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How To Handle Cheaters on the Tennis Court

BY Vic Braden 12/10/2000

While doing a survey of junior tennis players, the number one concern the majority expressed was how to handle cheaters. It also remains a serious issue with adults at several clubs across the country. Here are my thoughts on this complex issue.

One, before accusing someone of being a cheater, you'll want to be sure that you are correct in making that charge. One year, we tested over 100 subjects making line calls for the USTA and we were all amazed at the vast number of errors made by spectators, linespersons and tournament players calling the service line. To guarantee our accuracy, we filmed a large number of serves at 1000 frames per second. At that speed, we were able to see the exact contact point of the ball against the court for approximately three frames. We would asked several individuals to go out onto the court and place a stick at the point where they thought the ball landed. We were all surprised, not only at the number of errors, but the size of the errors being made by nearly everyone. To be fair, the linesperson sitting in a chair and looking down the line was the most accurate, even though there were some errors. But the servers, or hitters, on the opposite side of the landing point were often miserable with their calls. The spectators were basically miserable calling lines.

Two, there are players who simply have lousy eyesight and shouldn't be calling shots at all. This group doesn't intend to cheat and they often call shots that penalize themselves. Three, we also know that players landing hard on a surface tend to lose visual acuity because their eye moves irregularly and vision is often distorted. You can easily test that theory by running a lap around the tennis court and have someone hand you a newspaper article to read on your second lap. You'll get the picture fast.

But, alas, there are player who actually choose to cheat on a few, or many, key calls to gain the advantage in a match. These neurotic individuals are normally known to all players and are the subject of this article. There are several actions you can take:

1. If you're playing in a sanctioned USTA event, you have the right to ask for an umpire. You can't always get one, but you send a notice out to your opponent that you smell a rat. The key here is to alert the tournament committee before the match so that they have personnel ready to jump into the loop at the first obvious infraction.

2. You can choose to confront the perpetrator, but that seldom works as the cheater has been through that scenario a hundred times.

3. If you know the history of the violator, you can actually have a friend videotape the calls on the cheater's side of the court. Then you can present evidence to the tournament committee. Even though there are difficulties as the camera normally operates on 30 frames per second, the cheater makes such bad line calls that the video is often quite conclusive.

4. Young players often say to themselves, "Okay, if that's what the person is going to do to me, I'll do the same thing to him/her". That is not in your best interest as cheating is cheating, no matter what the reason. As a matter of fact, honest people who give into this system of "an eye for an eye" often feel miserable the first time they cheat. They usually play worse and proceed to lose faster.

5. All persons being cheated should feel good about one thing. The player doing the cheating is so insecure that he must use cheating as a crutch. But when the big tournaments come around, there will be umpires and linespersons and the cheater will no longer have the crutch on which to rely. That often causes the cheater to choke.

6. There are potential legal issues regarding the "defamation of character". However, the most effective system I've seen is when several adults, or juniors, seek a meeting with the cheater and express their feelings at the same time. The cheater likes "one on one" situations, but hates group sanctioning. There is a time when an intervention program must be implemented.

7. Remember, you can choose to completely avoid playing the cheater. If everyone defaulted against the cheater, don't think for a moment that the tournament committee, and club owners, and members, wouldn't get the message.

8. Jack Kramer use to tell me that he expected about six bad line calls a match. Thus, he could count on playing his best as he never got angered until the seventh lousy call. This helped him beat cheaters sooner.

Andrew Young, once our Ambassador to the United Nations, told me about a wonderful lesson he learned from playing tennis against international politicians. He said, "Those who cheated on the tennis court could almost always be counted on to cheat in the United Nations" -- so, player, beware.