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Bad Line Calls. What Can You Do?

“There’s no way that was out, are you an idiot**?!”

Screaming, cursing, throwing racquets, smashing the ball back to your opponent, these are all regular occurences on a tennis court. It doesn’t matter if your watching juniors, adults or professionals you are going to see these emotional outbursts and loss of control.  Nine times out of ten it has come after a bad line call.

I will agree that poor line calling is one of the most frustrating aspects in the game of tennis.  The Australian Open this year was a clear example of how bad line calls can cause frustration and consequently unprofessional behavior on the court.  I wanted to scream at the line judge myself and I was only a spectator. The rules remain,  that you can not verbally abuse your opponent, you can not use audible or visible profanity, you can not abuse your racquet by throwing or breaking it,  you can not abuse the ball by deliberately hitting, kicking or throwing a ball not in play, and the rules go on but are summed up by saying “any other unsportsmanlike conduct.”  So the question remains, how can you control your emotions on the court when you feel someone is cheating you?

Obviously this is addressed in the professional tennis by having an official on the court at all times.  However, junior tennis and USTA adult league tennis doesn’t have this privilege.  The first course of action is to always call an official.  Usually someone is there to act as a mediator.  The argument I hear about this is that it is already too late.  The crucial point is over and I can’t get the point back so the frustration remains. This is true but calling the official will let your opponent know you will not tolerate his/her cheating.  The official will also help you to get your head in control.  When my son calls an official on the court he has learned to use it to his advantage.  Any ball that hits even close to the line he has the line judge rule on.  This takes all frustration out of the calls for him and plays a nasty head game with his opponent.

“Are you sure?” is what he have all been taught to ask our opponent when we are uncertain about the call he/she has made.  I don’t mind this but if you are asking “are you sure?” after every ball you probably need an official.  If you opponent keeps questioning your calls surprise them by offering to get the official for them.

What do you do if you do not have an official available?  This is where I have seen some pretty creative strategies for letting the opponent know you aren’t going to be cheated.  The simplest one is to call your opponents next ball out regardless of its position on the court.  When they question you, you respond with “I thought that is how we were playing this match.”  I must remind you here that it is against the rules to call a ball out in retaliation of a bad call, but it might be worth it here and it’s better than throwing a fit.  The best one I ever saw was when a player didn’t get out of his seat after the change over.  When his opponent asked him what he was doing he instructed him to go ahead and serve, he could didn’t need to get up, he could guarantee him all his serves where going to be out.  Obviously, this was a rather confident player with a lot of “balls” but it was effective.  The match continued and the lines were called fairly.

In the end you need to manage your emotions.  If you let yourself get out  of control emotionally you have given your opponent the advantage.  Don’t fool yourself, this is often the strategy behind making bad calls.  So call the official or come up with a creative solution that helps you stay calm and focused.

Please share how you have managed to handle bad line calls, maybe it can help someone else.


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