Marking the Mark

mark circledWhen you have a close call against you on a clay court match, I believe it is proper etiquette to politely ask, “Do you have a mark?” and your opponent should oblige by looking, confirming, and circling it. But HOW he circles it could be indicative of its correctness.

Two times in the last two years of tournament play, I have gone through the sequence above and have my opponent indicate the “out” mark by running his racquet – not around the outside of the mark and line – but through the space (or lack thereof) BETWEEN the mark and the line!

(The photo is a simulation of what I am writing about and is not as close to the line as the real marks were).

One of the two times it happened, as I walked to the net to look at the sideline mark, my opponent erased it with his foot – a violation of the Code.

So what do these actions say about the call? I believe it is true guilt over making a bad call and “destroying the evidence.”

Another “violation” in my opinion is the player who ignores your request to have him look for and confirm the mark, by his simply dismissing your concern with, “Oh, it was way out.” And walking away.

Chuck Kinyon and I played a tournament match last month when the opponent called a ball out on the sideline and both of us immediately questioned him on the call, asking him to check the mark. His response? “Oh, I really didn’t see it (!#$@!); so you can have the point.”

What do you think?

Today’s Singles

Before coming up to Sarasota, Naples tennis friend Spike Gonzales looked at my draw and the possibility of playing his Buffalo, NY friend Tom LaPenna… and he said, “George, he is a mirror image of you and will gut it out till the end.” And that is who I played today.

Before the match, I said to DeDe that I will have to play a lot of serve/volley and short points to keep the match short; otherwise I will run out of gas from my 2.5 hour match yesterday with Dan Garrick.

I followed my game plan and was able to jump out to a “commanding” 4-1 lead; but as you know, no lead is safe and Tom clawed and cut-shotted his way back to 5-5.

I was able to break him and serve for the first set at 6-5, 40-15 (two set points). Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut, he really raised his game and he won 11 of the next 14 points… breaking me and taking the tie breaker in a first set that took well over one hour!

In the second set, I tired some and lost a step and he was serving at 4-1, 30-love when he missed an easy forehand. I turned to the fence and said to DeDe and my life-long friend Steve, “Remember that point.”

With the words of Roy Emerson rattling in my brain again: “Overdue your footwork now, Blue.” I was able to win three consecutive points and set myself up for a game-winning overhead into the open court. But I missed it and all the air went out of my balloon.

I did win one more game; but Tom took the match 7-6, 6-2 in two hours.

For the link to the tournament website, please click HERE

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at
My Book: and if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page.

6 thoughts on “Marking the Mark

  1. George, regarding your question about line calls on clay:

    1). Typically, one circles a mark to show a ball is out on clay on the opposite site of the mark to the line. This makes it easy to spot where the mark was, and also allows anyone who is interested to see how close to, or far from, the line was the ball. But the fact that somebody may circle the mark between the mark and the line does not necessarily indicate cheating — standing alone, that is. Yes, it is possible that if the mark is so close to the line the circling action with the racquet obliterates the evidence that the mark was actually on or touching the line, and it cannot be ruled out that is the intent. But I would let that issue pass UNLESS there is further evidence of another nature to suggest cheating has occurred.

    2). That further evidence would, indeed, include a refusal to show a mark when asked or, even worse, wiping out the mark with one’s foot so it cannot be seen at all. I have never been sure whether there is an actual rule disallowing using one’s foot to do this or it is merely a matter of courtesy, but it really does not matter in my opinion. I agree the two situations combined are evidence of cheating — maybe not conclusive, but pretty strongly circumstantial.

    3). In the law, there is something called “spoliation of evidence.” It means that when Party X has evidence that would be relevant to Party Y’s case, Party X cannot destroy, lose or modify that evidence without authorization — thus the term “spoliation,” which is like “spoiling” — to the detriment of Party Y. When spoliation is proven to have occurred, the usual remedy is for the judge to issue an “adverse inference” charge to the jury. This means that, at trial, the jury will be instructed that Party X had evidence that might have been relevant to Party Y’s proof of his case against Party X but it was destroyed, lost or modified. As a result, Party Y has been deprived of relevant and important evidence that might help prove his case. Since Party X is the guilty party for making the evidence unavailable to the jury, the jury is free to draw whatever inferences it may wish to draw that are adverse to Party X for having destroyed, lost or modified the evidence unlawfully. I would say that the actions of your opponent here, George, would call for an adverse inference against him.

    Marty – that is a real lawyer’s response; but i KNOW if that mark is circled “wrong”, that guy is trying to hide the evidence of his guilt! tks, george

  2. George you have hit on a real good one here. In my opinion any time there is a close call
    the one calling it out should circle the mark immediately. Everyone knows when the
    opponent thinks you made a bad call they just look at you. Just circle the mark or it
    is good.

    No mark the point is yours. Good sportsmanship!!

  3. I have a solution to any close calls on most lines. You don’t clean the lines after brushing the court except for the service and baselines. Then when the ball hits close to the line there is a distinct mark. We have done it in tournaments on the FL SSGP and it works well. There is no problem seeing the long lines as it is just a light covering of the lines. For depth perception it is necessary to do the baseline and service. The problem is players think that a pretty court is better and complain. Try it sometime and you’ll find it’s much easier calling balls on center service and sidelines.

    Larry – Colonial did that one year on all lines; and i had trouble with the depth perception; so maybe the sidelines may be ok. Also, i had a close line call this week that i saw “clear the line”… but when i checked his circled mark, it was clearly out (so, methinks it was just the ball fuzz going by). george

  4. ‘The Code’ says that you don’t have to show a mark.
    If you ask for a mark, a player could show any mark. The correct question is ‘Are you sure of your call?’

    Allan – no where in the code does it say you have to greet and say Hello to your opponent; but we do. I think circling a close mark will evolve into proper etiquette (if isnt already there). PS Great tournament this week… don’t remember anyone recently taking Larry T. to 7-5. george.

  5. george. in my tennis life, i have only one real pet peeve. it’s when im playing a tournament match, and my opponent casually calls a ball out that is very close to the line on a crucial point (usually a break point or game point) and doesn’t circle the mark. he may be correct in his call, but it creates distrust.
    I believe that you should circle the mark on close calls. it makes a statement that im saying this is where the ball landed and im sure of my call. at a changeover you can usually check out the mark and confirm that either you’re the jerk for questioning the call (in your mind), or your opponent is a cheater.
    all we have really, in this tennis life, is our integrity. the worst thing you can be called is a cheater. circling the mark on your close calls makes everyone feel better. we should all do it.

    JoMac – there is that word, “integrity” again! tks. george

  6. Great question to ponder, George, and some interesting perspectives, and pragmatic advice being blogged. For us players, “play must be continuous” so there are only a few “tools” we can use – in the limited time we have – when we feel the call may be incorrect, and worse yet, the opponent circles the mark in a way that makes it useless. And, as we all know, we play under the ITF Rules and The Code, which of course is so detailed it would surely take a lawyer to have total recall of these rules and ethics during a match. As tennis officials, we are required to go to Officials Training one full day per year, every year, to retain our certification.

    If a match is officiated, players have some recourse to appeal to the Chair or Roving Umpire who was in “direct observance” of the incident when it happened. If a player erases the ball mark (which George’s photo could be considered an “erasure”) before the chair umpire made a final decision, then that player loses the point. This is a USTA Officials regulation for “Ball Mark Inspection Procedures.” Most of us don’t get to play in officiated matches too often as seniors, however, so then what do we do?

    If we are on court without an official, our usual mode, we’re relying on the good intentions and honesty of the other player(s) on court. Under “The Code — The Players Guide to Fair Play,” the section on “Making calls on clay courts” says that a player making a close call on clay should “take a careful second look” to be sure their call is correct. As you know, under no circumstances may we walk past the net post to the other side of the court to inspect a mark, or we risk immediate default by an official/referee. I would agree with George that it is very acceptable to ask if the opponent can identify the mark on clay to confirm the call. If that player erases a mark or partially obscures a mark as George has shown, and then sticks to the out call, there is little more we can do other than get back into play. (Have you been in a match where the opponent selects a completely different mark that is clearly out to support the call?) We can, however, leave the court to find the Referee or other Official, and request an official come to our court. It will be the responsibility of the Referee to find someone to stand at the net post, overrule incorrect calls when needed, to provide neutrality to keep the match fair. Should we do this after one instance or wait for a second or third? Depends on the perceived good or bad intentions of the other player(s), I suppose.

    Other than the above, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the ITF Rules and The Code that can help us specifically deal with these situations on clay. We do rely on the honesty and proper motivation of our opponents every time we step on court – and it generally is borne out or we would see a lot more call for umpires to step on court and uphold the “law.” As we know, the traditions of tennis are such that good sportsmanship is our individual responsibility, not arguing over issues and bad calls on court.

    Hard do know how many higher level tennis seniors carry a “Friend at Court 2015” in their bag, which contains ALL the rules in just under 300 pages, but it is available from the USTA to anyone for about $5 to $10 a copy. Fascinating reading partly because of the myriad clarifications, knotty problems, and comments the USTA has added to the ITF Rules through the years.

    Paige Hiatt

    Paige – Thanks for the great “official” perspective! George

Comments are closed.