My opponents served from the left service court. The served ball hit the top of the net, bounces over and cleared the kitchen [non-volley zone], and landed in the receiver's left service court [the correct service court]. The receiver, being a new pickleball player but an accomplished tennis player, believing this is a LET (as defined in tennis rules), caught the ball and threw it back to the server.
In a "rec play" setting, what should I do? Especially when my friend (the good tennis player) thought she was doing the correct thing?
B. A. Jackson
This is a fault on the receiving team and a point for the serving team.
REASON: For recreational play and amateur tournaments, ANY ball hitting the top of the net and landing within the court (including the sidelines) is still in play. This includes serves, with the exception that the served ball must, after hitting the top of the net, must land within the correct service court.
The following rules apply here:
4.A.2. Placement. The server must serve to the correct service court (the court diagonally opposite the server). The serve may clear or touch the net and must clear the NVZ and the NVZ lines. The serve may land on any other service court line.
7.I. A live ball that is stopped by a player before it becomes dead (e.g., catching or stopping a ball in flight before it makes contact with the playing surface). The fault is on the player who stopped the ball.
11.L.1. The net and the wires or strings holding up the net are positioned (mostly) on the court. Therefore, if the ball strikes the top of the net or strikes the top net wire or string and lands inbounds, it remains in play.
DISCUSSION: This is a very common scenario among new-ish players, especially if there are habits carried over from other sports. As a professional coach and referee, I feel obligated to help new players fully understand the rules. In clinics and lessons, I would use this situation as a teaching moment. I would stop play, discuss the situation with everyone involved, but focusing on ensuring the new players understand what happened and why the ruling applies.
HOWEVER...the advent of the immense growth in popularity in this crazy sport, especially with the public profiles of the professional leagues, some confusion with this scenario is understandable. In all the professional-level tournaments in which I have officiated, the professionals are NOT required to play a served ball that strikes the top of the net AND lands in the correct service court. This is obviously different from amateur play.
My advice is that players should never stop play when faced with a questionable situation. Finish the rally, then discuss the situation.
I hope this clears things up a bit.