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The Mysterious Case of the Odd Ball Out

This article is delivered with a touch of tongue-in-cheek and a hint of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

When I was young, I played tennis with my family. My father was always very hot on etiquette, particularly respecting the server by ensuring they were constantly fed with balls. I am pretty fierce with my children about this – not only should they collect and hold the balls that aren’t being used by the server at any moment in time, but they should feed those balls to the server when needed in an accurate and efficient way, making sure the server doesn’t have to move too much to collect the offering in question.

Of course, storing extra ball(s) is only possible with pockets, so exemptions are possible for those without pockets in their shorts/skirts or skorts….

When I arrived to play with the Old Dogs over three years ago now, there were lots of methodologies and habits to contend with – needless to say, there weren’t many people that agreed with my father’s preference.

I do, however, feel that it would be good for us as a collective to agree on a preferred method of dealing with that extra ball (we only ever have three balls per court, so we only have one ball spare at any one time). Here is a list of what I’ve observed currently happening


  • Ball hit over the net directly to the server

  • Ball dribbled under the net to the server’s end

  • The ball randomly hit over the net to any part of the server’s end


  • Whenever there is a ball spare

  • When the server needs it

  • At a random moment just as the server is ready to serve


For me, the worst combination is when the ball is dribbled under the net at a random moment. There have been many occasions when I have been just about to start my service action with a ball in hand and another in my pocket when I have to stop and step back as a ball suddenly appears, dribbling slowly under the net, sometimes making it through, but often sticking as the net catches it. We are all competent tennis players – can’t we hit it over the net to hand? Can we not wait until the ball is actually needed?

At the risk of upsetting my session leader Geoff (who has made clear that he needs all 3 balls at his end before he can start a service game), I would like to propose the following (in memory of my still very alive father, and in respect to what might be considered a form of OCD):

  • The extra ball is collected from the floor of the court, so it rarely, if ever, affects play during a rally

  • The extra ball is stored in a player’s pocket (if they have one). That same ball is rolled to the back or the side of the court (if they don’t)

  • When the server needs a ball - to have the two required for serving - the ball is delivered above the net as close to the server’s hand as possible. Ideally, the ball would bounce only once, and the server would not have to move to receive it.

This ensures the server is always ready to serve and that the games progress quickly and efficiently without any obstacles on the court for us to trip and fall over.

That is my proposal – I am happy to hear other perspectives and accept that my method is not the right one moving forward if that is the collective’s democratic opinion. I would, however, love us all to agree on a singular approach to the extra ball – may we put its fate to rest for good.

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