Hey Ref! An ‘Official” Q&A

By Barry Faguy

Having originally dealt with all the key principles of decision making in treatise form, we carry on the explanations by zeroing in on questions we’ve received over the years. 

HEY REF! My opponent slipped and fell and lost her racket in the right front as she made a drop shot there. Just as I was about to hit the ball cross-court for an obvious winner, the Referee/Marker (just one person) called her ball ‘Down’—and so giving me the point (or so I thought). However, my opponent protested that her return was good, that it did not hit the tin. This caused the ref to change his mind—saying he may have been hasty with the call and was actually uncertain. He ordered a let be played. Was that fair?

Unfortunately, you were hard done by. There is a rule that deals with exactly that situation, and it requires that you should have received the point. Even if the rule didn’t exist, fairness would dictate the proper outcome—based on the simple fact that your winner was interrupted. And that would apply even if the ref were uncertain whether the return hit the tin or not.

The proper interpretation is that a let should be denied only if the Referee judges that the striker’s sole intent for turning and requesting a let was to interrupt play (“to create an opportunity to request a let” –as the rule states). This would be in contrast to turning situations where the striker’s initial intent was to continue play, but then realizing during the turning movement, that it might be dangerous to hit the ball. This rule is therefore about judging intent (as are a couple of other rules)—and those types of decisions are the ones fraught with the potential for errors.

Other than for Marker calls, similar provisions about ‘interrupted winning returns’ exist for certain interferences, for boasts, for distractions, and for fallen objects. They are written as exceptions to a basic rule—which if applied without further consideration, would lead to an unfair result by any reasonable interpretation.

/provisions on the "interrupted winning returns" rule exist for such things as boasts, distractions and falling objects.
Provisions on the “interrupted winning returns” rule exist for such things as boasts, distractions and falling objects.

HEY REF! I overheard a ref using the words “Unnecessary turning” to justify denying a let to a player who turned on the ball and requested a let. What is that?

It’s an unfortunate misnomer about a concept that is rarely applied, and when it is—it’s generally done incorrectly. Alas, the wording is misleading because it can give the mistaken interpretation that the striker is sometimes obliged to make a return without turning.

The distinction surrounding intent is important because (we should note) the rules never have, and still don’t, restrict a player’s options for making a return (other than considering safety). It’s a misinterpretation to punish the striker for simply choosing to take the ball while turning when it could have been played without turning. Taking that approach would quickly lead to a slippery slope of abuse, because it would be very easy for players to generate such turning situations for their opponent by means of wide cross-courts. This would ultimately lead to an environment of decision-making nightmares.