Rule 22 covers service lets, saying that a serve “that touches the net . . . and is otherwise good . . . shall not count and the server shall serve again.” A lot of players don’t like that rule and just want to play those serves as good— which is permitted under Appendix V to the Rules of Tennis, if a tournament so chooses. Presumably, that also means players in a friendly match could decide to ignore service lets.


Marc Nelson, 39, a 4.5 player from Marlboro, N.J., doesn’t like Rule 22— but he doesn’t like Appendix V, either. “The average men’s professional tennis player seems to hold serve more than 85 percent of the time. That’s boring,” he complains. “With the way the pros serve now, the receiver needs more of an advantage.” His simple, but elegant, solution: “If a serve hits the net and lands in, it should still be counted as a fault.”

Aryna Sabalenka serving in Stuttgart.

Aryna Sabalenka serving in Stuttgart.



Forcing players to make sure their serves clear the net without touching it, while seemingly subtle, would be a significant change. The slight difference in a server’s margin of error should benefit the receiver, either because they’d be seeing more second serves, or because first serves wouldn’t come in as hard and/or flat as before.

The no-let rule used in men’s collegiate tennis was put in several years ago because coaches became concerned that there were too many instances of receivers calling lets on service aces. Marc’s suggestion would probably lead to some arguments by servers feeling doubly cheated: not only was their serve not an ace, it would now be a fault. However, a player likely to cheat an opponent by claiming a serve grazed the net is just as likely to do so with bad line calls, so that alone shouldn’t disqualify this change.

If we assume that players are honest, this change will work. What if we take it one step further: All shots, not just serves, must clear the net completely. This would significantly change the game—and not necessarily for the better.

However, one marked improvement would result. It would eliminate the fauxpology: a player’s insincere wave of the racquet to the opponent after benefitting from a net cord, when the reality is they wish they could hit that shot every time.

Got an improvement to the Rules of Tennis or The Code? We invite you to join in. Send in your suggestions to and put “Breaking the Rules” in the subject line.