So, one of the things that’s been interesting about playing in a tennis league (as opposed to just among friends) has been being able to observe different players interact – both as partners and as opponents. Of course, the aspect of the game that reveals the most about a player is how they make – and react to – line calls.
Now, professionals have several judges who have the job of making line calls – and anyone that recalls John McEnroe’s career will remember that he used to have quite heated discussions with officials. In the big tournaments, the “ShotSpot” cameras can help diffuse the tendency to rail at the umps, but what about when technology like that isn’t available? You still see a lot of arguing.
Now, the “friendly” game adds a psychological level to this part of the game because your opponent makes all the calls on your shots and vice versa. This often pits a player’s desire to win in direct opposition to their being a good sport. I never really thought about this much, since I’d been mostly playing with friends and when you think one of them makes an incorrect call, you can put your hands on your hips and say, “Seriously?” – but in general, it’s pretty easy to give your friends the benefit of the doubt in that they might have made an honest mistake rather than having tried to screw you.
In the league though, you’re playing against guys you don’t know, that you’re there to beat, and that may or may not be good sports. When I got to my match on Sunday, I had a few moments to observe another match. Team A was serving to Team B. “A” served. “B” called it out. I was pretty surprised since the ball was in by a good 4-6”. “A” stopped and said in an exasperated voice, “You’ve got to be kidding.” “B” then turned and railed “ARE YOU CHALLENGING MY CALL!!?!?” What ensued was an ugly and expletive filled tirade from both guys. “A”s partner, who hadn’t said anything yet, turned to “B”s partner for some help, because surely the partner had seen the ball go in. “B”s partner – clearly not wanting to overrule his already-angry partner – shrugged and said, “Well, it was pretty close…” which I thought was pretty gutless.
Clearly, the biggest losers in the whole thing were sportsmanship and the chance to have a fun match. But as I’ve thought about it, I have been trying to think about who committed the worst offense.
Was it “A” for essentially calling “B” a cheater on a call that is clearly supposed to be “B”s? (Or maybe he was calling him blind, but I think the implication was that he was deliberately trying to screw them over).
Was it “B”? (Obviously if he was cheating, but if he really thought it was out, he just made a bad call)
Or was it “B”s partner because he could have probably diffused the whole thing by saying, “Err – I think that was in” and either awarding the point for the bad call or asking for a play-over, which of course in a “friendly” match is almost always granted.