Overruling Your Partner’s Calls

This is a very sensitive part of the tennis doubles relationship… Your partner makes a wrong line call (in your opinion): do you correct it and embarrass him or let it stand?

My basic rule: if it is an “official” match in a tournament or league, I will always respect the situation and correct the call (if I am sure he was wrong and/or have a mark that we can both see).

But if it is just a social match and/or I am not that sure of the call myself, I will sometimes let that mistake stand. Sometimes it is better to maintain the relationship with your partner than with your opponents.

In that case, you will frequently see me miss the next easy shot to “correct the mistake.”

How about you?

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13 thoughts on “Overruling Your Partner’s Calls

  1. The trouble is you would have to lose two points to “correct the mistake”. And what if that “bad call” results in a game won/lost( even in a “social” match)??

  2. george. first of all, overruling your partner’s incorrect call is a difficult thing to do, but it has to be done. it’s about getting the call right. if my partner overrules me, frankly, i’m grateful. he sparing me the embarrassment of having my opponents think i cheated (although, of course, this rarely happens, i never miss a call….ha).

  3. EVERYBODY makes mistakes in calls. Many times the one of the opponents will feel or know the call was wrong, but even if not, the partner should correct the call. For heaven’s sake, we’re OLD GUYS. At this age we should be able to handle being called down for making a mistake:)! Happens at home, doesn’t it? OK, I digress:).
    Correct the call no matter what the situation!

  4. George, I have a number of thoughts. First, I follow the general rule that adherence to the rules trumps everything else. So if the ball was good, it was good, no matter what my partner may have called. I won’t hesitate to overrule him, if I clearly see the ball as in but he called it out. Second, I hear what you are saying about not wanting to embarrass your partner, but I think you may be overly sympathetic to his feelings. That is, if a player has such a thin skin that he or she would become embarrassed, angry or upset to be told by a doubles partner that their call was wrong, then maybe they ought not to be playing doubles, I think. (And the player who overruled the call may need to be thinking about finding a less embarrassed/ less argumentative/ more accepting doubles partner as well.). We all make mistakes. Eyesight is never perfect. The ball is moving fast. Angles of vision are obscured from different positions on the court. In short, mistakes do happen. A player should be mature enough not to get all bent out of shape when he or she makes a line call mistake – as we ALL do from time to time – and his or her partner corrects that mistake. (In fact, this happened to me over the past weekend. I was playing a doubles match with our friend Mark Benjamin from Tennis Fantasies as my partner. I called a serve out from across the court that Mark, the receiver, clearly saw had clipped the line. He overruled me and gave the point to the other team because it had been an ace. We were playing on clay so that made it a bit easier to verify that Mark was right and I was wrong as the was a distinct mark showing the ball had touched the line. The line in question was the sideline and not the back of the service box. But even without the evidence, I would have just accepted Mark’s call because he saw the ball differently from me and, from my position of observation, he had the better angle to make the call. I did not get upset, and I certainly was not embarrassed that Mark had made the correction. In fact, I felt relieved that he had undone my error and corrected what would have been an injustice for the opposing team.). Third, I don’t see any reason to differentiate between serious – I.e., league, tournament, etc. – matches and friendly matches in following the rules. I follow the same rule no matter who I am playing with, who I am playing against, and how important or not I portent the match may be to my ranking, record, ego, etc. or the advancement of whatever team I may be on. What is fair is fair. And I want to win fairly, if I am lucky enough to win at all. Fourth, a case could be made that a doubles team calls the balls as a single unit and not as two different people. In other words, the two members of the team have to agree on the call or else you automatically, and inexorably, have doubt. And we all know what the tennis rule is when a player has doubt about a call. That is, when in doubt the ball is NOT out but, rather, the presumption goes to the opposing team. So if my partner says the ball was out and I say it was in with equivalent conviction and certainty, then this should mean the opposing team gets the call. However, I do believe the two members of the team making the call have to each be able to communicate between themselves well enough to sort out whether they do, indeed, have equivalent levels of certainty about the call, or whether one of them may have simply had a better view of the ball than the other person did. In the latter situation, if I realize after my initial disagreement with my partner about the call that I cannot, in all honesty, say I saw where the ball landed as well as my partner – and there is no mark or other objective evidence to illuminate the truth – then I will defer to my partner’s superior vision or viewpoint and let him make the call. In that situation, I do not believe the requisite doubt about the call has been established for us as a team such that the rules require us to give the call to the opposing team. Fifth, it is not merely about being courteous to an opposing the team or following the rules, in my opinion. It is also good doubles strategy to be fair and consistent with one’s own line calls. That is, when opposing teams sense that there is inconsistency in the other team’s calls or, worse still, that they are getting “hooked,” that usually leads to bad results for the team making the bad line calls as much as it hurts the team getting cheated. One thing that I have seen happen is a team that feels it is getting taken advantage of often plays much better after one or two of these episodes and, thus, the bad calls become an actual liability for the team making them. (In fact, i am convinced that sometimes uscrupulous players try to accuse an opposing team or player of “hooking” them earlly in the match, without legitimate cause, just to justify ahead of time their own expected “hooks” or even to pump themselves up so they get better intensity in playingnthe match.) It could be adrenaline, or maybe it is just better concentration or resolve, but I have seen this happen consistently over the years so I know it does happen. Why would I want to give my opponents a boost, when I can avoid that simply by playing by the rules and being fair? Another thing that sometimes happens is, exactly what you described – the player on the team that thinks his partner made a line call mistake gives a “freebie” away to the other team to compensate. But I don’t think this is a good idea for a variety of reasons, including that it undermines the confidence that one’s partner has in his partner’s consistency and abilities, it makes the other partner who made the questionable call feel like the partner offering the “freebie” is teaching the bad line caller a lesson which, in turn, could even further undermine the team’s cohesion and chemistry, and offering a “freebie” on a different point and at a different moment in the match can never replicate the exact consequences that took place when the original bad line call had been made. Further, the “freebie” never fixes the problem of the opposing team’s still thinking that they got taken advantage of by the original bad line call. The opposing team does not know the “freebie” was meant to compensate them or right the wrong, if you will. So from their perspective, they are still playing a team that they think has gotten away with something and, for all they know, the member of the team giving the “freebie” just happened to lose his concentration for that one point. In short, the “freebie” doesn’t really accomplish anything except to maybe make the player giving it a clearer conscience. The bottom line is, for me, honesty is always the best policy and it does not matter what the match circumstances are – I try to be consistent in every game and every situation. When a point is done, it is done, and I try to make sure the correct call has been made for each and every point that I play, whether in doubles or in singles.

  5. Wow! I guess it is unanimous … making the correct call trumps your partner’s feelings.
    PS guess which one of the commenters is the lawyer!

  6. spike, i’m cruising into the morning…….i don’t want to start a new thread and step on george’s toes. but here’s some thoughts on playing tennis early in the morning, and why i prefer to play later in the day.
    as a kid, you went to school all day and looked forward to getting out and playing something. being a teacher for 40 years, i had the same schedule i had as a kid for around 55 years. i’d work during the day and “play” afterward. it was always something to look forward to. i still look forward to doing something in the afternoon when im finished with my”work” (painting is tough work, you know). when guys tell me, let’s play early and get it finished, i have a hard time embracing the notion.
    and of course, at our age, getting the engine started early is not the easiest thing to do, hence i like to “cruise into the morning”.

    Joe – that is a good topic for another post! thanks. george

  7. Some of the same approaches from umpiring would apply to over-ruling your partner. If you are in a position to clearly see that the ball was in, or a touch of the net, then you should make the over-rule. The Code requires this, (however, there are many fine amateur players who do not follow the code to the letter). If your partner is in a better position than you are to make the call on the ball for example, then you would normally want to think twice about over-ruling. You need to see it clearly in or out, and was pointed out above, we ARE old. If the ball is all the way on the other side-line from where you are standing, it can be difficult to make the very close calls. A good umpire knows which calls are high odds and which are lower odds, based on where they are standing or sitting in the chair for example. I umpire D1 tennis in the western U.S. and these questions are top of mind in most umpires’ minds. Now George can start a post about umpires….a whole different topic, I know.

    Paige – that is really more my point … when you THINK the call MAY be wrong; and you ask your partner “Are you sure?” and he says Yes. Then, for me, it becomes very sticky. thanks. (and i usually like umpires!). george

  8. Can someone provide an executive summary of Marty’s tome? I fell asleep in the middle of it – even though it was interesting.

    Bob – Marty is a lawyer who must get paid by the word! George

  9. George! I agree with you 95%. I like your separation of official match versus pick up match. The part I disagree with is missing a shot to make up for the bad call. You are too nice of a guy!!

    Ron – i have been called worse names! 🙂

  10. Slippery slope changing the way you make calls – like stopping to pick up a ball from 1st serve fault that is in the service box, choosing to pick up or not depending on practice match vs competing is setting up confusion when you do not need it (I always pick it up). My partners know or learn quickly that if I see the ball as good, his out call will be overruled, always. Not that my eyesight is better nor that my call is correct, just that conflicting calls should end in the benefit of the doubt going to “in”. One of the pleasures of competing in age group open tennis is that very very few players do not make calls with integrity. Questions are usually eyesight not character. Met and competed against many new (for me) players this past January on the “Florida” 65+ circuit and without exception, the “calls” etiquette was impeccable.

    Winder – I agree, the tournament players are usually great on correct calls. see you in January. george

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