If you want to win, you must not lose

Tennis Ethics

It was the match point of my high school tennis game, and my partner and I were one point away from winning.  We had made it to a tiebreak round, and we were both suffering from exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration.  The opposing team finally served, and we played out the point.  We rallied for a few seconds, and then our opponents hit a perfect curve ball into the right hand corner of the court, completely out of our reach.  However, the ball bounced so close to the line that it was almost impossible to determine whether it was in or out.

My partner didn’t hesitate to call it out.  I, however, being slightly closer to the ball, silently questioned her.  The other team asked if she was sure, and since I was closer to where the ball had bounced, it was my job to look.  The pressure of the entire outcome of the match was suddenly on my shoulders: I could call it in and we would forfeit the win, or I could call it out and the score would be in our favor.  I walked over to the spot to see if the clay court could indicate where the ball had bounced.  I bent over and examined the mark – it was too close to tell.  However, in my exhaustion and desire to win, I did not argue with my partner’s decision.  I confirmed it was out, and we won the game.

In tennis, the rule of thumb is that if your are unsure about the call, it is the correct protocol to call it in.  In situations such as this, I like to think that I would have made the ethical decision by admitting that I didn’t know how to call their shot.  However, in my desperation to win, with all my teammates and my coach watching, I decided to make the unethical decision and call it out.

Even when there are Umpires and Halk-Eye camera in pro tennis, there are sometimes still questions about whether the calls are accurate.  Below is a video of Andy Roddick in the 2008 Australian Open, who argued with a few calls the Umpire made.  As you can see, even with Umpires and cameras some calls are questionable.

Imagine how much more arguing there would be in Pro Tennis, if hawkeye cameras weren’t around?

During my time as a tennis player, I have watched many of my peers battle similar scenarios to my own, where many calls they make are uncertain.  Since there are not enough coaches to monitor each game, it is up to the players to make the final decision.  In a situation where the opponent makes the final call, it can be no surprise that many calls aren’t always what they should be.  In circumstances where the opponents are similarly skilled, the defining factor is usually how ethical the players are willing to be.  If your opponent wanted to, they could call any close call of yours out.  It just depends how ruthless you are willing to be.


3 thoughts on “If you want to win, you must not lose

  1. Your post leaves me with a dilemma. In sports, in general, it is generally someone else’s job to decide the final call. I have never played tennis so this notion that the player can decide his or her own fate on a call is foreign to me. That said, I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same thing. If it was clearly out or even seemed like it was out then it would be wrong to call it in. Conversely, we take as many advantages as we can in sports knowing that our opponent would likely do the same. In this case, do you think your opponent would do the same thing?

  2. You said when you looked it was too close to call. So, do you think you called it wrong?

    If you think you made the wrong call, what does that mean to you now, looking back?

  3. In a desire to win you could probably check close calls yourself, since it involves conflicting interests. Despite having to waste some time, perhaps one could insist on double-checking if the victory is so desirable, I suppose. However, I do not play tennis professionally and therefore might not know all nuances of the competitive game.


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