Wednesday, January 19, 2022

How Can My Opponent Be the Umpire?



Doug Browne

Unless you are playing in a Grand Slam tennis tournament or a Master Series pro event, your opponent will be calling the lines in your next USTA or CTA match. Is it possible that your tennis foe has so much power? There is no way to sugarcoat this topic. With no umpires in sight, you have to rely on your opponent to call the ball as honestly as possible. However, tennis players are not the only participants who must deal with this fate.

Here is an example of how crazy rules are in the great game of golf. As a huge fan and frequent television viewer, if I spot a violation by a particular PGA Tour player, I have the right to call the event and report the infraction. What? Yes, on several different occasions, television viewers spotted the infraction, relayed the news to the referees, and the golfer was penalized later that evening or the next day. Wow!

Even though the game of golf is one of the greatest games ever invented, it has distinct differences compared to tennis. Golfers compete against the course, not the player. In particular, it is not uncommon for a tennis player to aim his overhead or volley at his opponent, and on occasion, may strike the foe.

Without a doubt, a player may be struck with a ball, and naturally, cop an attitude. And, if the antagonists hit their opponents more than once, it creates a very dicey situation. Even if the opponent does not physically strike their foes with their shots, the intent is clear. So, moments later the aggressive team hits a ball near the line. Will they have confidence the ball will be called in?

There is a very thin line between being assertive and bold verses confident and friendly. In other words, if tennis players are too compromising and agreeable, it is quite possible they will lose the match. In every sport, one must maintain a certain edge, and in tennis, we must push our will on the opponent.

Clearly, if we begin to lose intensity, our foes will take advantage. The conundrum in tennis is that too many players want to win so badly they want the ball to go out. So, when the ball travels near the court lines, they inevitably see the ball out.

When your rivals lose confidence in your ability to make the correct call, the match is no longer fun. If you compete against a wily veteran, he will have no difficulty dealing with your bad calls, and will begin to gain

Entertainment Tonight's Billy Bush competing against Marco Islander Matt Browne on Martha's Vineyard.

Entertainment Tonight’s Billy Bush competing against Marco Islander Matt Browne on Martha’s Vineyard.

a mental advantage.

Basically, he has seen just about every tennis situation and will adjust accordingly. In this case, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him call your next ball out on game point or set point. The bottom line is that we had a fiduciary responsibility as tennis players to make honest calls, and there is no room for people that need to win so badly that they resort to “hooking” their opponents. Once a player or team is labeled a “hooker,” your bad reputation will spread like wildfire.

So, in the short term, a particular team may win a certain contest, but in the big picture, this team will have a terrible label attached to their names and will probably begin to lose. No one likes “cheaters,” and now future opponents will have more incentive to win and play well.

In my junior and adult career, cheaters never prosper, and they start to live lonely lives on the circuit. Believe it or not, some of the “bad” guys got into fights after their match, and it got pretty ugly. So, it is key to always call the ball as well as one can, and then your foe will do the same. If the enemy realizes that you make good clean calls, he will lose a little “mojo,” and not want to beat you so badly. Ironically, making good line call after good line call will defuse a bit of your opponents will to win the match. When we call every close ball in, the opponent has gained respect, and will begin to give you the benefit of the doubt.

If we wish to enhance the great game of tennis, it is imperative to make the correct call. Not only is it the “only way to go” but also we have a moral responsibility to be honest. When you take the right path and always call close balls in, your opponent will feel the “vibe” and do the same. Ironically, even if you have banged a few too many balls at one of your foes, if he has agreed with your earlier line calls, there will be no problems.

Good luck, and please let me know if you have had any interesting line call stories.


Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.

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