Playing Cheaters

“That’s all I can stands…”

We have discussed earlier how to play vs. cheaters.  Since the problem will (sadly) never go away, here is a plea from a new senior tournament player…

I have been training for about a year to enter the 55 senior events and have elevated my game from 4.0 to 4.5.

My first tournament was the east coast swing in January. I played a guy in the first match who was a gentleman and who beat me 6-4 6-0.  He asked for my contact info so we can stay in touch.  He was a doll.

Then in the consolation match, I played a guy who cheated me so blatantly that the player in the next court whom I did not know, said quietly to me toward the end of the first set “that is the fourth ball he called out that was in.”

This went on and on until when I finally challenged him, he started making a lot of noise and protesting and denying he ever cheats so loudly that I requested an umpire.  He came and was not able to do much as this was clearly not his thing. He was clearly out of his element. 

Unable to get loose and relax, I lost in the third set tie breaker by two points.  

The nastiness of the experience took all the fun out of it.   It’s one thing to lose a few points to calls but this guy had elevated cheating to part of his strategy.  If no one could see to check him, he called it out.

Today, I played in the next east coast swing 55 tourney.  The same thing happened. I played an experienced player who was making fine calls until the match got close. Then he started doing the same thing making bad calls. When I challenged him about a very important call at 5-5 he looked at the mark and said, “it’s out.”  I looked at the mark as well and it was clearly touching the line. He said, “my call. It was close but a judgment call”.  The mark was clearly on the line.

To make matters worse the Cheater from the weak before was on the next court interjecting his opinion and cheers for my opponent whom he knew. When I told the guy I was playing not to engage that guy he said menacingly  “don’t ever tell me what to do”. 

When I told the cheater in the next court not to communicate to our court or I would complain, he started yelling at me and went to the umpire to complain I was bothering his match. This was a beautiful strategy for him because it made me look like the bad guy.

As I focused on my match and applied more and more pressure my opponents attitude became nastier and more rude. He closed out the first set tie breaker 7-5 by saying “take that bitch” so loud we got a warning.

I took a 2-0 lead and his cheating intensified. Now he was calling balls out that were not even close and challenging balls clearly out to get under my skin. He stood at the net (all 6-3, 250 lbs of him) screaming like an animal after a point to try to intimidate me.  It was surreal.

Unfortunately, the same umpire from the last tourney came and he was no help.  He was not able to see the court or focus well.  So this gave my opponent more opportunity to challenge obvious balls to his advantage and call balls out. 

I was so angry and agitated that I fell off my game and lost 7-6 7-6, missing an easy overhead at the net and double faulting the match away.

The joy and beauty of tennis was destroyed for me. The two opponents I had were without grace or manners and all they cared about was winning. I even said to the last guy after a ridiculous call he made where the mark was on the line and there was no other, around “do you really want to win like that?”

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. He had no shame. No scruples. No integrity. 

My question is this: should I expect this in these senior tournaments or are these two experiences an aberration?  I found both entirely unenjoyable and detest being associated with this type of conflict where my name and reputation is tarnished by low level thieves.

Do you have any advice to offer?”  Adam Pollock, Dade County, Florida

My Opinion

Adam, first of all, 99 out of 100 tournament players are like you and me: out for a good time, a good match, and good line calls.  Those who play tournaments regularly know who the “1 out of 100” are (and I think THEY know that WE know who they are).

So here is what I would suggest…

  • Ask politely if they are sure the ball was out (they should circle and leave a mark for you to see on the change-over).
  • If the bad line calls continue, you can “fight fire with fire” and start calling ANY of their shots near the line OUT (I have never done this; but other friends have).
  • Call an umpire to stand near the court (this will only help temporarily, because they cannot stay there the whole match).
  • And finally, QUIT. Under the heading “Life is too short,” there is no reason to allow a cheater to spoil what is supposed to be fun.  I think if more people quoted PopEye and said “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more,” and walk off the court, maybe the message would be delivered.

What does anyone else think?

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12 thoughts on “Playing Cheaters

  1. I hate the reciprocal hooking………I’ve seen matches where it got so nuts that balls inches inside were being called out back and forth and in the end it was like a drop shot competition.

    I like the calling him out……….and then if it continues and the umpires no help just walking away. I’ve done it – very loudly and clearly calling the player out and stating I am not going to play a cheater. Not worth all the anger and bad feelings –

    MICHEL, my feelings exactly! Thanks. George

  2. I drop shot a cheater till he gets the idea, I drop shotted a player 16 times in a row , he got the idea , and quit, only one in a hundred still a great game

    Butch, as long as you have a good drop shot. Thanks. George

  3. There is a procedure to follow:
    1. If you think a ball your opponent called out was in, ask: “Are you certain? I thought the ball may have been in.” (You are providing information on the call to your oppoent. Players are meant to cooperate in bringing information to bear.)
    2. If he insists he is certain of his call – he is not obliged to circle the mark, though you can ask: Is there a mark? – it is his call; but –
    3. If you feel the opponent is cheating, ask for a referee.
    4. If the referee is not helpful, ask for the Tournmanet Referee. If unavailable, or unhelpful, withdraw (do not default) under protest. Submit your protest in detail to the Tournament Referee in writing immediately with copy to USTA.

    Nick, interesting… what ends up being the difference between the withdrawal and the default? Thanks. George

  4. George, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of responses to this topic. As you know, I film most of my matches, and when there is a dispute over a line call, I try to go back and review it. I have several observations. First, I run into almost no one who makes a bad call on purpose. That being said, I have started a folder with all the bad calls my practice partner of 15 years has made. I mean, really BAD ones! 6″ in and he calls them out, and he’s right there next to the ball. When “confronted”, he insists that he still saw the ball out. We’re good friends I am positive that he wouldn’t knowingly call a ball out that’s in. Conclusion – it’s hard to call some balls, even when you think you know what you are seeing.

    I also know that, especially on clay, a lot of balls that I see on the far side of the court that I am pretty sure are in, are correctly called out by my opponent. And vice versa. I’ve gotten a lot of crusty looks on baseline balls that I called out and later confirmed that they were indeed out.
    Along those lines, a really hard one to call is a serve near the center sideline of the service box. For years I thought I was getting cheated only to learn through video that balls that looked good to me (the server), were indeed out.

    Here’s some videos, see for yourself.

    So, I think it’s a two way street. Sometimes we make bad calls and sometimes we THINK our opponents are cheating us when they are not.

    Mike, while I do agree with most all you said, there ARE a small minority who do make intentionally wrong calls always in their favor. Thanks. George

  5. This is a perennial bugaboo for all tournament players, and recreational players too. No one has any easy answers, but I have a few thoughts/ suggestions:

    1). I somewhat blame the tournaments themselves for this. When you as a player call over a referee, he/she should be well trained enough (and assertive enough and able to see well enough) to actually make a difference. Normally, the USTA sections supply the referees. If they are not up to it because of physical or personality limitations, then the TDs should get together and insist on better people from the USTA – or supply their own.

    2). It has also been my experience that nearly everybody knows who the cheaters are. They are quite notorious. And since they do it to almost everybody else that they play, I find it helpful to ask around among the other players before I walk on the court against somebody new. Aside from getting advice like “don’t play his backhand, he never misses” you can also get a handle on whether you are up against a known cheater. Since knowledge is power, you can then decide whether to implement one of the strategies below.

    3). I have seen players go to the TD or referee before a match even starts and ask the TD or referee give a little speech before the match begins along the lines of “we will be watching” and warning both players against cheating. Of course, if you ask for such a speech to be delivered, and the TD or a referee agrees, you have to stand there and know that it is being equally directed to you, but sometimes cheaters are on a bit better behavior if they know from the start that the tournament is going to be policing cheating more aggressively than what they are used to.

    4). I have also seen players ask for a referee to stand by the court for the entire match, right from the beginning and before the first point is even played. Most times, the referees will not do this because they have other responsibilities and other courts to cover, but occasionally they will – especially if they know from prior experience that your opponent is a known cheater. In any case, it does not hurt to ask and, at worst, the referee will probably be ready to come out to the court more quickly if he/she has been so forewarned.

    5). Another tactic that I have seen used against a well known cheater is to have your wife or a friend video the match from the spectators’ gallery. While it won’t stop some cheaters, those who maybe feel a little guilty about what they are doing do not like the fact that somebody is next to the court making a video record of all of their bad line calls that can then be posted to YouTube or Facebook – or just shared with all of the other players to have a good laugh and to confirm what everyone already knows. Exposing and ostracizing a cheater like this can be effective if the cheater is not already a sociopath. If he is – and many are, which explains why they cheat – he won’t give a damn and, in fact, may somewhat like the notoriety.

    6). You have to be pretty self confident to do this next one – and it also helps to be of a big enough stature that the cheater will not try to slug you before the match begins. But I have seen it work. Some time ago, I watched a very good player that I have a lot of respect for take the court in a tournament finals against a long time nemesis that he (and everybody else) knew to be an inveterate cheater. Before they even started to warm up, my friend walked up to the net and beckoned his opponent to come forward. He then said, “Listen Lance [not his real name, but close], you and I both know what is gonna happen since we have played before, so I just want to warn you in advance. The first time you hook me, I’m not calling for a referee. I’m just gonna hook you back on an important point. The second time you hook me, I’m still not gonna call the referee over but I am gonna hook you on another important point. And so on until you stop cheating. Now, if you don’t hook me first, you’re only gonna get fair and accurate line calls from me the entire match. The choice is yours buddy, but I’m not putting up with your shit. Understood?” Of course, Lance got all upset at this and started to shout at my friend, but my friend just calmly told him to get back at the baseline for warmup and to shut up. Lance did not give one bad line call to my friend the entire match, which my friend won, and all of the crowd watching remarked afterward how well behaved Lance was for the entire match.

    7). And you can always do what you suggest, George, which is to just pack your bags and walk off the court if it gets too much to take. Tennis is supposed to be fun – not a precursor to a heart attack or a stroke. No tennis match is worth having to put up with some classless lout who defines himself not on his sportsmanship but on how many times he can take points away from an opponent that he does not deserve. Ultimately. the cheater has to live with himself Those who are known to fit this category normally have very few friends, if any, among the tennis community.

    Marty, maybe TDs should “arrange” for known cheaters to play the #1 seed in the first round?! Thanks. George

  6. Thank you George for taking up this issue. I can see by the passionate responses that others have experienced the anguish and helplessness of going up against a skilled and practiced cheater.

    That having been said, I love Mike Lammens’ (above) outlook on tennis and on life. Always give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Its a beautiful quality to have on an on off the court. Far superior to winning.

    But respectfully, I have to agree with George. While everyone makes bad calls, even those with the best of intentions. (Even professional umpires are overruled by Hawkeye some percentage of the time). There are some people for whom cheating is a strategy. Their intentions become obvious. You can tell by their demeanor, the location and timing of their bad calls (for ex. often by the service line where its harder for you to see), when they cover up the circle they drew on the ball mark before you switch over, and by their overall nature. Good men, generous men, kind men, don’t cheat.

    This is why I am an advocate for an Ebay-type reputation rating for player etiquette. After each match players should go on line and rate their opponent on how he or she conducted himself. This would discourage cheaters and encourage giving the opponent the benefit of the doubt. Who would want a potential employer or customer to read they have a 2 of five stars on ball calling? I know some poor sports might take advantage of this opportunity to give unfair ratings, but over time, these untrue ratings would not make a significant difference and the bad sports would become known for their unfair ratings.

    Any thoughts on this idea?

    Adam, we do have a “system” …. it is called Word of Mouth. Continue playing tournaments and you will learn the name of every cheater out there. Thanks, george

  7. Adam, the answer to your question is that your experience was an aberration – you should not deny yourself the decades ahead of enjoying open level, age group competition. With a few exceptions, the accomplished, experienced players will compete with 100% effort and appropriate behavior. The boorish atmosphere you suffered through in those two matches is very unfortunate and very atypical. Work on your fitness and tennis skills and enjoy the game.

    Winder, well said! Thanks. George

  8. These tournaments have Roving Umpires and “A” Referee. If you call an official over to your court to assist with a problem, such as bad line calls and you perceive that the Umpire is less than competent please request the Referee. We hear about incidences like this so often. It makes the rest of us, officials look bad. Please, don’t just complain amongst yourselves. Get the officials name. Write letters to USTA. There are a lot of competent officials that care that matches should be conducted in a fair manner.

    Gerry, thanks for the good advice. Never thought to do that. George

  9. Winder has got it correct. I injured my shoulder and elbow in February of 2015 and tried to “play through it ” until it broke down completely in November of 2015. Still have probably three more months of rehab until I am allowed to see how things go. I have had a couple of issues with guys but they are greatly outweighed by the hours and hours of actual fun that playing in open level age group events. I miss my friends and feel lucky to have had the opportunity to complete and meet them all. I’ll make it back and I think I will possibly even laugh at those few boneheaded nuts who feel a cheating win is worth anything.

    Patrick, laughing is good … if you can do it. Get well soon. George

  10. what ends up being the difference between the withdrawal and the default? Thanks. George

    It may be that you are out of the tournament in either case. But, the documentation to the tournament director and to the USTA may be of some value. (1) For example, if the Director seemed unable to deal with the situation, the USTA may investigate the tournment further and take steps to improve the tournment direction. (2) The offending player is on record, should the situation happen again and involve him. (3) You have the satisfaction that you have fought hard for yourself – clean, sportsmanlike, without unpleasantness on the court – and it could have future benefit. Nick

  11. Funny how sometimes we can not count correctly even from 1 to 2 . ( ” The tiebreak was 7-7 and we won 2 of the next 3 for the set. ” ) Same with a bad call . When you get one , you must give 2 ( two ) bad calls back . One to take the point he got ; one to get the one you did not win . So that does not usually work . I try to tell ( the occasional bad guy ) , ” I will play everything . And call ‘ Out ‘ only if I’m positive it’s out . But if you have any question , don’t hesitate to say something . ” When they agree , you’re in business . You just say , ” If I have a question , I’ll do the same . ” The main credo is , On your side , If there is any doubt , the ball must be good .

    bob, right, instead of the joking credo of “when in doubt, call it out.” Rather it is just the opposite, “When in doubt, call it IN.” thanks, george

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