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Line Calls

Q. I like to call "out!" to my partner in doubles as a substitute for "let it go" but opponents complained that I cannot use that specific word. They say it's the same as an early line call, and they relaxed on the point even though my partner ignored it and played the ball. What word[s] can one use to advise their partner? My opponents say "bounce" is acceptable, but not "no, long, wide, back, deep," - what do professionals say? Thanks for your time.

A. You cannot say anything that will hinder your opponent(s), so long as the ball is moving toward your opponents’ side of the court. The scenario you have described is different though. By yelling “Out!” to your doubles partner- to assure that he lets a ball fly past that you estimate will land outside the lines- that is a far cry from an “early line call.” If your judgment is incorrect, and the ball lands on or inside the line, then play continues. Now, if you keep yelling “Out!” as the ball has been returned to your opponents, then that is a different story.

As players gain competitive experience, this becomes a non-issue. I would advise you to be respectful of your opponents, but do not allow them to intimidate you into becoming quiet when your partner might be expecting some verbal assistance.

Q. I've heard that McEnroe was often more right than wrong on line calls and when they went back and analyzed the video he would have won more tournaments. Is this true? Thanks so much.

A. Actually, this is not true. John McEnroe has been wrong frequently when put to the “hawkeye” test. In fact, during the 2005 WTT season he was wrong nearly every time that he challenged a call. One would think that he would be right closer to half the time, but that is not the case. You might go to the World Team Tennis website to contact their staff to research the exact figures of John’s “success” rate.

Would John McEnroe have won more tournaments if the line calls were 100% accurate? (At this point, I am wondering if you are a McEnroe Publicist). Well, probably not. In fact, many of his peers would have welcomed the challenge system back in Mac’s heyday, because it would have eliminated his long and boorish outbursts. Today’s rule is reasonable: If you do not like the call, then challenge it. Instead, his rivals would suggest, McEnroe used these (sometimes ridiculous) arguments to manipulate the flow of the match until it favored him entirely.

Q. Our son just started playing junior tournaments this past year and on several occasions the opponents made line calls for the other side of the net. We thought you could only make calls on your side of the net. What is the correct procedure for him to follow when this sort of thing happens?

A. This is not right. Players are responsible for making line calls on their side of the net ONLY. If an opponent is asked to assist with a call, then that is a different story.

What is the correct procedure for your son? Make his calls accurately and with conviction, and then stick to his guns.

Q. My daughter regularly competes in girls’ 12s singles DR tournaments. She recently played on clay courts, and her opponent repeatedly challenged her calls. If any ball was called out, she walked to the other side of the court and made my daughter show her the mark. Is a player allowed to do this? My daughter makes honest calls, and I viewed this as an intimidation tactic.

A. Your daughter’s opponent has the right to disagree with a line call, but she is not permitted to walk to the other side of the net to inspect a call. She can do it from her side of the net. In all fairness, the ball typically leaves a distinguishable mark on clay courts. It is not unreasonable for your daughter to circle the specific mark to reassure her opponent that the ball was indeed out. After that short interruption, continue play. If it becomes a recurring scenario, request a line judge because gamesmanship is in full force.

There is a good chance that the opponent was indeed trying to intimidate your daughter into “giving away” some calls later in the match. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

Q. My 13 year old son plays in tournaments where there are no "officials". What can he do when his opponent makes several questionable "out" calls? We had one who hit a ball that had double bounced and my son let him have the point. Afterwards I told him he had to hold his ground on such things.

A. First of all, your son sounds like a gentleman. Choosing to not argue a judgment call indicates that he possess maturity and perspective. He may also feel a little shy or intimidated during tournament play, and this is normal (and will eventually subside).

My best advice on “bad calls” during tournaments is a three step process:

- On the fist questionable call, always give your opponent the benefit of doubt. (You, not he, could be wrong!)

- On the second questionable call, ask the opponent firmly but politely: “Are you sure?”

- If a third questionable call occurs and you feel cheated, stop the match and request a line judge.

If he is playing a tournament with NO available line judges or maybe an un-officiated high school match, then he needs to deal with the adversity of some missed calls. The way he reacts to questionable calls is almost always more crucial then the calls themselves.

Q. I am a 4.0 doubles player. While playing, one opponent called the ball out, the other in. They decided we had to play a let. What is the correct procedure?

A. If doubles partners disagree on a call, then they should always offer the benefit of doubt to the opponents. In the case that you described, a let should not be called. Instead, the point should be awarded to the opponents.

Q. Knowing that the ball must touch the line to be in (per usta rules), and knowing the ball is a sphere, AND knowing that the point of contact of a sphere with a plane is a point and that the point of contact will be the vertical centerline radius, does the standard club player call a ball “in” based on it being physically half in or out based on it being physically half out or do we consider the margin of error 1% /-lean. Players at my club have very good eyes and seem to call a lot of balls based on this super-hero ability. Should we consider compression, elasticity and angular momentum? What is fair?

A. If you are not 100% sure about a call, then give your opponent the benefit of doubt. That is The Code for our sport. I’m not sure that I completely understood the rest of your question/thesis… Frankly, the vast majority of shots do not land all that close to the lines.

Q. In a disagreement with a friend, he says "the ball ALWAYS leaves a mark" on a clay court (Har-Tru or green clay courts). I contend and have seen balls hit the court and NOT leave a discernable mark. What is YOUR opinion?

A. Well… I hate to disagree with you, but…

I believe that a ball will always leave some mark, or trace, on a clay court. On softly hit balls, or those that land near an area where there is a slide mark, then it is often hard to find.

It shouldn’t matter. If you are only 99% certain that a ball is out, then it should be called good 100% of the time. That is The Code for our sport. Honor it.

Q. If the ball lands out of the boundaries but part of the ball is hanging over the line is the ball in or out? For example if 2 percent of the ball is hanging over the line and no part of the ball is actually touching the line is the ball in or out?

A. If ANY part of the ball touches any part of the line, then it is IN. Always. This has been a recurring question lately, so I hope this answer will clear up some confusion. There is nothing subjective about a line call. If you are not positive, give the benefit of doubt to your opponent.

Q. My question has to do with the ball falling on the line. I understand that if the ball falls on the line, it is considered good, and if doubt exists, it should be considered good. My question is just exactly what is considered "on the line". If the whole of the ball falls directly on the center of the line, I would call that good. And, of course, if the ball hits the line further in, it would be called good. But what if the ball hits the line a little closer towards being out rather than the center of the line?

A. If the ball is 99% out and only 1% in, then it is considered 100% in. If any part of the ball touches any part of the line, then it is always good.

If you are not completely positive that a ball is entirely out, then offer the benefit of doubt to your opponent. If you do this to him, then he will more likely do this to you on future close calls.

Q. In doubles, if a player calls a serve "out" and his partner overrules him and says "no, that was in” is the point to be played over or does it become the server's point since the original call was incorrect? I say it is the server's point whether in a sanctioned tournament or in friendly play. My friend says you only follow that rule in big time competition. When should one distinguish when the "correct" rules apply?

A. Technically, you are right. A rule is a rule. However, in friendly competition, it is normal- and widely accepted- that a let can be played under the circumstances that you described. Remember, you are three friends having fun and trying to be fair. If the call that you described was an ace (or an unreturnable serve), then you should definitely award your opponent(s) the point though.

Q. My partner and I play on a USTA 3.0 team. We played a doubles match where the opponent insisted that ONLY the person closest to the ball was allowed to call the ball in or out. We had a ruling from the opposing club's pro as it was an away game and were informed that "court etiquette" does indeed require that the person closest to the ball be the only one allowed to call the ball "out." What do you say?

A. Etiquette might indicate that the person who is closest to the ball should make the call, but this person does NOT always have the best vantage point. The rule is that either partner can call any shot. If you recognize that a ball was out, or that your partner has missed the call, then it is your responsibility to make the right call.

3. If a ball hits the line and is half in and half out, is the ball considered good?

A. This is important. If the ball is 99% out, then it is 100% in. Always. When you’re not sure about a line call, you are expected to offer the benefit of doubt to your opponent. This is The Code for our sport. Follow it and you will set a good example. Defy it and your integrity will be justifiably questioned.

Q. Who should call the lines in doubles play? I realize that if you are not receiving that you can clearly see the service line for your partner, but usually I look toward the player on the opposite side of the net (to see how she is responding). I feel that if my partner is back at the baseline and I am close to the net, that I can’t see the ball as well as she can. I feel that if I do not stay focused on what is going on the other side of the net I will miss the opportunity to be aggressive. Your input to this situation will be greatly appreciated

A. First of all, either player on a doubles team can make any line call on their side of the court. It is a common courtesy to assist your partner with the service line call while she is returning though.

Set up at the service line when your partner is waiting to receive serve, and look to call this line as the ball lands. When you notice that your opponent’s serve is in, begin moving forward a little. If you recognize that it is a slow serve, or right to your partner’s big forehand, then close aggressively. On the other hand, if it is a particularly effective serve, then be cautious because you might need to defend yourself immediately. In other words, be alert. You should be able to both help with the line calls AND be aggressive around the net.

Q. My wife plays in a 3.0 club league and she had a situation today that I have researched in the 2004 FAC but cannot find a reference to.

After the warm-up but before this unofficiated match started, the opponent asked for a line judge, and not just one but two (one from each team). She insisted that these two people call lines for the entire match. I know, of course, that a player can request a line judge if they are unhappy with their line calls. Usually calls are monitored for a few games and then the person leaves again. Is there a rule on this situation?

A. One of the great aspects of our sport is the honor system that we have regarding calling lines. The Golden Rule is that if you are not 100% sure about a call, then always give the benefit of doubt to your opponent.

I cannot understand how someone could possibly request TWO line judges prior to the start of a 3.0 league match. This is crazy! Perhaps it might be justified if it was the third set of a hotly contested collegiate match between bitter rivals, but not in this situation that you wrote about.

Basically your opponent is suggesting - by her actions - that she has no faith in your wife’s ability to call lines. Please remind your wife of the importance of understanding the Golden Rule of our sport. And please tell your local pros to help offer this opponent a little perspective so that she understands how curious (and obnoxious) her request is.

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