Why Do Tennis Players Apologize Hitting The Net?

How often have you been in the middle of a rally, and then suddenly, the point comes to an abrupt end as the ball clips the net and dips in?

There is little more frustration being on the losing end of a point like that.

I have been working in tennis for almost a decade in various capacities. One of the questions I get from new players is related to this anomaly.

Tennis players apologize for hitting the net as a simple show of respect. It sends the message that you, as the winner, received the point not on skill but due to luck. Many consider it to not even be an apology but a mere acknowledgment.

In today’s tennis world, the act of apologizing is becoming less sincere, and we see an ever-increasing rate of people not apologizing at all. This is prevalent at both the professional and amateur levels.

In this article I will be answering the following:

  • What happens if you hit the ball around the net?
  • What makes tennis players apologize?
  • Is apologizing for hitting the net good etiquette or just a tradition?

Are You Allowed To Hit Around The Tennis Net?

two players playing tennis near the net

The short and simple answer is: Yes.

It is entirely legal to hit a ball that does not go directly over the net. There are, however, several caveats.

The International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) rules state that a shot is a good return if:

“The ball is returned outside the net posts, either above or below the level of the top of the net, even though it touches the net posts, provided that it hits the ground in the correct court.”

There are also exceptions to this rule.

The first is if the player or his/her racket comes into contact with the net during the point. If the player or the racket contacts the net at any stage during the rally, the point is lost immediately.

The second exception is if the ball makes contact with the racket when it is not in the player’s hand. This, unfortunately, means you can’t win the point with a dramatic throw of the racket, praying it hits the ball.

The final caveat I will touch on is if the ball makes contact with outside objects. If a point is to be won hitting round the net, it must go directly into the court. It cannot touch what is considered permanent fixtures.

Examples of permanent fixtures include:

  • The ceiling
  • The umpire
  • Seating
  • Spectators

Why Do Tennis Players Apologize?
fault on the net

It is no secret that tennis is and has been for a long time regarded as a gentleman’s sport. Tennis is a sport swept in tradition, and manners have always been intertwined with the game.

In most other sports, luck is something celebrated rather than seen as an embarrassment. When I see players today apologize for winning the point off the net cord, it is not a look of embarrassment. It is a look of awkwardness.

At the intermediate level of the game, I see many players politely tip their racket to apologize. Then a look of confusion comes across as if to say, “why did I just do that?”

I think it is important to note that the vast majority of apologies today are not apologies. Most often, it is just a tip of the racket while preparing for the next point.

When I tip my racket, it is certainly not to express a genuine apology. It is an acknowledgment of the tradition of the sport as well as an awkward “oops, I got lucky.”

The new culture of tipping the racket goes beyond just winning points off the net cord.

You will often see the tipping of the racket at an intermediate level for winning the rally from the frame of a racket. Affectionately referred to as a shank shot.

No one genuinely feels sorry for winning a point today. In a lot of cases, it actually induces a rush of excitement. Nothing would fire me up more than winning a point off the net cord while being match point down in a decider.

Today it is about luck more than anything. It could be interpreted today as bad sportsmanship not to acknowledge a point won on luck.

Is Apologizing For Hitting The Net A Good Sports Etiquette?
Tennis sportsmanship handshake

Do you know what one of the first things I do when coaching players who begin to develop an interest in competing is?

I ensure that they have a good understanding of etiquette.

I recognize that apologizing for the ball hitting the net isn’t the most essential aspect to learn. It is nonetheless important (and interesting) to understand why we have this tradition.

Whether you believe the culture of apologizing should remain or not will come down to several factors. The most prominent of which is your general views on tradition in the sport.

I feel the idea that one should be expected to apologize is outdated. The days in which it was common practice to give a very formal verbal apology are long gone.

When I think of people apologizing for hitting the net, a certain image comes to mind. I imagine the days of men being required to wear long white trousers and women skirts to their ankles.

I believe the greatest reason why it remains today is not that it is regarded as good sports etiquette in general. It is because it is seen as good etiquette within tennis based on its history.

I do not feel it is important to apologize in this day and age. I do, however, feel that the racket tip of acknowledgment is now a little quirk that the sport has become known for. It is something unique to tennis, and I would like to see it stay.

Final Words

The tennis game we play today is very different from that which evolved in the early 20th century. It is nonetheless interesting to see how traditions have developed and stuck with us today.

To summarize, tennis players do not apologize as such today. They simply acknowledge that they got lucky. They are telling their opponent they did not win it on their talent, and it was unfortunate for them.

Is apologizing/acknowledging luck something that should be preserved? What is your best memory of a shot that you won off the net cord? What was your opponent’s reaction?