Line Call Controveries

argueTournament player Winder Bill writes, “In the just completed Super Tier II in Morristown, NJ, Bill Bruder and I played the 65 doubles finals against players who I know to have high character quality. We had a ferocious (and very fun match) with two unfortunate incidents.

“After winning the 1st set, we were down in the 2nd set but fighting back with my serve 2-4 add in. I hit a 2nd serve ace down the tee that I ‘know’ hit 1/4 of the line (serving Aussie). They called it out, double fault. And I knew it was in.

“I questioned the call and they showed a mark that I ‘knew’ was not close to being the correct mark. I told them it was not the mark, the mark on the line was the right mark; and they shrugged, double fault. I was upset but felt the proper procedure had been done and played on.

The Second Time Around

“On 15-40 match point for us with them serving, their 2nd serve down the tee landed and my partner and I both called it out.

“Knowing it was close and the hugest of points, I never took my eye off the mark, walked up to it, circled it and checked to make sure it did not hit the line. It was out by less than 1/2 inch but clearly out.

“They questioned the call vehemently. “I know it hit the line!’ etc., etc. I tried to explain (a mistake according to my partner) that just like their call on my serve, if I am confident in my call and have the mark without having to go look for a mark, their absolute confidence my call is wrong does not matter. I am going to stay with my call.

“My question? How do you salvage the good spirit that is lost in that controversy? Again, my opponents are class acts and there is no question about their sincerity. We all know players who will do wrong things in order to win a match but these guys do not!”

Winder, in my opinion, if your opponents were questioning the interpretation of the mark, you could call over a referee to decide; but if they are challenging WHICH mark you are circling, it is up to the players on the court.

Other than the “rules,” it comes down to human relations and trust. I agree with your partner that citing their earlier controversial call only makes it seem more like “pay back.” I would have just reiterated that you were sorry they disagreed, but both you and your partner were very confident that was the correct mark.

If those seniors were also “adults,” they would have to accept it and move on.

Other opinions??

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8 thoughts on “Line Call Controveries

  1. Very good topic, George. At least on hardcourts there’s no such thing as a conclusive mark (I’ve been told this by three ITF officials) so the whole matter of checking a mark is off the table. Still, the bigger picture of maintaining harmony is so, so tricky.

    I’m very disturbed by the notion of asking “Are you sure?” Whenever I’m asked that it bugs me massively. Are you sure? Huh? What’s the appropriate response, I mean really, truly?

    But then again, how do we gradually and kindly let an opponent know we’re not so pleased with a call. So I guess we have to ask it once or twice. And then, to me, on the third bad call, I ask for a linesman.

    But this still doesn’t address your question about good spirit? Well, then, if an opponent can’t be a good sport through all of this, then how much good spirit was there in the first place?

    So to me, mostly I try to take the calls as they come and let the tennis be the tennis.

    And then I remind myself that in the time it took to write this e-mail that several hundred people likely have died of starvation.

    Joel – I agree. There are many more important things in life than challenging a line call. Thanks. George

  2. 21. Making calls on clay courts. If any part of a ball mark touches a line on a clay
    court, the ball shall be called good. If only part of the mark on a court can be seen, this means that the missing part is on a line or tape. A player should take a careful second look at any point-ending placement that is close to a line on a clay court. Occasionally a ball will strike the tape, jump, and then leave a full mark behind the line. This does not mean that a player is required to show an opponent the mark. The opponent shall not pass the net to inspect a mark. If a player hears the sound of a ball striking the tape and sees a clean spot on the tape near the mark, the player should give the point to the opponent.

    With certain people, cheating on a call no amount of arguing will win the point or change their mind. Never let yourself be emotionally taken out of a point , game or match. Better to go along with the call and ask for an official for the remaibder of the match. Bill

    Bill – I believe those very few people who do regularly make bad calls actually count on their opponents “losing it” and their gaining an even bigger advantage. Thanks, geirge

  3. This comment was fantastic: “Other than the “rules,” it comes down to human relations and trust. ” One of the reasons I enjoy tennis so much is the idea of good sportsmanship. If you play tennis, you know not all players have good sportsmanship, so all we can do is use our best judgement and sportsmanship at all times and not fall into the trap of engaging in arguments that are not productive. Call me crazy, but I do think there is great amount of “tennis karma” out there – especially when it comes to line calls.

    Christine – yes, if you feel god about yourself, how you play, and how you act… Then, as Joel wrote, bad calls become meaningless. Thanks and I hope all is well in Hawaii. George

  4. When playing league or tournaments against friends, you know their reputation for line calls (and they know yours)! I have friends that are notorious for calling bad lines and as a player you just have to deal with it.

    When I get questioned about a line call I say “I honestly saw the ball out,” in a situation where you call your own lines that pretty much ends the debate.

    Jeff – You must be a nicer human being than i am… i do NOT have any “friends” who regularly make bad line calls: i choose NOT to play with those people. Life is too short. thanks, george.

  5. all you really have in tennis is your reputation. we would all do better if we always kept this in mind.

    Joe – not only in tennis! Good point. Thanks, geo

  6. Judging by the number and size of these responses this is a highly recognized part of the game. Every player has many many memories going back to their first experiences of the game. Big points, big calls and many emotions at all levels and ages. This is one of the few ball sports played without umpires. Relying on human eyes and brains to process the a ball strike correctly.

    Over time you find out who the fair people are in your own group and outside groups. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the many varieties of line call situations.

    Overruling your partner to get to the right call can go along way to establishing credibility. Good partners will understand and move on.

    If you Call em as you see em, you will hopefully give More than you will Take as long as you employ your best intentions and honesty.
    Calls will always be missed and that is part of the game.

    Just some comments.

    Mike Rennels

    Rambo – as a Newk camp dubs partner of yours, I can attest to you practice what you preach! Thanks. George

  7. This may be the best subject of all your publications. Because this is more than likely happened to all of us at one time or another. I would agree that most tennis players are fair and good sports. I believe that on clay if a call is made and someone looks at you as if to question it without even saying anything that you should immediately circle the mark in question. This shows you are very sure of your call.

    If one of the team members shows a sign of disagreement the point should immediately go to the other team. The only time a make up call should be made is if you are playing someone as referred to in another email that is notorious for making bad calls. Also if you are playing with someone who makes a bad call as his partner you should immediately correct him and make the right call. If you are playing with someone for the first time and he makes a bad call it is most difficult to correct him.
    I still think we should all do our best to make the right call! If I make a bad call and we can all do that I want my partner to correct it. If you are playing in a tournament and you get more than one bad call you should ask for an official. George thanks for this most interesting subject. My last comment is that some calls are made because the person wants the ball to be out?? Phil

    Phil – I agree with all that you have said, including the guys who “see what they want.” thanks, george

  8. Playing in a mixed doubles USTA league match on Har-Tru with my wife a few years back, when she had only been playing tennis a few years and this was maybe her second or third league match ever, she remarked, with a healthy dose of surprise after a ball she hit that was clearly in was called out by the other woman, “Are they cheating? I thought if the ball hit the line it is good.” “Welcome to the world of competitive tennis,” I think I said.

    Of course, I knew we weren’t going to win the match anyway because they were a far more experienced team and my wife was really still learning the game, but it made me think again about the whole topic of cheating and why a team that should have known they were stronger and a virtual guarantee to win would need to resort to cheating at all. I really don’t have an answer for that.

    The best answer I can give is that some people just “need” to win so much, or alternatively hate to lose so much, that they will resort to cheating to create that result, even if it is not really necessary. And/or, they must have a poorly developed sense of guilt. But, to me, I would rather lose a match than win one, by the score at least, that I secretly knew would always have an asterisk.

    And what do you say to your friends afterward when they congratulate you on the win? “You beat the Smiths? They are a strong team. Wow, I am impressed.” How many people would honestly respond to a compliment like that with something like, “Yea, well, I suppose we played pretty well. But between you and me, the real reason we won is because my wife and I hooked them six or seven times on critical points.” I mean, really, who is enough of a sociopath to actually admit to something like that?

    Anyway, back to that mixed doubles match with my wife a few years back. Later in the match, after the opposing team’s cheating, which was actually about 99% attributable to the woman and not the man, become so obvious and constant that it was undeniable, even I started to get pretty pissed off. The critical point happened about mid way in the second set, when I was serving to the opposing woman in the deuce court. I hit a slider serve out wide to her forehand, that hit squarely on the side line with the alley. She never even got her racquet on it. Ace. But not so fast. She was actually calling it out. I couldn’t believe the call. “What do you mean the ball was wide? Are you blind?,” I think I said. “The ball was on the line for three reasons. First, that’s where the mark is. Second, the reason it shot out wide after it bounced is because it hit the tape on the clay. That is what balls do when they hit the tape on clay. Third, it made a sound that confirmed it hit the tape.” But she wouldn’t change her call (or even show me the mark when I asked her to do so). And her husband/ partner was of no help. The consummate wimp, or maybe just a henpecked husband who wanted no trouble at home after the match, he refused to get involved: “I wasn’t in a position to see the ball that well myself, so I have to defer to my wife’s call. If she says it was out, then it probably was out.” And so I had to play a second serve.

    And I did. I aimed my second serve to exactly the same spot as the first serve, only this time with a fair amount more sidespin, and hit another ace. Or so it should have been called, because in fact the second serve never even touched the line but was a few inches inside the court from the line. But not so fast. Astonishingly, the woman had, again, called the ball out. Instead of an ace, it was now a “hooked” double fault. I asked her again to show me the mark, and again she refused, at least initially. But then her husband reminded her that because the match was on clay she had to show the mark. So she walked up, found a mark in the alley that was a good 8 inches away from where my serve had actually hit, and reconfirmed her out call. I was furious.

    What happens next is kind of a blur. I am not all that proud of this, but this is what happens when I get completely pissed off on a tennis court. My emotions take hold and I cannot really stop myself. I said something like, “Ok, there will be consequences for that.” The woman asked, “What do you mean by that?” I said only, “You’ll see. There are consequences when you cheat.”

    So, lining up to serve the next point to her husband in the ad court, I noticed again something that I had noticed earlier in the match. The opposing woman stood too close to the net when her husband was returning serve. My intention as not to hit her, I swear. It was only to put a good fear of God into her for her blatant cheating throughout the match, and also to back up what I meant by my “there will be consequences” statement. I mean, I really only wanted to scare her, that’s all.

    But I guess my adrenaline must have been pumping a bit too hard. Instead of aiming the serve toward the ad service box, I aimed it straight at the opposing woman, standing too close to the net. I expected her to duck out of the way of the ball but, for whatever reason, she just stood there like a statue, hands in the ready to volley position, feet planted firmly on the ground. And the serve came off my racquet like a guided missile, headed straight at her.

    She never moved an inch. Thunk!! The ball hit her square on the chest. Before I could raise my hand to give her a (semi sincere) apology, she said, angrily, “You did that on purpose.” And I think my response was something like, “Well, if you mean did I intend to hit you, no I did not do that on purpose. But this is what I meant when I said there are consequences. When you piss somebody off by making bad line calls, sometimes they just cannot control the direction of the ball if you make them too mad. Anyway, I apologize. Are you hurt?”

    She denied being hurt and insisted on continuing with the match. But when she stood right back at the net and announced, “Second serve,” I had to correct her. “I’m sorry, but because the ball hit you, it’s actually our point. 15 all.” She turned to her husband and he confirmed that this was correct. Neither she nor her husband gave us another bad line call for the rest of the match, although, as predicted, they won the match quite easily. And it is probably telling that the woman’s husband, either still a wimp or secretly happy I had taught his wife a little lesson, did not say anything to me at all about the serve to the chest incident during the rest of the match, or afterward. Nor did he attempt to retaliate by hitting hard balls at my wife.

    In hindsight, I would like to think it does not take actually hitting somebody to get an incorrigible cheater to stop cheating, and I swear to this day I really did think the woman would have time to duck away from my serve and it would not hit her. But karma can indeed be a bitch.

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