What is a Let in Tennis?
In tennis, a let is any instance where players replay an entire point except when it’s called on a second serve.
There are a few different instances when a player or umpire may call a let. To start, we’ll cover the service let, which is the most common.
A service let occurs under three different circumstances:
- The ball hits the net (usually the net chord at the top) and subsequently lands in the correct service box
- The ball hits the net and makes contact with the receiver(s) or anything they’re wearing before hitting the ground
- The server hits the ball before their opponent is ready
The first instance is the most common, and it’s usually easy to spot because the trajectory of the ball changes after hitting the net chord. Other times, there may be an audible noise when the ball clips the net.
At the recreational level, any player can call a service let, but the call should be prompt to help avoid disagreements or arguments.
For example, imagine you return the ball for a winner, and your opponent calls the let as the ball sails past them. Similarly, consider a situation where your opponent aces you, but you call it after where the ball was clearly out of your reach and has past you.
Both situations can lead to tense moments, so players should immediately call a service let after they spot or hear it. When in doubt, you should play the point without calling a let.
In professional tennis, the service let is monitored by an umpire with the help of electronic sensors placed on the net.
If the service let occurs on the first serve, players should replay the entire point. However, if it happens on the second serve, the server only receives one additional serve. There is no limit to the number of serve let calls during any given point.
Keep in mind that if the ball hits the net and doesn’t land in the correct service box, it’s not a let. Instead, it would count as a fault. In another less common scenario, if while playing singles a serve hits the singles stick or the net post in doubles and the ball lands in the correct service box, it’s also a fault.
Here is the definition provided by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as it relates to a fault:
The service is a let if:
a. The ball served touches the net, strap or band, and is otherwise good; or, after touching the net, strap or band, touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner or anything they wear or carry before hitting the ground; or
b. The ball is served when the receiver is not ready.
In the case of a service let, that particular service shall not count, and the server shall serve again, but a service let does not cancel a previous fault.
Other Let Calls
As we’ve discussed, a let represents any instance where players replay a point, and although a service let is most common, there are other instances where you may come across its use.
Most prominently, a let call is appropriate when there’s an obvious distraction that interferes with play.
In recreational tennis, it’s common for play to be interrupted when a ball from a nearby court enters your court midpoint. When this or any similar situation arises, you should call a let promptly.
If the let call happens between the servers first or second serve, it’s up to the receiver to determine whether or not the duration of time that passed while clearing the ball or dealing with the disturbance warrants the server starting the point over with a first serve.
In professional tennis, another example of when the umpire might call a let is when someone in the crowd, particularly someone within a player’s line of sight, is moving during a point. As a spectator, it’s basic tennis etiquette to only get up from your seat during a changeover.
If the server tosses the ball, it’s legal for them to catch it or allow the ball to bounce without penalty. However, despite the opportunity to repeat the first or second serve, it’s not technically considered a let.