I have been thinking about and talking with my tennis buddies about hindrances while on the tennis court. I'm trying to decide just what I think of the latest “Serena Williams threatens a U.S. Open official” outburst.
As you may recall, Serena made it to the finals of this year's U.S. Open, pretty much mowing down every opponent she came up against. In the finals, she faced Samantha Stosur. Serena lost the first set and, at the beginning of the second, she lost an important point because the chair umpire ruled that she had hindered Stosur's return of a ball.
Serena had just served, Stosur had hit a decent but not great return, and then Serena whipped a forehand into the ad court towards Stosur's backhand for what appeared to be a winner. Before the ball touched and as Stosur was leaning towards the ball to hit her backhand, Serena shouted out, “Come on!” pretty loudly.
The chair umpire immediately called a hindrance although it wasn't clear to me what was happening at that moment. John McEnroe and Mary Carillo were commentating during the match and both also initially seemed unclear about what was going on. But the chair umpire remained firm, gave the point to Stosur and that is when all hell broke loose, Serena-style.
Serena not only wasn't happy with the hindrance call, she went on a sort of mini-rampage, berating the chair umpire who ultimately ruled that Serena's conduct constituted “verbal abuse” and that is what she was fined $2,000 for the next day.
So what does all of this have to do with you and me?
Well, I started getting worried that I maybe I have been just as guilty of hindering my opponents as Serena but on a more regular basis.
Rule 26 of the Official Rules of Tennis addresses hindrances and states:
If a player is hindered in playing 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).
So, assuming that Serena deliberately yelled out “Come on!” (which I'm sure she did), and assuming that Samantha Stosur was “hindered in playing” by that, the point was properly awarded to Stosur.
The Code, The Player's Guide for Unofficated Matches, also addresses hindrances but goes even further, giving a good example. The Code states:
33. Talking during a point. A player shall not talk while the ball is moving toward the opponent's side of the court. If the player's talking interferes with an opponent's ability to play the ball, the player loses the point. Consider the situation where a player hits a weak lob and loudly yells at his or her partner to get back. [Who hasn't done that?] If the shout is loud enough to distract an opponent, then the opponent may claim the point based on a deliberate hindrance. If the opponent chooses to hit the lob and misses it, the opponent loses the point because the opponent did not make a timely claim of hindrance.
So guess what? Often, when I'm playing doubles, I do exactly what the Code uses as an example of a hindrance! E.g., I am back. My partner is at the net. I send up a lob, realize its going to be short and shout “Get back!” or “Watch out!” or something equally cringe-worthy so that my partner hopefully realizes she's about to get creamed. Don't we all do this? According to the Code, if I do this and it bothers my opponents (and I think they can claim it does whether it actually does or not), they might call my shout a hindrance and take the point. Yikes! I don't need to give away any more points than necessary.
My conclusion to all of this? I want to say thank you to Serena. Because of her and her belligerent attitude, I actually paid attention to the official's ruling and looked at the hindrance rule. And, in the future, I'll be a lot more careful of what kind of noises I make and when I make them so as not to hinder anyone.