Foot-Fault deliberations

The APTA gets serious about foot-faults The APTA gets serious about foot-faults, redux

Paul Malloy, Chair of the APTA Umpires Committee reflected on recent deliberations in the August edition of Paddle Talk:

A very controversial subject in the game of paddle is the “foot-fault rule.” Everyone understands that a player may not touch the baseline or step into the court before making contact with the ball. Most people also are aware that a player may swing his foot over the baseline during the service as long as the foot doesn’t touch the court prior to striking the ball. Gordon Gray, during his championship years with Sam Sammis, used to give foot-fault judges fits because the swinging foot was practically on the deck as he struck the ball. He has since modified his delivery and no longer swings the foot over the line.

The most troublesome area of the Foot-fault rule comes under Rule 7 (a), which says ,”The server shall throughout the delivery of the service: Not change his position by walking or running.” As stated above, we certainly would be able to deal with the “running jumpers” in paddle. Unfortunately, the rules of Tennis, to which we adhere very closely, added an interpretation from the International Federation on July 9, 1958. The interpretation says that “the server shall not, by slight movements of the feet which do not materially affect the location originally taken up by him, be deemed to change his position by walking or running.” The key word above would seem to be “materially.” How far can a server move before he is deemed to have “materially” changed his position? Two inches? Twenty-two inches? More? Less? In my opinion, the interpretation stated above was probably instituted so as not to penalize the player whose front foot slides inadvertently two or three inches, without touching the line during his service. It cannot have been meant to allow a player to take one, two or three steps and then launch himself into the air and into the court while striking the ball.

In past years I have many times been responsible for gathering volunteer linesmen. Almost without exception it has been impossible to get volunteer linesmen to call a foot-fault for anything other than its violation of the baseline. Understandably, they are reluctant to accept the responsibility for administering a rule which is,, ill-defined

A committee to study the foot-fault rule was formed about three years ago by Bob Brown, president of the APTA at that time, consisting of Bob, John Beck, Bradley Drowne, Dick Squires, and myself. In addition, we sent a questionnaire to twenty-five top players for their opinions. After several meetings and many recommendations we zeroed in on wording that said “one foot must maintain contact with the deck at the moment of delivery.” With this change in effect, it wouldn’t matter how many steps a server took as long as he had to stop and hit the ball with one foot on the deck.

It turned out that this was not to be the ultimate cure-all. Upon subsequent study of some slow motion films of two classic servers, Dick Squires and Sam Sammis, it was observed that at the moment of impact of ball and racket, the extension of their arms pulled them off the deck by approximately one inch. We would have ended up with base linesmen down on their hands and knees trying to see if the server remained anchored to the deck. It was decided to leave the rule as is. A combination of sufficient public comment, trained linesmen and APTA directive might cause this rule to be more properly administered.

Source: Paddle Talk, No. 5 (August)