Michael Emmett: “The ‘Let’ Rule Must be Changed”

Written by: Michael Emmett


***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***


The sport of tennis is a game that will be with us for a very long time. It has all the components of a ‘great’ game – some would say it’s the best game of all because we call it the sport of a lifetime. We see just as many 8 year olds as we do 65 year olds bashing a ball from one side of the net to the other. Tennis is making a meteoric rise at the country club levels as we see the participation numbers continuing to grow across the board. Canada’s success at the Davis Cup level and the individual accomplishments of Milos Raonic certainly are contributing factors to these growing numbers from coast to coast. The coaching is getting better in our great country and the game is no longer looked at as a fringe sport. Tennis gets priority now in the newspapers and in the sport highlight shows. Tennis is now an Olympic sport and has an impressive reputation worldwide. It is no longer considered a ‘sissy’ sport as I’ve heard many times in my teaching career. An ESPN web poll once ranked Novak Djokovic as the top athlete in the world. Ahead of Lionel Messi, Lebron James and Tiger Woods!

From the social aspect in club tennis to the games’ top players playing international events we see all the characteristics from fitness to skill level to strategy that makes the game so intriguing. However, the sport needs to get with the times and make some rule changes. No sport is beyond rule changes. Rules were made as far back as the eleventh century when French monks started the game. Why has the game’s rules stayed largely intact for so many centuries?

Why is it that every major sport can tinker with their rules to make their sports better but tennis officials are reluctant to dabble with the guidelines because they don’t want to mess with tennis etiquette? Every sport needs updating and I’m not just talking about adding the Hawkeye system that has reinvigorated tennis viewing globally. This has been a wonderful invention but it is not a fundamental change to the rules of the game. It has made line calls substantially better and put trust in the players to focus on their own play and not on the officiating. But tennis needs to make a fundamental change that will greatly impact the way the game is played. Those with a closed mind or who despise modification will hate my recommendation – but I believe if you really think about it logically you’ll agree with my proposition.

Tennis needs to do away with the ‘let’ serve. It is unnecessary and it is killing the game. College tennis players in the USA have eliminated the ‘let’ serve – meaning a serve that hits the net and dribbles over is now considered an ‘ace.’ They have been playing without a ‘let’ serve for more than a decade and by all accounts it is working flawlessly. World Team Tennis is also playing by these rules. And in my opinion this simple change makes all kinds of sense. This rule should be changed across the board in every tennis match for the rest of time.

The fuzzy yellow ball hurtles through the air at top speed, so you move your feet and get your racket back. Suddenly, the ball nicks the tape at the top of the net, changing its pace, height and even direction. If this happened in the middle of a point, the player would have to adjust and keep playing. But in one of tennis’s oddest quirks, the rule is different during a serve that is good, when the action stops and the server has to try again. There is no logical reason to defend this silly rule, except it’s what we’ve always done!

Some rules will remain forever, however, some need to change to better the game and the ‘let’ is front and centre. When I asked a US college coach why they abolished the ‘let’ rule he said quite simply “it had to go, kids were cheating so badly – calling a ‘let’ whenever they would getting aced. It got so out of hand it was the only solution. The cheating got to a point where it was ridiculous. So many great serves were being called ‘lets’ that it got embarrassing for those involved. Balls that were at least six inches over the net were being called lets.”

Whoever invented the ‘let’ serve back when the Kings and Queens were wearing long white pants must have been drunk. When you think about this rule – it makes absolutely no sense. Why does a forehand travelling at a 180km/h or an overhead travelling at similar speeds that clips the net count any differently than a serve? The ‘let’ serve slows down the game, creates needless arguments and makes little sense – other than the fact that it’s been done since the game’s inception there is no logical reason to continue with this asinine custom. In the sport of volleyball where a player is asked to serve from the baseline over a net we have this silly rule. If the serve hits the net and fall over onto the other side the ball is in play and the point is started

So the three major reasons to eradicate this ‘let’ rule are as follows:

  1. Cheaters use it as a crux to eliminate aces from the big servers, calling a ‘let’ is too easy and too hard to detect most of the time. Most matches do not have chair umpires who have the luxury of being close the net at all times.
  2. The differentiation between an overhead hitting the tape and dropping over, or a serve catching a portion of the net and creeping over are one in the same. Both should be winners in my view.
  3. ‘Let’ serves slow down the game. Usually there is one ‘let’ in each and every service game. Over an entire match this may save each match about ten minutes.

One day this rule change is going to happen – that’s a guarantee. Why not make it sooner rather than later?

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