Tennis Rules: Calling a Ball Out (And Some Etiquette to Know)

Have you seen the movie “Are We There Yet?” where Ice Cube’s – hypothetical – stepson (called Kevin in the movie) keeps asking him if they were there yet a zillion times?

Well, if you’re a newbie in tennis and you’re still learning the rules, you’ll definitely be a Kevin to your coach quite a lot, asking if your opponent’s ball is considered out yet.

So let’s review the tennis rules on calling a ball out. 

1. Good or Out?

Balls that land inside and outside of the court lines are easy to identify, but what if the ball lands on the line, is it considered good or out?

Two words; it’s good. If any part of the ball touches any part of the court line, the ball is considered good. So, unless you see a clear space between where the ball landed and the court line, the ball is most likely good.

You’re probably thinking that this whole point of contact should be a very tiny point so, how are we measuring ‘part’ of a point?

Here’s the interesting answer, a tennis ball is made of rubber so it compresses when it hits the ground, making the surface area of the ball that touches the floor larger. 

Other types of balls (for example, the ones used in pickleball) that are not rubbery don’t compress like the tennis ball, so their point of contact is much smaller.

So, to sum up, the point of contact is what determines if a ball is in or out.

2. The Rules of Making Calls 

Now that we’ve established how to know if a ball is in or out, let’s see how to make calls.

General Rules 

Calls can be made by a player either by audible or visible manners.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a match point or just a regular point in the middle of the game, every point is treated the same. 

Spectators shouldn’t make calls, as they aren’t part of the match, and a player shouldn’t rely on their opinions or consider them proof. 

If a player believes the ball to be out, he should call it out as soon as possible, before the opponent starts to play the return shot. Once the game is resumed, the player loses the chance to call the ball out.  

Although this is very rare, sometimes a ball that was headed to be out hits the net post and is kept in play.

Who Calls the Ball Out? 

First of all, a player is responsible for making the decision of calling a ball out if there are no on-court officials. 

Players only get to make calls on ‘their’ own side of the court and the opponent gets the benefit of the doubt. But keep in mind that any doubt will be set in favor of the opponent, to prevent complications. 

It’s the player’s responsibility to call a ball out and if they don’t do so, it’s considered good. 

Doubles Match 

When playing a doubles match, either player can make the call. 

However, it’s important to call a ball out ‘only’ if you’re sure it’s out. Let your partner who was looking at the line make the call to avoid disagreement between partners on the same team. 

Because if one partner calls a ball out and the other calls it good, the ball will be considered good.

Opponents’ Opinions

Sometimes the opponent’s opinion is requested. This can happen only on a call that ends a point. A positive opinion of the opponent should be accepted. 

Sometimes opponents call their own shots out if they’re 100% positive that it was out, even if it’s against their own good and no one obliged them to do so. That being said, however, players can’t call their own shots out if the first serve if being played.

Making Calls on Clay Courts  

A ball touching the line on any type of court is considered good. But lines on a clay court can sometimes be tricky because they’re usually made out of material like white tapes instead of being painted like on other types of courts. 

If you can only see part of the mark where the ball hit the ground, the rest of the mark is most probably on the line, or in this case ‘the white tape’, thus the ball is considered good. 

3. The Etiquette of Calling a Ball Out

Now that you know how to call a ball out, let’s take a look at how you ‘shouldn’t’. 

Calling a ball out should be clear, therefore, it’s better to make your call just by saying a simple ‘out’. You don’t have to say things like “That was too deep”, “too wide”, “Sorry that was way back!” or anything of the sort. 

Try not to be aggressive, sarcastic or overly celebrate a ball that’s out. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes, it’s not very nice, right? 

Also, it’s very irritating to call a ball out without even bothering to actually ‘look’ that it went out. You might be making a very professional prediction due to your vast experience or your great eye for things but – still – it’s pretty annoying. 

Another frustrating thing is when someone calls a ball out too early. This can sometimes bother not only the opponent but also the spectators and officials.  

Although this may sound like a joke, some people actually point out at the ground and claim that a certain mark is the one that was just hit, as proof that the ball is out. This is a bit unprofessional. Your Sherlock Holmes shrewdness is much appreciated but remember, this is just a game! 

Final Words

Tennis is a great sport, whether you’re a player or a spectator. And playing by the rules always makes everyone happy.

In the end, a good game is what makes people enjoy sports, and a fair win is a more satisfying win for every good sportsman.