A common sound in any tennis match is to hear an umpire or one of the players call “let”. What is a let in tennis? Are there lets in other sports as well? Everything about the tennis let and everything else around this term.
A let occurs when a point has to be replayed in its entirety. Although most often occurring when one player is serving, there are other circumstances when lets may be called.
History of the Name, Let
The origin of the term let is disputed, although there are two main competing claims, both of which have their advocates. One is that the term is derived from the French word “Filet” which, amongst its other meanings, translates to net in English.
That other explanation is that it has its roots in the old English verb “Lettian” which means to hinder. In this case, it refers to the net hindering the progress of the ball.
There are three different scenarios when a tennis let occurs:
- A service hits the net (or the net chord runs which along the top of the net), and the drops down in the correct service box;
- The balls hit the net and then strikes the opponent, or a part of their clothing, before hitting the ground; or
- A service is made before the opponent is ready to receive it.
If the let occurs on the first serve, the entire point shall be replayed until such time as the service is either in or out. However, in the event that it occurs on the second serve, then the server only gets one more service attempt.
Detecting a Let
Detecting a let is usually obvious to the naked eye, but, in some circumstances, where the service has just brushed the top of the net, it can be difficult to call, especially given the speed of some of the servers on the main tours.
Major tournaments used to employ a match official who sat at the end of the net on the centre court line, and who listened with their ear and with a finger on the net to detect when contact had been made with it by the ball.
They have been replaced by the net cord sensor, a device which was invented in 1974 by the German engineer Dietmar Brauer, based on the pick-up for an electric guitar. The official sensor, known as the Trinity, turns vibrations into electrical energy, and uses similar technology to that found in a microphone or hi-fi speaker. Attached to the top of the net, it vibrates when the ball strikes it or the net chord.
Variations to the Rule
In some junior competitions and also brief on the ATP Challenger Tour, the decision has been taken to abolish the service let rules. The reason for this is to avoid disputes where there is no chair umpire, and also as part of a broader range of initiatives to speed up the game and make matches shorter.
Most prominently it was trialled at the 2018 Next-Gen ATP Finals. However, it was not a success and the experiment was promptly dropped.
Other Let Rules
There are other, rarer, instances when a let may be called. In amateur tennis, it is not unusual for a game to be interrupted when a ball from a neighbouring match lands on court mid-play. If that occurs either player should promptly call a let.
Meanwhile in professional tennis, it can happen that a spectator moves in their set in the middle of a point, or a fan acts in such a way that it distracts one or other of the players.
Most Consecutive Lets
In 2013 Serena Williams served four consecutive service lets in a row when beating Ayumi Morita. That feat was repeated by Chinese player Di Wu playing a Challenger match in Anning, China, four years later.
Lets in Other Racquet Sports
Tennis is not the only racquet sport that uses the concept of lets. They are also found in badminton, squash and table tennis, for example.
Lets are less common than in tennis and do not occur if the shuttle hits the net. Instead they are called if nobody is sure if the shuttle lands in or out, if a shuttle from another match lands on the court in the middle of a rally, or the receiver was not ready for the service, and asks for it to be played again.
A let in squash means that the point needs to be played again. They are allowed if a player needs to stop a point for safety reasons, if an opponent inadvertently obstructs the incoming striker of the ball, if the result of a tally is undecided, or if a shot has been appealed and nobody can decide the correct outcome of the call.
Similar to tennis, if a serve in table tennis hits the net and then bounces on the other side of the table, it is called as a let.