I’m going to start this post with a scenario that most league players can relate to either from personal experience or from observation:
You’re playing a league match and you hit an error, and the opponents who have been watching from the side lines suddenly start cheering and clapping at your misfortune.
How do you think you’d feel? My bet is that you’d have a some combination of embarrassment, annoyance, frustration and anger. Would you think about it for the rest of the match? Do you think it could cost you the match?
When someone is publicly shamed for making a mistake, the natural tendency is to dwell on it, making it more difficult for them to concentrate on their game. And if the game is tight, even the slightest lack of concentration and/or confidence could end up costing that player the match.
What bugs me most about this scenario isn’t even that player’s fault. That anxiety was non-existent until the opponents gleefully inflicted their rudeness.
Oh sure… a player can file a grievance with the league’s Grievance Committee for bad sportsmanship… AFTER the match… but that won’t get back the points (match..?) that were lost because of intimidation.
Could this type of bad sportsmanship really be a type of hindrance?
The USTA defines ‘hindrance’ as:
Rule 26. HINDRANCE
If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.
However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player’s own control (not including a permanent fixture).”
OK…so the official rule specifies that a hindrance only occurs during a point. But in my previous scenario, the anxiety served up by those opponents will probably continue during all future points, am I right?
Then, there is also a full section regarding ‘hindrance’ in THE CODE: The Players’ Guide to Fair Play and the Unwritten Rules of Tennis which includes a breakdown of various hindrances, but I’m really only interested in No. 38 which states:
38. Injury caused by player.
When a player accidentally injures an opponent, the opponent suffers the consequences. Consider the situation where the server’s racket accidentally strikes the receiver and incapacitates the receiver. The receiver is unable to resume play within the time limit. Even though the server caused the injury, the server wins the match by retirement. On the other hand, when a player deliberately injures an opponent and affects the opponent’s ability to play, then the opponent wins the match by default. Hitting a ball or throwing a racket in anger is considered a deliberate act.
So, consider this… isn’t that type of embarrassment really a “mental” injury/impairment? I mean, that DOES in fact affect the ability to play for a while, if not the entire rest of the match. Granted, it was caused by the opponent’s teammates, but there was significant damage, all the same. I think at least a let should happen immediately, and then maybe an immediate loss of a point for any additional outbursts. This would definitely be a deterrent to opponents, and might even help get offended teams mentally back on track.
League tennis is competitive, but it’s also supposed to be fun. To me, this kind of behavior sucks the fun right out of it. IMHO, it should be considered a type of hindrance rather than just bad sportsmanship, and the offenders should pay the price right then and there. Even football teams are immediately penalized for ‘taunting’ which is kinda the same thing. That kind of heckling might not affect the pros (that much), but for recreational and league players, it can be devastating. I have actually witnessed doubles teams go from winning to losing their match because of it. Once they saw how much it bothered the other team, the opponents kept up their behavior the entire match, even when they were asked politely (then not politely) to stop.
Look… I encourage everyone who plays league tennis to take some time and sit on the bleachers (or wherever) and support your teammates. But cheer ONLY when they make a clear winner. At any other time, it is not only disrespectful to the opponents, but it puts them at an unfair disadvantage mentally. Granted, this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, shouldn’t there be swift justice?
How ’bout you? Have you ever seen this in any of your league matches? How was it handled? Do you think I’m off base here, or do I have a valid argument? Inquiring minds wanna know!