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WTA Tennis




Cummings and Goings XV by Jim Cummings

September 17, 2008 10:13 PM

Karen, the wife of one of one of my doubles partners, could hardly wait until we had finished our match before she came bouncing out on the court to give us a vivid demonstration of the latest ladies league controversy. Seems her opponents took exception to her calling a sideline fault on a serve hit to her partner. They claimed that she could only call the service baseline and that it was up to her partner to call the center service and side lines. Chalk one up for Karen, but go light on the chalk.

Code 25 specifically states that either partner may call a service, but it starts out by saying that the receiver should call the sideline and center service line and the receiver's partner should call the service baseline. There is very good rationale for this. Studies have proven that the calls of a player looking down the line are much more likely to be accurate than those of a player looking across the line; especially from a distance. But there is another factor that enters into this equation. The receiver is often moving with explosive quickness (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to return a wide serve or one hit straight down the line. Again, studies have shown that such movement impairs vision. So what seems like a simple matter is not. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Is it any wonder that partners will at times disagree on a call? Of course, when they do, the good call has to stand per Codes 6 (Opponent gets benefit of doubt) and 14 (Partners disagreement on calls). If the serve is returned good, the point is replayed.
Speaking of Line Calls
A tip of the hat to the boy who played in the Maryland State Junior Clay Court Championships that I refereed in August. In a tight finals match in the 12 and under, he hit a shot down the line that caught his opponent on the wrong foot. In scrambling to get to the ball, the opponent slipped, fell and thought he had lost the point. That's when my candidate for the sportsmanship award stepped up and said 'My shot was out.' The only person prouder of that boy than me was his father who was sitting quietly alonside the court during the whole match giving his son moral support. Tennis as it should be played. 
From the begining to the end of that tournament, I kept on stressing the importance of clearing balls that were too far from the net or too close to the side or baseline. Ensuring safety of play is one of the main duties of a Referee, even if it is not in the book. I'm happy to say that toward the end of the tournament, players were routinely clearing first service faults, by far the greatest cause of loose balls on the court. The older, more experienced players clear balls, but the ones just learning the game think it is a pain to do so. If they think clearing a ball is a pain, they should talk to the boy in the tournament who had all his upper front teeth knocked out when he stepped on a loose ball. The one question I have is why this late in the season they had not learned to clear loose balls. Parents. Coaches. Officials. Someone is not doing their job.
Some Open Thoughts
This had to be one of the quietest ever US Opens. With the flick of a finger, any doubt about a call was instantly wiped out and play continued with almost no interruption. And there I was in my recliner, cheering the men and women on the lines who more often than not were proven right. The line umpires at the Open are without doubt the best in the world and those selected to do the high profile televised matches are the best of the best. It's something every chair umpire for those matches should be keeping in mind. I did not see it, but was told that there were some chair umpires with egg on their face after replay proved that their overrules of a line umpire's call were wrong. The criteria for an overrule is sureness that a clear mistake was made. I was asked if I thought that chair umpires would be more hesitant about overruling a call. My answer was: I hope so.
But all was not peace and quiet. There was the Safin episode. Again, it was something I did not witness, but my doubles partners are always quick to pounce on me whenever anything like that comes up. Safin was called for a center mark foot fault. The call was made by the center service line umpire on the opposite end of the court. That umpire is primarily charged with calling the center service line, but is also responsible for calling center mark foot faults. During the service motion, the server may not touch the imaginary extension of the center mark with either foot. A server is in the service motion when, after both feet are at rest, the server begins the ball toss or the racket move to hit the ball. From what my friend Dick described, Safin's heel was squarely on the extension of the center mark when he began his service motion. Later, Dick got out his laptop and entered Safin Foot Fault on You Tube. And there plain as day was Safin's heel on the center mark as he was in his service motion. It was an easy call for the line umpire who is looking straight down the center service line less that 100 feet away. And did I mention that this was not just an ordinary umpire, but one of the best in the world? So, where's the beef?
Worm Up
Bet you thought that was a typo. But before we were able to play on a private court secluded in the woods near a resovoir this past Sunday, we had to remove a few hundred night crawlers from the court. This was no easy task, I assure you. They did not take kindly to being manhandled and resisted by going into an animated pretzel mode. We gave up trying to pick them up bodily and instead started scooping them up in a ball tube. Talk about a good cardio warm-up. I am more convinced than ever that I will never see it all, no matter how long I stick around.

By:  Jim Cummings 9/17/2008

Jim Cummings Bio:
   Born in Marinette, WI
   Boyhood friend of the Cook family
   Played varsity tennis for UW-Madison in the 50s
   Officiated at over 25 US Opens as a chair and line umpire
   Served on USTA's Rules Committee when Jack Stahr and Nick Powel were Chairs
   Active senior player and Referee
   Presently helps edit the Friend At Court