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‘Let Balls’ Could Be Bounced

June 15, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ The prospect of tennis’ first major rule change in 25 years is stirring up trouble.

The International Tennis Federation is considering abolishing the `let rule’ beginning with next season, although some top players oppose the change.

The rule change will be debated in July at the ITF’s annual meeting in Ireland and could be voted on before the year is over.

U.S. Open champion Pat Rafter and others have raised the possibility of boycotting the Australian Open if the let rule is not in place.

``You could have a Grand Slam final decided by a serve that catches the tape and takes a really weird bounce, which gives the returner no chance of getting to the ball,″ Rafter said.

Designed to speed play, the rule would mean no replay of serves that hit the net before landing in an opponent’s box.

``The players will be informed directly of the proposal at a players’ meeting during Wimbledon,″ ITF spokesman Alun James said Monday. ``At this stage there is little or anything to indicate a backlash by players against any change.″

James noted the rule change would be the first major one in 25 years. He called the let ball an ``anomaly″ since every other ball in a match is played where it lands.

``The last rule change was the introduction of the tiebreak,″ he said. ``The players objected to that at the time but in the long run it’s proven to be very popular.″

James said the ITF studied the let rule for two years and discovered that let balls had little influence on matches.

In 715 matches surveyed, there was an average of 4.1 lets a match. About 25 percent of lets favored the server, 10 percent favored the returner and 65 percent favored neither player.

``Part of our role as a regulatory body is to assess the needs of players and officials at all levels, not just professional players,″ James said.

``So abolishing the let rule would save interruptions and increase the speed of matches on the professional circuit and also alleviate the cost of a net umpire.

``But it would also eliminate disputes between players at an amateur level, where the majority of games are played in the absence of umpires.″

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