a distraction.
  • If a hindrance occurs after one loses a point, then the point is valid.
  • If a spectator shouts from the crowd during the middle of a point, distracting the players, the chair umpire will most likely announce for the spectators to remain silent. However, this does not necessarily mean that the hindrance rule will apply.
  • The umpire is the only person who reserves the right to decide if there is a hindrance and whether the point is going to be replay.

Instances of hindrances that have occurred in the past

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Robin Haase versus Gonzalo Lama

In the Prostejov Challenger, a deliberate hindrance was called. This led to Robin Haase losing the point. What did he do? His opponent Lama was making loud grunts every time he was hitting the ball. So, Robin went ahead and started mocking him by imitating his grunts. This was hilarious.

Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko

In this game, the chair umpire Marija Cicak called a hindrance, and Kirilenko lost the point. What happened? Kirilenko tapped the court with her racquet once after she had hit the ball. The umpire considered it an involuntary hindrance.

However, Kirilenko went ahead and tapped the court again with her racquet. Only this time, she did it three consecutive times. The umpire considered this a deliberate hindrance and Kirilenko lost the point.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova

In the 2015 Australia Open, Serena Williams lost a point for hindrance. She shouted “Come on” while hitting a winner, however, it was too soon. As a result, it hindered the return of Sharapova.

Barty vs. Sabalenka

Although on this occasion hindrance was not called, it’s relevant to mention this incident. In this game, Sabalenka, who had been notorious for her loud grunts, was the star of the show. After many grunts, the crowd began to become annoyed, which result in some drama.

The crowd started mimicking her as she hit the ball, which led to chair umpire to make announcements in order to calm the crowd. Which actually took some time. You have to remember that in such situation, in as much as the sounds are deliberate, a hindrance call is not made.

Samantha Stosur vs. Serena Williams

In the 2011 US Open, a hindrance call was made after Serena Williams shouted: “Come on”! This was considered a hindrance because Serena yelled before Samantha had the chance to hit the ball. The point was given to Stosur.

Related Questions

How do you prevent situations of Hindrances?

  • Quite frankly this is inevitable in certain circumstances. The Women’s Tennis Association has in a couple of occasions tried to ban players from excessive screaming and grunting to prevent situations of hindrances. However, it hasn’t made too much difference. Nevertheless, deliberate hindrances can, indeed, be avoided.

Should line umpires be fined for making hindrances?

  • As a tennis player, your attention is on your opponent and ball, and your ears on the line umpire. If the line umpire makes a call which in turn causes a hindrance, it should be ruled out as an involuntary hindrance. They should only be fined if the call was deliberate.