Q. During a recent junior match, the boy my son was playing started talking loudly, saying "C'mon, right here" just as my son stepped to the line to serve. He did it repeatedly late in the match and only just as my son started to serve. To me, it sounded like he was challenging my son. Like a dare. My son asked him to stop talking. The boy said he could pump himself up if he wanted. Who's right?
A. This sounds like a case of gamesmanship. If an opponent is trying to fire him/herself up with encouraging comments, then that is one thing. But this sounds like an example of rude behavior designed to unnerve an opponent. An astute umpire or roving linesperson would be able to abate this situation, but, at times, they are not always immediately available.
While this type of aggravated behavior may feel unsettling, your son needs to learn how to concentrate entirely on how to win the next point. In the long run, going through an unpleasant experience like this will help him to develop more poise for the next time nonsense like this occurs.
Q. There is a highly ranked player in our area who is well known for "hooking" 4-5 critical points per match, while the rest of the time calling them as "The Code" intended. It also appears to be a family trait (little brother follows big sister’s example). We (multiple players, parents and coaches) have asked tournament officials how to handle this situation. Without mentioning the player's name they know who we're talking about and are sympathetic of the situation; but their suggestion "get a line judge" does not address the fact that a critical game / set is already lost. Do you have any suggestions on how her opponents should handle this situation?
A. Be prepared. The “players, parents, and coaches” that you write about are probably psyched out by this pattern of cheating. If getting a line judge does not seem to address the issue (or addresses it too late), then make sure that the player has a clear plan of action so that being “hooked” on a crucial point does not send your player into a tailspin. Excuses are easy to find out there; instead teach him how to overcome adversity.
Frankly, the REACTION to being cheated does more damage than the actual cheating (of one or a few points) over the course of a match. Rise above this nonsense! I hate to read about scenarios like this. However, if the cheating is inevitable (as you write), then determine- in advance- how to overcome this treachery.
Q. There is a very good, highly ranked player in my daughter's age group who is notorious for selectively hooking 3-4 key points per match, and the rest of the time making correct lines calls. This player's pattern is well known. Given that she picks her spots, the damage is done before her opponents can / should get a line judge. We've asked tournament officials how players should handle this. They have all been sympathetic, but offer no realistic resolutions. Do you have any suggestions?
A. I hate to read accounts like this, because it paints our sport in such a bad light. Behavior like this is reprehensible and it demonstrates a lack of character. Unfortunately, that is life though. You might view it as a good experience, because this will NOT be the last (or only) time that your daughter deals with dishonesty or duplicitous behavior. The damage done is worse than simply the atrocious line call. Maintaining her composure is essential.
John McEnroe is my favorite tennis player of all-time. He has been justifiably pilloried through the years for his outbursts. However, to live outside the law you must be honest, and McEnroe HAS integrity. Anyway, as a junior player McEnroe was cheated badly in a match, and a legendary tale grew from this match. His reaction to the experience speaks volumes about his mental toughness and competitive spirit. After being cheated repeatedly, McEnroe took matters into his own hands by steeling his resolve, bearing down, and just picking the opponent apart with his game. His standard was raised when he felt cheated. An easier path would have been to complain and blame; instead, he chose to beat the cheater in spite of the poor line calls. Not only did McEnroe win, but his victory was double-edged: he humbled a cheater by managing to overcome.
Q. During an occasional point, I know a player who likes to stomp his feet while you are returning the ball to make it seem as if he is rushing to net. Uh, is that legal?
A. It is legal as long as he is not doing it blatantly to distract his opponent. If the ONLY reason that he stomps his feet is to distract his opponent during a shot, then this is not acceptable. However, intent is awfully difficult to prove.
The best way of coping with this borderline gamesmanship is to focus entirely on your side of the court. Do not let anything that you cannot control have an affect, any affect, on your execution of the next shot.
Q. Our 14 year old daughter just competed in Waco, TX at a Champs Tournament. During the course of her 2nd match, the other girl’s dad would say things to his daughter like: "don't hit to her backhand" and "don't try to slug it out with her." Also, the girls should have switched sides during one play but didn't even after the dad of the other girl hollared in mid-play "ya'll are supposed to switch sides." Our daughter told a passing official the things being said and the official went and talked with the dad who denied he was doing anything. The official seemed to take sides with the dad after he explained that "the other girl is having trouble focusing; I'm only encouraging my daughter." What should a participant, our daughter, do in such an instance where a parent out and out lies? And the official believes it? And in your opinion, are statements such as "don't hit to her backhand" and "don't slug it out with her" coaching or encouraging?
A. I despise when adults choose to behave in a manner that intimidates players at junior tournaments. It is reprehensible, but it does occur. Ultimately, if the official(s) choose to turn the other cheek, then your daughter will need to learn to ‘tough it out.’ Frankly, this provides her with a valuable life lesson far more important than any junior tournament match. She will need to learn how to deal with bullies, antagonists, cheaters, and the like in ‘real life.’
The next time that she encounters behavior like this, and gets little or no support from the tournament staff, she will likely have more poise. Please remind her that, as intimidating as it may feel, nobody from the crowd will ever be able to hit a single ball. This may help her to channel her emotions so that she maintains focus should this ever occur again.
Q. Is it really necessary to appreciate your opponent for a shot he made? I do not see any high ranked players commending each other. (“Good shot”... “great lob”...whatever). I have sent this question in the past... but you never replied.
A. First of all, I apologize for not responding more urgently. This is a matter of your own personal preference for sportsmanship. Whether you choose to acknowledge a well-played shot by your opponent, or not, might also relate to where/when you are playing. If you are practicing with a buddy, then it is pretty typical. If you are in semis of the US Open, then your opponent could care less about whether or not you clap after a winner.
Your assessment that highly ranked professional players do not appreciate great shots from their opponent is not entirely correct. However, they certainly do it in a manner that is less obvious (or phony) than during a social mixed doubles match at the country club. Usually top pros will nod their head in admiration of a particularly great shot from an opponent.
Q. At a recent tournament my nine-year-old daughter was playing the #2 seed. She won the first set and was playing well with a defensive game because her opponent had a very strong and powerful game. I had to leave to take another daughter to another site and when I returned, I was informed that after winning the first set her opponent's father had called for a "medical timeout" due to heat exhaustion. After a 10-15 minute break with him talking to her the whole time and my daughter sitting alone, they returned to the court with him sitting on his cooler, directly next to the gate talking loudly and clapping excessively. He was an intimidating presence and it bothered my daughter. You can guess the outcome - a 2-6 loss in the second set - another ten minute break (after split sets) and then more intimidation and a 0-6 loss for my daughter. I didn't make it back until the end of the second set and was very frustrated by this man's actions. At this point, his daughter is the better player I have no doubt, but a decent game plan had been put in place and was essentially undermined by what I think were somewhat underhanded "tactics"... Am I being too critical of his actions or did he go over the top? It was a U12 tournament and not the end of the world, but it had quite a discouraging impact on my daughter.
A. I feel sick to my stomach when I hear stories like this. Unfortunately, I hear them often too. I suppose this nonsense goes on everywhere in every sport, but it seems that it is getting out of control in tennis.
I would have so much respect for a tournament director if he/she precluded adults from even BEING THERE during matches. I realize this is impractical and it would also affect the “good” tennis parents, but I have a sinking feeling that we are “losing” kids due to this type of behavior. It is not good.
I sincerely hope that this incident does not dampen your daughter’s enthusiasm for our great sport. That would be an even greater loss.
If anyone out there has some good suggestions on how to get some overbearing parents under control, please feel welcome to write.
Q. I am an avid follower of your column and always appreciate your insights. My son got cheated yesterday and he called an umpire. Unfortunately, the umpire had to cover three courts simultaneously and literally every time the judge turned around, my son's opponent cheated. Some spectators were so appalled that one of them got into an argument with the tournament director on my behalf.
Should I tell my son that a)there are cheaters in real life and he just has to be tough and deal with them; b) don't hit any ball 15 inches near the line; c) his game just needs to be many levels better to overcome the cheating; d) other?
Also, this rampant cheating in junior tennis has profound and disruptive impact on the game that prides itself on purity and honor. Aside from moral issues, some talented and honest kids may get discouraged or feel they need to change their game or behavior to stay even.
Does the USTA have any institutional effort to seriously address this issue? Can anything possibly be done?
A. Boy, I hate reading stuff like this. The situation you described sounds pretty awful. I do not believe that cheating in junior (or college) tennis is NEARLY as bad as many parents think it is, but maybe I live in a vacuum. I will acknowledge that there are definitely some “skilled” cheaters and I consider them despicable.
How to deal with this? Well, you are right to maintain perspective. There are always going to be fraudulent characters in this world so learning to deal with them on the tennis court in a junior tournament might be better than during a bad investment deal as an adult. Frankly, it is usually HOW a player deals with cheating- more than the cheating itself- that causes the most problems. Worrying about the next bad line call or harping on the unfairness of the situation will usually cause more damage than the act itself. Perhaps this is the lesson that you can try to stress to your child.
As for addressing a specific incident, proving that someone is deliberately trying to cheat is very difficult. The roving umpire, or in some cases the tournament director, may choose to take action against the player in question, but this is shaky ground. I wish that this particular roving umpire had been more attentive to these circumstances, but perhaps there were situations occurring on the adjacent courts as well.
I am going to hope that incidents like this are fairly uncommon. Ultimately, when players develop terrible reputations as cheats, then it hurts them in the long run. However, it is hard for a junior player who has been cheated and violated to understand this big picture though.
Q. In a recent doubles match my partner was at the net maybe two feet inside the service line and I was several feet in from the baseline moving in. During the point he hit a crisp volley to the opposing player also about two feet inside the service line. She hit the ball hard directly back at him and hit him in the chest to win the point. He got mad saying she should have gone down the middle or wide and thought it bad sportsmanship to hit him. I told him she played the right shot.
A. This is always tricky. In a professional tournament, few players would bat an eyelash about getting hit by a ball while at net during a doubles match. In fact, some players would get inspired, some might get mad, and others would look to get even. At the old Country Club, however, it would probably be received less sympathetically.
In fair play, you should avoid trying to hurt your opponent. I question whether your opponent really intended to hit your partner though. Whenever you do actually “get skin” against an opponent you should raise your racquet (tennis’ universal symbol for “Sorry!”) in apology, whether you mean it or not. This show of manners during the heat of competition tends to keep a lid on the escalating emotions.
My best advice would be to tell your partner to develop thicker skin or… quicker reflexes.
Q. My opponent took more than the time allotted at changeovers and was always taking lots of time, stalling actually. I am quick and like to play quick. Of course, she took me out of my game as it worked on my psyche. What could I have done or what is the proper etiquette (since she was not following the rules doesn’t mean I want to stoop to her level).
A. This is such a common occurrence, even during matches that are officiated. To combat the anger or frustration you feel when an opponent begins stalling, you should concentrate on controlling your thoughts. Instead of focusing on what your opponent is doing, maintain your concentration about what you need to do to win the next point. Just keep thinking about how to win that next point. If you win enough “next points” then you will feel a whole lot better at the end of the match.
I wish I could offer more on this topic. Certainly, this advice is easier to offer than to implement. The bottom line is that you have little control over how long your opponent chooses to take between points. Instead of dwelling on this, focus on the things that you can control. Good luck in controlling your thoughts out there.
Q. During the USTA Boys 14’s Hard Courts in San Antonio, TX, during the 2nd set at 6-5 (my son was up after being down match point), his opponent decided to take a bathroom break. Naturally, this opponent came back composed and won the tiebreaker and then the match. What are your comments on this type of behavior and how should my son handle it?
A. My comment is that if this was gamesmanship that caused your son’s opponent to leave the court for a bathroom break at that juncture in the match, then it is deplorable behavior. It is against the rule, but this rule is VERY difficult to enforce. If, on the other hand, your son’s opponent had a “bathroom attack” or something like that, then it is perfectly acceptable behavior to be excused from the court.
One of our country’s greatest coaches, Rick Macci, told a story last week at the USPTA World Conference in La Quinta, CA. He talked about a match that ended 7-5, 6-4, so clearly there was not much difference between the players. Afterwards, the losing player complained about the loud background noise that a train kept making which continuously distracted him throughout the contest. The winning player asked: “What train?”
The moral of this story is that your son needs to learn to concentrate solely on what he can control and not to get sidetracked by anything else. If an opponent makes bad line calls, takes too long between points, or decides to take a pre-meditated bathroom break late in the match, then there is little recourse. However, he can control his emotions, his effort level, his thought process and his shot selection. I suspect that this match you described was lost because the questionable behavior affected your son. If so, then it is a great lesson. I hope that he learns from it and comes back stronger.
Q. When you are in a tournament and your opponent cheats, do you think it is appropriate to file a complaint about the player, or do you have a better suggestion?
A. If you are in a tournament and feel that you have been cheated you might follow this three-step process:
1. On the first call that is "missed", give them the benefit of doubt. Perhaps you did not see where the ball landed clearly or maybe they just missed the call. It happens.
2. On the second line call that you don't agree with, you might politely ask your opponent if they are sure about their call. Again, you might be wrong, not them- so no need to start an argument at this stage.
3. If they miss a third call, then it is probably NOT a coincidence. Simply request that an umpire watch the match to overrule line calls.
Being the recipient of bad line calls is usually more harmful psychologically than anything else. Face it, a few lost points will rarely sway a match, but constantly worrying about getting cheated and feeling anger to your opponent will likely have a terrible effect on your performance.
Q. How do you suggest dealing with the rampant cheating in junior tennis? When a line judge is summoned, the cheating stops until the judge leaves. We have seen every type of cheating -- from line calls to signals, from coaches to scoring. We know of coaches (USPTA "pro") who instruct their students to call a ball out if it is close to a line. Do you feel it is getting worse, or has it always been this bad? Something needs to be done. Can you imagine a high school basketball or football game where the players make the calls?
A. This is a difficult and recurring topic. I absolutely hate that “rampant cheating” is a part of our sport’s landscape. It is such a pity. The fact that tennis has its own “honor code” should be a good thing and not a source of such unending controversy.
In terms of how to cope with cheating on-court, I have always tried to remind students that it is not the cheating that hurts as much as how you react to the cheating. Losing a point here or there due to dubious line calls will happen. But if you allow one (or a few) bad call(s) to affect you, your whole game might unravel. We have all seen this occur.
Try to remind your junior player of the bigger picture. Tell them that when they become good enough, there will be line judges on every line and an umpire in the chair. Tell them that they cannot control whether an opponent chooses to make poor line calls. Tell them that it has happened before and will surely happen again, so learn how to deal with it. Tell them the following John McEnroe story…
Legend has it that when John McEnroe was a promising junior player, he encountered a terrible cheat. McEnroe has always seemed to favor his own brand of outlaw justice and was himself a notoriously FAIR player throughout his junior career. When Mac’s opponent cheated him, the future all-time great started to bear down, going from serious to really intense. McEnroe was not about to let some cheater get the better of him, and he proceeded to overcome the bad calls with tough and inspired tennis. In short, he responded the way a champion should respond: by overcoming the obstacle. As they walked off the court, McEnroe was the victor and the cheater was completely humiliated because, not only had he lost, he lost while cheating.