When does the 20 seconds between points begin? Usually the ball is right there to be retrieved, but sometimes it rolls away. I think the 20-second count should begin when I have the balls and I’m in my court.

— Marian Showacre, Laramie, WY

Let’s get the technicalities out of the way first: The time “between points” means just that—starting from the instant the ball goes out of play and ending when the server next starts the service motion. But if you’re tracking down stray balls, this is unenforceable (USTA Comment 29.1). In a match with no official present, The Code, Item 40, requires that you do not stall. It doesn’t address how much total time you have to start the next point, but courtesy dictates that if the balls are not readily available, you should not spend, say, 20 seconds getting them, and then another 20 seconds collecting yourself before serving.

Except where noted, answers are based on the ITF Rules of Tennis and USTA's The Code.

Got a question? Email it to: courtofappeals@tennis.com