Handling a Bad Call

yellingWe are all human and can make mistakes when calling the lines in a tennis match; but how should you react to an opponent who goes “ballistic”?

That is the question asked by tournament player Bernie Palmatier:

“I was playing in Cat II Seniors tournament when, early in the first game, my opponent questioned one of my calls of “out.” He went ballistic shouting everything but what the code suggests (“Are you sure?”). He called the referee and insisted that there had to be a mark within a foot of the baseline center marker.

The referee came to our court and searched for a ball mark of any kind in the area my opponent was insisting it hit and could find nothing, nada, no marks of any kind. The referee’s conclusion: “I didn’t see the point and there is nothing here that would indicate I can overturn his call.” I took the point since I had no doubt about my call.

The referee stayed watching our match for the next two or three games and then departed. Shortly thereafter my opponent came to the net and motioned with his index finger that I should approach him. I did so whereupon he basically threatened me with “Bernie, I’m not going to put up with your games and your B.S. Let’s either play tennis or not play tennis. Etc., etc., etc.”

I tried to tell him the proper way to question a call and he responded “I don’t give a damn about proper or what the rules say, I’m telling you I’m not putting up with your B.S., so play tennis or…”
My opponent has a reputation for being sullen and not a whole lot of fun to play. I’ve played him a number of times and never once found myself enjoying the game that I truly love when faced with him in a match.

So, two questions:
Although I have never heard of this particular opponent doing anything physical to one of his opponents in a match, I have played others who have. When he threatened me with “I’m not going to put up with…” should I have called the referee to make him aware of my perceived threat and, if so, once substantiated could he have been defaulted in the match? (Not that I would have wanted to win in that fashion since I play tournaments so I can play tennis).

My second question: Should I attempt to communicate with my ungentlemanly opponent and try to “mend fences”? Several years ago I had a major conflict with another player I knew I’d be seeing at other tournaments and I determined that a good bit of the joy of playing a tournament he and I would both be entered in would be destroyed by the tension of being in each other space. Therefore, I approached him the very next day and apologized for my part in the conflict. He did the same and we did the old “let by-gones be by-gones.” I’d like that to be the case in this instance. Should I send him a letter, an email, call him by phone (if I can get that information) or do I just drop it and hope the end result of our match doesn’t fester in his mind to the point where he cripples me the next time he and I are in each other’s space at a tournament?”

George’s Opinion…

Bernie, some players use questioning of your line calls as a gamesmanship technique to intimidate you – and influence later line calls in their favor. It doesn’t sound like what he said would warrant calling the tennis police on him to seek a default; but it sure does take the fun out of a fun game.

Assuming that you are not one of the above games-playing line callers, I would wait to see him at the next tournament and take the same approach as you did with your other challenging opponent; just pointing out that “We are all human and do make mistakes”; and while you were confident your call was correct, you are sorry it disrupted the match.

What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “Handling a Bad Call

  1. I always stay firm to my conviction that the ball was out when I call it out. I stay soft spoken and say something like. “Look, I called the ball out and I’m certain it was out. If you feel we should have a linesman, then by all mean let’s request one”

  2. Poor Bob, his reputation lives on. He once ran for a political office with the slogan “Hatem, you’ll Love’m.”

    Jack, I LOVE it! george

  3. I wouldn’t apologize. Saying that you are “Sorry it disrupted the match”, when you aren’t the one who blew his cool, just isn’t right as you did nothing wrong. I think you just let it go…it’s his deal, not yours, and you shouldn’t worry about it.

    Personally, I film most of my matches and have learned that I’m not infallible. Certain balls that I always thought were in, such as a serve that lands just outside of the near (or center) sideline of the service box. From my perspective as the server, it looks good, but as I’ve seen on film they often aren’t. Now, I keep my mouth shut on those balls.

  4. Bernie, nor any other player should have to put up with that sort of gamesmanship, blatant attempt of intimidation and unsportsmanlike conduct. Bernie should have sought out an official again, informed him of what had transpired and requested that he stay on court for a while. A good proactive official should stay for three or four games. If he sees no problems with the line calls, before leaving the court, he should bring both players to the net and tell them that they do not need help with their calls that all observed calls were find. He should instruct both players to take responsibility for their own side of the court only and remind them that tennis has always been a gentleman’s sport.

    Gerry, thank you for input from the professional official! george

  5. You owe him nothing and a bully will only become more aggressive. We had an age group player years ago in the 35’s that would have a tirade early in a match.I watched him several times and I realized that it was a ploy. Most of us are decent men and would never want anyone to think we would cheat.What he would accomplish is getting his opponent to hesitate and give calls away. It become obvious to me what was happening.
    We met in the State tourney and he pulled the same hooey on me in the second game.
    I told him I knew exactly what he was doing and he could poop in his Easter Basket for all I cared.We did not have another problem,could be your barbarian was trying the same stuff.

    Ron, did he happen to have his Easter Basket with him?! thanks, george

  6. To George and Bernie,
    Sorry, I forgot to add, the official involved should inform the other officials that that court needs a close eye.

  7. Get real! You are all playing in the Death League, which is the league you play before you die, so stop acting like you are going to win Wimbledon and try to enjoy the game. That applies to both sides!

  8. I love Helmut’s comment. I had never thought about in that way.Hit the nail on the head.

  9. Never, ever, ever apologize for something you have not done wrong. It only emboldens the bullies to further take advantage of you. It will do no good, only bad, especially when playing against what I call the Borderline Personality Tennis Player (BPTP), who I describe below.

    Over the years I have observed it is a favorite tactic of certain players to start out acting like THEY are the ones being victimized by YOUR bad calls. Don’t fall for this tactic. If you are up against a BPTP, and chances are several times in your career you will be, what will (inevitably) happen is the BPTP will start questioning your calls as if you are hooking them, when you are not, and they will then use this self-created scenario to their tactical advantage in one of two ways: Either they will use this as a psychological ploy to pump up their adrenaline, thereby hoping to run faster, hit harder, etc., or they will use your (alleged) “hooking” as an excuse to start hooking you for real throughout the match. However, it goes much farther than the BPTP merely hooking you back. In fact, it is a completely integrated, and remarkably well designed, tennis tactic that these people use time and again to their advantage against we unsuspecting opponents. In other words, the BPTP will tactically set himself up as the perceived victim when, in fact, it is only the bully who is actually cheating on the court.

    When faced with playing against a BPTP, most normal people will react in one of two ways, and neither of those two reactions are conducive to winning tennis matches:

    On the one hand, if you are kind of meek and mild in personality, you will start getting a case of the self doubts (i.e., “Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am not seeing the ball as well as I thought. Maybe I really AM inadvertently hooking my opponent. After all, why else would he be getting so upset with me?”). Those self doubts will lead to trying to be overly generous with the bullying opponent and actually giving away close points in the opponent’s favor just to avoid further confrontation. But it will not work. The BPTP actually wants you to do this. He will not appreciate that you are giving him points he does not deserve. He wants MORE. He wants to crush you. So, he will just continue to accuse you of cheating him, and may even say something like, “I see you are now calling the close ones in my favor. Thanks, but you previously hooked me out of a dozen prior balls and nothing will make up for those.” Given your more easy going personality, you are now officially cooked. There is no way you can win the match. You may as well pack your towel and go home.

    On the other hand, maybe your personality tends toward the aggressive (like mine does). In that case, what is bound to happen is your adrenaline will overload because the BPTP has gotten you so furious with his tactics that all you REALLY want to do is jump over the net and beat his sorry ass into unconscious submission with your tennis racquet. But you know you cannot do that. So, what really happens is you will start screaming at the rat bastard over the slightest perceived issue, jumping your blood pressure to somewhere around 210/180, while your hands are literally shaking and your feet will not move to the point that you cannot keep any shots in the court or get to any balls because the fight or flight syndrome has fully taken hold. Once again, your goose is cooked and you cannot play tennis well enough to beat even a 4 year old. You will lose.

    If you think about it from a Dr. Phil perspective, the BPTP that I have just described has set up almost an unbeatable psychological ploy. He wins many, many matches that he probably should not just on the basis of his unfair and unreasonable tactics alone. Typically, I have found that people like this were good athletes in some other sport that favors aggression and trash talking, like baseball, hockey or football, and have come to the game of tennis later in life. As a result, they often don’t have very good looking shots, although they may be athletic and move well so they get a lot of stuff back despite their crappy stroke technique. If they were not outright cheating, a more accomplished tennis player would beat them fairly easily. But they win a lot of matches, even without having very good technical games, based on the bullying tactics that I have described.

    I have come to understand what they are doing, having been victimized by people like this more than a few times over my tennis career. Now that I know what they are doing, I try to take steps to prevent them from getting to me before it even happens. The most important step, I have found, is to tell them at the outset — even before the match begins — that I know what they are up to and I will not tolerate it. I make a point of letting them know that at the first sign of trouble, I am going to call for an official. And I do that, just as I promised. Further, I never, ever, ever apologize for anything that I have done, because it is clear I am really being the victim when playing against such a person.

    Still it is hard to play such people. It takes all the joy out of being on the tennis court when you mainly have visions of decapitating your opponent on the court instead of just quietly playing your game and trying to win fairly and squarely. Fortunately, most tennis players are nowhere as bad as this, but there are a number of them still out there.

    Marty, long but good. Thanks, George

  10. Thanks to Jim, Mike, Gerry, Ron and Marty. (Eugene, should I keep an eye out for Mr. Hatem?) My response to Helmut goes like this: 1. Every time I and another player flip a coin to determine choices I say very clearly “Let’s have fun and no injuries.” 2. I wrote a book about a system I call “Attitude Control” which I’ve preached and practiced for many years. It helps with my personal, professional and recreational life. It helps me win at tennis (even though there have been those occasions when I miss a shot “I’ve made ten thousand times before” and have a tendency to “lose it” — usually happens when playing doubles so I tell my three buddies “can you imagine what would have happened if I didn’t practice Attitude Control?”) It also helps me, win or lose, communicate pleasantly with the opponent I just lost to or whom I just defeated. 3. Regarding your “Get real! You are all playing in the Death League, which is the league you play before you die, so stop acting like you are going to win Wimbledon and try to enjoy the game. That applies to both sides!” I do play the game for enjoyment but you’re a better man than I Gunga Din if you can naturally shrug off a player who has mastered “taking the fun out of the game.” Second, none of us in your self-defined “Death League” has any fantasies about “winning Wimbledon”; however, we are competitive, often invest quite a bit of time, practice and money to playing these events and, although I experienced an AMI while playing tennis almost fourteen years ago, I often tell people I’m likely still alive due to the game. Therefore I prefer to think of it as the “Life League.” And if you give it just a little thought EVERYONE IS PLAYING IN A LEAGUE “BEFORE THEY DIE.” You remind me of my first sales manager who, when I had trouble handling rejection, said, “Oh, let it roll of your back like water off a duck’s back.” I told him, “I’m not a duck and I have no feathers designed to do that with rejection.” Therefore, I appreciate the suggestions of those I mentioned above since they are constructive, helpful and definite actions that can be taken. Your comment, Helmut, reminds me of something my dad would say “Quit your whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.” Not the greatest of parenting either, I’d say.
    Marty, you hit the nail on the head regarding another active senior player who succeeded using the very strategy you mention: “Over the years I have observed it is a favorite tactic of certain players to start out acting like THEY are the ones being victimized by YOUR bad calls.” I had been warned by another player about the fact that my opponent would “hook me”; but he never mentioned that he would rant and rave about me hooking him. I had never faced anything like it and it DID totally blow my mind. Thanks for the ideas on how to handle him and other like him in the future. Thanks to all you guys for reading and commenting on my dilemma and for subscribing to George’s blog. Happy tennising. Enjoy….AND NO INJURIES.

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