Are you sure about that?
By Jeff Brack

March 2006

We've all heard it a million times. You make a call that was close, but clearly out and the inevitable question comes accusingly across the net, "Are you sure?" It's the civil way of saying either, "Are you blind?" or "I am 78 feet away, and completely out of position to make a call, but I must have seen that better than you" or worst case, "I can't believe you're intentionally cheating me."

See "Friend at Court," Page 53 - "When a player genuinely doubts an opponent's call, the player may ask: 'Are you sure of your call?' If the opponent reaffirms the ball was out, the call shall be accepted. If the opponent acknowledges uncertainty, the opponent loses the point. There shall be no further delay or discussion."

Here's a little philosophy regarding "the cheater" and "the person who always feels cheated." This is not some vast plague of our great game, but it is a serious subject that could use a little perspective.

First, the "questionable line caller." See "Friend at Court," Page 52 - "a player is guided by the unwritten law that any doubt must be resolved in the favor of the opponent" and "A ball 99% out is still 100% good."

Nobody thinks of themselves as a cheater, at least I hope not. It's human nature and a fact of competitive pressure to really, really want your opponent's shot to fall out. It relieves the pressure on us, right? And when it lands on the outside of the line, it's very hard in a split second to always do the right thing, isn't it? Especially if you clearly played the point better or don't care for your opponent. We all experience it. I think some players may feel a sense of entitlement or they are more deserving because, subjectively, their ability outshines the opponent's. They may think, "Well, I'm going to win anyway, so why does it matter?"

I'll tell you why it matters. Tennis is a social sport of immediate interaction. Whether you are playing competitively or not, it is a small community and you'll soon become familiar with a vast number of players. You can quickly become a contributor to the pleasure of the sport, or, the displeasure. I know players who stand alone with fantastic win records- but they stand alone because winning is all that matters, and many players don't wish to associate with them.

There are younger players who are so talented, that they would be revered by their peers and looked up to by still younger competitors if not for their need to usurp points that they did not fairly earn. So sadly, their skills and accomplishments are rendered irrelevant, overshadowed by a reputation. The irony is that with their ability alone, they would win.

Let me pose this question to all players: Do you want to win with dignity, knowing you beat your opponent fair and square, because you out-played them, or do you want to just win? Hopefully you answered the former. But, if you answered "just win," let me ask you now, at what cost? Playing a competition is not an isolated event, and walking off the court does not mean you leave it behind. Everything you do in your life is a reflection of your character. People can only form an opinion of you based on what they know. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. It's absolutely true. Here's something else to consider: I once heard that principles only mean something if you stick by them when it's inconvenient. If you wouldn't steal someone's racket, why would you steal a point? What can be lost is far more valuable than what can be gained. Think about that.

Secondly, the "everyone's always cheating me" player. I contend that if you are hitting the ball SO close to the line, SO often, that it would break your game to have some of them called out - you may need to change your strategy.

When asked once about how he was able to hit the ball so precisely and repeatedly on the lines, Bjorn Borg responded the he was actually aiming 5 feet inside the court, if he hit the line, he missed his target. This is coming from a guy who plays a pretty good game.

Let's just say it: Line calls are hard to make- period. How many sports have to balance physical precision with officiating? Have you ever placed a ball a half inch behind the baseline and then walked to the other end of the court? I'll save you the trouble, it looks in. Now imagine the ball bouncing on that spot for a fraction of a second and you'll begin to see what I mean.

I read an interview in which Arthur Ashe once said that in the era that he played, there were still linesmen that made calls based on his skin color. While completely unfair, being the gentleman that he was, he forewent the confrontational approach and dealt with it mentally in a different way. If a bad call went against him, he simply thought, shame on me for hitting it that close to the line. As a player, that statement hit me like a thunderbolt. From that day forward, I was never again affected by a questionable line call to the same extent.

I'm not saying that it's okay for your opponent to "hook" you on a call. I'm saying that in order for you to stay in the fight, to stay mentally tough, to stay cool, you need to be able to roll with some close calls and let it go.

Try this philosophy on for size: Win because you're better. Win because you deserve it. And don't let a couple of close calls be a blemish on that win. And if you don't win, let it be because you were out-played, not because you got so bent out of shape over a line call that your mental game was shattered. Let your on-court performance be a reflection of your character as a person. Be proud of who you are and be proud of how you win or lose. Remember, you're not just representing yourself out there, you're representing our sport!