Breaking the rules: Tennis
False courtesies, distractions among players' tricks
Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:12PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:02PM
Let's start by saying that for all that ails tennis, the sport is remarkably, admirably devoid of flagrant cheating. Corruption, administrative scandal and match-fixing are generally unheard of. Is tennis 100 percent clean of performance enhancing drugs? No. But the players are tested frequently, the testing -- handled by WADA -- is transparent, and the penalties are high. Because of Hawkeye, the popular electronic replay technology, even bad line call have gone the way of the wooden racket.
Nevertheless, tennis has its own version of the black arts. Here are five ways players have been known to smudge the lines between cheating and mere gamesmanship.
1. Coaching: Especially on the women's tour, accepting signals and advice from your coach has been like speeding on the Jersey Turnpike. Virtually everyone disregards the rules and does it; and only the most flagrant violators get caught. Choosing appeasement over enforcement, the WTA has even legalized mid-match coaching at some events. When it's banned at the Majors, players have gotten resourceful, carrying notes from their coaches onto the court to read during changeovers.
2. Grunting: Somehow Andy Roddick can smoke 152 mph. serves without a sound but lesser players shriek like stuck pigs -- or as a British scribe once wrote: it sounds like a bordello when the fleet is in town -- when they hit the ball. As if this weren't distracting enough, invariably, the grunting gets louder as the match tightens.
3. Well-timed bathroom breaks and trainer calls: As sure as it will rain during Wimbledon, it's become an article of faith that when Player A seizes the momentum, Player B will either suddenly need to relieve himself or summon a trainer to minister to an "injury." The latter case often makes for comical viewing, particularly when the treatment consists of a massage. Players who were scrambling around the court one moment suddenly lie prone as if they're at Canyon Ranch getting a 90-minute session with Fabricio the shiatsu expert.
4. The fake "gimme": Jimmy Connors patented this move. At a non-critical juncture in the match, you concede a point to your opponent on a questionable line call, giving the impression you're an honest sportsman. Then at a crucial juncture, you hit a ball close to the line that's called unfavorably and then you appeal to him to return the favor.
5. Paint jobs: Here, it is the public, not the opponent, who is getting played for a fool. Player X has a lucrative contract with Alpha rackets but prefers a model manufactured by Beta. What to do? He plays with the Beta but paints the frame and puts on Alpha string stencil. It's dishonest and is misleading. But then again, better this than blood doping.