They are a rare bird on the senior tennis circuit, but every so often you spot The Cheater on the other side of the net. What do you do?

Last week, I reported that during a Naples City 65+ singles match, my opponent and I had a long debate on what the correct game score was (and I finally relented). Then several days later, someone used this guy as an example of someone who cheats: making bad line calls and game scores.

Had I known that going into the match, would I have done anything differently during the match?

And coincidentally, another tennis friend just reported being “hooked” on several critical points during a Category II seniors singles tournament. My friend (who shall remain nameless, unless he wants to comment below) wrote: “…he made bad line calls. At first I thought some were questionable, but late in the match he hooked me on a critical shot. I hit a ball right in the middle of the line, I saw it & heard it (splat) & he had to also but he said it was out & would not relent.”

Yesterday, I was playing with another tournament playing friend who said my friend’s opponent was notorious for making bad line calls at a critical time in the match.

So what do you do? Sure, if you know about it before hand, you should be diligent early in the match and call for a referee at the first instance. Do you say something BEFORE the match about “keeping the calls good”? Do you argue every close one?

Part of the problem is, I think that while most of us get very distracted and thrown off our game, most of these guys thrive on the controversy and gain an advantage even if they reverse their bad calls.

Do you think that these guys actually know they are making bad calls and cheating?

There are very few things in this world that I can say that “I hate”; but I hate people who make intentionally bad line calls!

4 thoughts on “Cheaters

  1. George,

    I have had my share of bad experiences with cheaters, as has everyone else who plays the game I suspect. There have even been a few notorious examples of this in the many years I have attended Tennis Fantasies at Newk’s as well, although thankfully it seems to happen there less often than in other situations. Maybe there is something more intimidating about having the former No. 1 (or 2 or 3) singles and/or doubles player in the world standing right behind you when you are tempted to hook your opponent on a line call.

    I really have no good or single way to handle this situation. I have done different things over time, ranging from doing nothing (and trying to keep my blood pressure under control while fighting the urge to jump the net and beat the a**hole on the other side who keeps calling my good balls out into oblivion) to overtly, and candidly, hooking right back in a tit for tat kind of manner. I don’t condone the latter action — especially in a sanctioned match or tournament — but I have to say it is the one thing that actually has seemed to work on a consistent basis over the years.

    To illustrate: I was playing a social doubles match (i.e., non-tournament, non-sanctioned) with some friends many years back and one of the two opposing players was a new guy who had been invited to play by one of the other guys for the first time. Although new guy was a very good player and completely capable of holding his own with the rest of us without cheating, it soon became apparent that he had a bad habit of calling any ball out if it was anywhere within 2 or 3 inches from any line — but only if the game was close. It was a very insidious kind of cheating. If the score was 15-15, and we hit a close ball, he would say nothing and play the ball as good. But if his team was down, say, 15-40, he would call a ball out if it was even slightly close to a line.

    This went on for a while into the match and my partner and I were, at first, disbelieving that we were being hooked like this. But several times, new guy’s partner (and our longtime friend) actually overruled him, so we started to get the picture about what was happening.

    All the while this was happening, my partner and I never gave an intentionally bad line call to the other team. However, that changed on one crucial point. Serving, I recall, at 5-4 after a service break of new guy in the prior game, I and my partner looked to win the first set. However, after three very questionable line calls in a row from new guy — all at ball locations distant from his partner to reduce the chance of an overrule — I soon found myself serving at Love-40. Still, my partner and I did nothing about the bad line calls but we just played four steady points to bring the game score to our Advantage. On game point, I served wide to new guy’s partner, who was playing in the ad court, who returned a ball cross court that my partner then poached for a volley at new guy’s feet. It should have been a winner. However, in what was admittedly a spectacular shot, new guy reflexed a half volley at his feet from a blind, stand up position and hit a lob over my partner’s head. Both my partner and I saw the lob and retreated together to our baseline, where the ball landed in by easily 2 feet, in the middle of the court and on my forehand side.

    In the split second that I had to think about playing the next shot, a dozen options must have rushed through my head — drill it up the middle, drill it right at new guy’s gonads or face, hit a topspin lob over the heads of the two opponents, hit it crosscourt into the deuce alley just outside of new guy’s forehand, hit an inside out forehand into the ad court alley just outside of new guy’s partner’s backhand, etc. But much to the astonishment of my partner — and I have to say myself — I just caught the ball in my left hand right after it bounced and shouted, very loudly and very self-confidently, “Out.” The ball clearly left a mark, in the court and not even close to being out, about 2 feet in from the baseline. In short, it was a very intentional, in fact outrageously overt, hook on my part.

    New guy immediately started screaming at me, “What do you mean that ball was out? It was in by 2 feet!” New guy’s partner — again, my friend — said nothing. I think he suspected what I was up to. Rather calmly, I replied, “Well, I agree that in the real universe that ball may well have been good. But in the abstract, parallel, metaphysical universe that we have been playing this match so far based on your own prior line calls, it was my judgment that the ball was out. In other words, if your calls of our shots are allowed to stand, then there is nothing to say that my call of your shot as out cannot also stand. Anyway, seeing that we have no referee, the call is mine to make and I have made it. Any questions?”

    New guy just looked at me in frustration, put his hands on his hips, let out a harrumph, and responded, “I guess I see your point.” Meanwhile, neither my partner nor new guy’s partner said a word, although I could see that both of them were smirking all the while this exchange was occurring.

    Thinking the set was over, new guy went over to his bag to get some water, as did the other two players. However, I just stood on the baseline for a minute or two. Then I said something like, “The ball was really good, New Guy. I just wanted to prove a point about your prior line calls. Since the score is now deuce, we still have to finish this game.” New guy, and the other two players, all looked at me in astonishment but, after some banter, everybody returned to the court and we did play the set out legitimately with me holding serve.

    During the second set, which we also won legitimately, new guy never made another bad line call, which I like to think illustrates the fact that he absolutely knew that he was hooking us intentionally during the first set. However, having been exposed with his pants down (figuratively speaking), and I think frankly embarrassed, he reformed his ways.

    I never played with new guy again — no one wanted to invite him back to our doubles group — but some of my friends who were there when this happened or who heard about it afterward still talk about it as a good example of how to make a cheater’s tail go between his legs. I think the self-help solution that I employed does have its place, but it certainly would not work in many situations — for example, a sanctioned tournament. It also takes a certain personality type to do what I did, and a certain personality type (like new guy’s) to back down so willingly after being exposed as a cheater. If new guy had been someone else, what I did could have been risky.

    Indeed, I once watched a league singles match where one of the two players (who was an off duty police detective) actually pulled a gun out of his bag and threatened his opponent after the opponent had questioned one line call too many. But that is a different story…….

    – Marty

  2. Of course they know they are cheating.

    One of the nicer things about playing in the senior divisions is that most of the players have matured to the level where they realize it is morally and socially unacceptable to hook people. Sadly, that is not all encompassing. Some still feel the need to win at all cost. Most of the senior level players are very attentive to being more than fair. I can’t tell you how many time I have said, or been told by my opponent, “Well, I can’t call it out, that’s good”. High standards of character and integrity are wonderful to observe, and make you feel that there is hope for the world.

    After being a Adult Sectional and Junior level 2 tournament director for twenty years, one almost expects cheating and hooking at the junior or open levels. I try and tell myself it just because they haven’t had time to mature totally and still have growing to do. But the senior levels have always been more fun to do because of the great attitudes and honesty of most of the participants, and thankfully there are not too many dedicated cheaters in this age range.

    Still, it is always amazing how their eyesight improves once a line judge is called. They go from needing a white cane to 20-20 in two seconds. The sad thing is, the line judges are so over worked they only stay for three games before they have to go back to the officails tent, eat and put their feet up to rest for a few hours.

    Sad to say, retaliation works best. Here are a few things that have worked for us in tournaments and league championships.

    First, to really irritate a lousy score keeper, yell the score out before each point. Make it loud. When everyone else on all the other courts are turning around, he will ususally want to know what you are doing. Just reply that since his reputation for poor memory is so bad, you want everyone else at the facility to know what the score is, so when his memory fails or if there is any question, all the other courts will have been so annoyed, they will be able to yell over and tell you the correct score up to the last points serve.

    For team matches, or at a big tournament with friends, when you know you are playing a notoriously memory challenged opponent, have one or two of them chart your match. Xerox off a few copies of the referees score keeping card, and have your friends chart the match, with notations. If there is a question, refer to them, they will be able to tell you the correct score. “First point was forehand long, 15-0. Second point backhand drop shot, 15-15.” We used this in Hawaii at the 2006 Naitonals when the ditzy referee that was supposd to be keeping score during a third set match tie breaker lost track of the score. The other player was playing dumb, realizing he may become the beneficiary of three lost points and suddenly lost his memory. Then the ref got defensive when we were correcting her. Then she got miffy and was going to dock our player points until we called the tourney director and went over each point, one by one. Slowly the light came back on and she sheepishly admitted she was wrong and our guy went on to win the tie break and match. But it could have gone the other way if we had not had every point documented.

    Well, anyway, the cheaters usually keep going until they are called on it, by as big a group as possible, or they are embarrassed and shamed into better behavior.

    Or you could just tell them you are going to kick their ass if they hook you again.

    Sometimes this is the only way to go, and facilitates the best result.

  3. Marty,

    You are kiling me. I just snorted coffee through my nose from laughing my rear off after reading your post. Please warn us in advance if the law enforcement official is coming down to Newk’s.

    I was looking through “The Code”, and they haven’t written a section covering the correct use of loaded 9mm weapons on court and their use on changeovers.


  4. Marty and Arnie — Great stories!
    My friend Marc Vandam used the “obviously in; but out” technique on a cheater last year and it worked there too.

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