Monday, April 22, 2013

Ball Line Calls in Tennis ... Being Human


I'm writing this article because recently it has come to my attention that the "bad line call" is in fact a part of tennis. Everyone who has ever played tennis regularly has missed line calls at some point in time...

Both on the ones that were actually out (whether on a serve or on the sideline/baseline) but we played anyway AND when we made inaccurate out calls on balls that were actually in. But we made in good faith with our less than "Shot-Spot-perfect" eyes.

Yes. You are, I am, we all are H-U-M-A-N. It happens....A lot actually!

Nobody is perfect, nor faultless (Players nor Officials)


Just look at this: 2013 Australian Open Challenge Statistics compiled after this year's Grand Slam tournament. At the Top Professional Level of tennis in the ATP and WTA, the players themselves, were wrong more than 2/3 of the time (about 70% of the time, the challenger was incorrect).

Remember, there are only a very limited in the amount of challenges available per set, so you can assume that they challenged because they genuinely felt unsatisfied with the ruling made on the court.

What is maybe more interesting is how often the Officials were wrong. Even when you have officials on every line and highly-paid umpires, they were actually "Caught" by Shot-Spot being wrong about 25% of the time, and those points had to be overturned or replayed. Just for the record, that was (at least) 189 times during that tournament alone where the officials were wrong, to be precise, according to the Australian Open website.

So that means that even these are paid and trained officials during the average match are missing about 1 or 2 calls per match at a Grand Slam. And yes, this is when those players are actually playing for millions of dollars AND Wimbledon is on the line =)

Therefore in amateur matches and local pick-up games, you can expect to have a few missed calls (both in the caller's favor and sometimes a mistake in NOT calling and against their favor). If we make all calls in good faith, then for the most part, it should even out in the end. Or at least not effect the final outcome of a match...

What we do and how we react to this is the important part.

You cannot immediately over-react and assume your opponent is a cheater. Getting mad or upset or rattled about one bad call is a mental weakness.

You should assume they made a mistake and not a deliberate one. If it happens continually, then go ask for a line judge. It helps free up both players to hit the ball and not worry as much on making every call perfectly.

The USTA code of tennis says you can challenge or ask for a confirmation on the call from your opponent, but without an official there watching it is your Opponent who has the Right to make the call on his/her side of the court then you should accept it and move on. Important: *If you didn't see the ball land and space between the line and the ball, you should always assume it was in.*


Trying to Right a Wrong

Even in the tournament I recently played in this past weekend in Annapolis, I witnessed at least one specific episode where my opponent insists that I am trying to defraud them on a line call.
In a long and tight rally, a shot he hits down the line is called out by me. 
Me: Out. That was wide.
Him: What?? Are you sure? It hit the line!
Me: Yes, I am. I am standing right here and it was wide.
Him: Well - it was clearly in!

He proceeds to grumble about it and complain to me about the call. I assert what I saw with my eyes, that the ball was out. He shakes his head and mumbles something... then proceeds to lose the next few points and  eventually the game.

Of course this is a teenager's mind, he is being cheated. It doesn't matter what anyone else watching that same ball saw, in his mind he is sure I have done him a grave injustice.

So what does he do? On the ensuing tie-break, at 3-3 when one of my shots lands near the line... From my perspective, it looks like it is inside the line or at the very least on the line - he lets it bounce right in front of him and calls it out. He points at an imaginary mark and gives me that "that's what you get for hooking me on the last call" look...

Well he eventually won that tie-break and the tournament, but really you have to ask yourself if you really want to live with that in your memory as the way you won. What was really disappointing was he had what appeared to be his mother and other relatives/friends watching him play. With any sort of moral conscience, he knows he did not play or call a clean game. That's probably going to stain any sense you have of a real victory. As a competitor, I know I'd rather give up a point or even a tie-break because you gave your opponent the benefit of the doubt and still manage to win the match in the long run...because all in all, one or two bad calls will not ruin your whole match, but your attitude if you take it personally can. 

Feeling Cheated - Soured Victory

To be perfectly fair to him, maybe I was wrong. And even if we had shot-spot, we too (just like ATP or WTA pros) probably have a less than 70% accuracy for those challenges we wanted confirmation on. But if you need to deliberately steal a point, in order to feel justified, because you feel the world has cheated him earlier then I have no respect for that person nor his victory.

It is too easy to believe that you "deserved" a free point to make up for a previous one you thought you had - but it goes against the code of tennis.

Barring the fact that this young man during the match had been rude to the officials, and resorted to trash-talking during the match when things got tight.

He is someone who goes to TCCP summer camps in College Park, MD and I'll probably speak to his coaches again later...hopefully, even if he does or does not make it to college on a tennis scholarship, hopefully he doesn't live his life as if somehow the World owes him something for his previous misfortunes. You play the next point, the best you can and try to put the past behind. Move on.

The worst thing that can happen, is that if you do not have short term memory in those cases, you just let it fester. The lesson I've learned from many years of playing competitive tennis, is that what is most important is just doing your best.

Nobody is perfect, and nobody should expect you to be, but like the sayings goes 1) Cheaters never win and 2) your cheatin' heart will tell on you.

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