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Novak Djokovic of Serbia disputes a call during the Men's Singles second round match against Steve Darcis of Belgium (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: A Burning Question: How Did You See It?

A Burning Question: How Did You See It?

As a journalist, I’m disposed to ask many questions. But in 40-plus years as a tennis player, here is one question I’ve never asked my opponent: How did you see it?

How did you see it?

Are you kidding me?

We know the situation. You have struck a ball near a line – in most cases, a sideline. Your opponent runs to it, witnesses the bounce, is unable to strike the ball in time -- and then comes a pause.

I was taught a very simple rule. If you see the ball out, you call it out. If you can’t see it out, the ball is in. End of story.

How did you see it?

To me, this is a rather gutless move. The person who’s asked the question is saying: I’d like to call your shot out, but I don’t have the nerve to do it myself. Please become my accomplice in helping me cheat you.

When I’m asked this question in a practice match, multiple scenarios surface. First, since my opponent lacks the courage to have called it out, I suspect my shot was good. Second, I might well say, “It’s your call” and hope the opponent says he was unable to see it and therefore it’s my point. But if he says it was out, I will accept the call – and remain on alert for the rest of the match. Of course, since it’s only a practice match, being alert is of limited value. What am I going to do, grab someone from the clubhouse or street to call lines?

But then, if they still wish for me to make the call, I will take one of two paths: If it’s early in a practice match, in the interest of long-term harmony, I might well call my own shot out. But yes, if it’s at a later stage, I will do what I’d do from start to finish in a tournament or league match: I will say it was good. Call me craven. I’m sorry, but I’m not about to enlist in my wimpy opponent’s campaign to cheat me.

Recently, though, my friend BJ has brought to my attention the “Making Calls” section of The Code. Though The Code is not part of the official ITF rules, for years it has been an unofficial companion, comprising, in its words, “The Unwritten Rules of Tennis.”

Rule 5: “Player makes calls on own side of net. A player calls all shots landing on, or aimed at, the player’s side of the net.”

Rule 8: “Ball that cannot be called out is good.”

That to me should end the story. There should be no need to even ask, “How did you see it?”

But then along comes Rule 13: “Player calls own shots out. With the exception of the first serve, a player should call out the player’s own shots if the player clearly sees the ball out regardless of whether requested to do so by an opponent. The prime objective in making calls is accuracy. All players should cooperate to attain this objective.”

Well, quite interesting. For what it’s worth, I have a hard time recalling ever calling an opponent’s shot good and having him or her say, “No, my shot was out. It’s your point.”

My commitment will continue. I will never ask my opponent, “How did you see it?”

Will you?

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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