I have several emotional scars from being cheated during my junior tennis days. Even though I recently turned 50 (what?!), I can remember two situations like it was yesterday. On both occasions my opponent blatantly cheated me, and both times I did not handle it well. I turned into a hopeless mess and suffered a complete meltdown. Traumatic experiences like that can leave quite a trail until the lesson I finally learned. I remember feeling completely powerless, and because of that my play suffered greatly.
As a coach it is my job to empower my students, and a recent experience might be helpful to you. Before I start, I need to differentiate between a bad line call and cheating. Everyone can, and does, occasionally make a bad line call. I am not talking about the mistakes. A well-trained tennis player hitting a ball is the first person that knows whether a ball will land in the court or outside the lines. The feel of the ball—the contact combined with all their finely tuned senses in relation to spin, speed, wind, etc. will result in a very accurate prediction. Granted, this is not 100 percent reliable, and therefore most players usually allow a small margin of ‘surprise’ possible.
However, when you are surprised by your opponent’s line calls several times, and especially on key moments, something fishy must be going on. I smell a rat! This is the moment that action must be taken. Once you have decided that you are 100 percent sure you are being cheated, you cannot let it slide. It will bother you for the rest of the match, and it will devour your confidence.
A recent example:
While discussing recent tournament matches with a player, I became aware of a regret that he had mentioned before. In the quarterfinal match that he had lost, he regretted playing tentatively, which in hindsight started when he felt that his opponent was cheating him several times.
“What can we do when our opponents cheat us?” I asked.
“Ignore it?” he answered, phrasing it as a question.
In order not to be affected by cheating, he was under the impression that by ignoring it, he could just let it go and continue playing his own game. Unfortunately, our emotions will not allow this to happen. When you are being cheated, you have been betrayed! A great unjust has been done to you. It is totally unfair and unacceptable; the feelings this brings up will not be ignored. By ignoring the cheating, you are pretending that it is not really happening, while you darn well know that it is.
Dealing with an unfair situation requires courage. It is not a pleasant experience, so it makes sense that you might want to avoid it. However, your courage is an important component of your strong play. When courage is not on display, it will result in poor, tentative and powerless play.
That little voice inside your head that keeps telling you that your opponent is cheating will keep eroding away your confidence. Listening to it and taking a stand is key!
Children often need help with choosing the best option for how to deal with cheating. It can be difficult and scary to confront people. A solution must be safe enough for the player to be comfortable with doing so, and effective enough so the player’s confidence and focus remains. More mature players might be strong enough to warn their opponents that they are onto them, and that repercussions will follow if they don’t stop cheating, but it is easier and safer to go get a line judge.
In any case, something must be done, or you will suffer at your own hands. The player in my coaching example was so mad at his opponent after losing, but I explained to him that he was really just mad at himself. By not standing up to cheaters you are, in fact, cheating yourself! I hate cheaters. So should you. Stand up for yourself.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Tonny van de Pieterman is a tennis professional at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y.. He has previously been named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern-Long Island Region. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail Tonny@PointSetTennis.com.