Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"I saw that one wide."

I’m playing doubles with Gary against Pete and Andre. I am ready to return serve just behind the baseline in the deuce court and Gary is standing on the service line in the ad court three feet to the left of the center line. After netting his first serve, Pete hits a second serve wide to my forehand. As I lunge to my right to play the ball Gary calls,“Out!” Gary saw the ball wide and made the call. I wasn’t sure it was wide and without Gary there would not have called the ball wide. Pete and Andre protest that Gary was in a poor position to make the call--he was a long way from the far sideline and he had to look across the line to make the call. Pete and Andre say it’s my call. Are they right?

The Code says the view down the line is better than the view across a line. Line judges are positioned to look down lines. It looks like Pete and Andre are right.

But wait. I’m not a stationary line judge. I was watching the ball, but I was also moving and reacting in an effort to play the ball. My angle was the same as the hypothetical line judges’, but I wasn’t just standing there waiting to make a call. Gary was. So in that respect, Gary’s perspective was more similar to the line judge’s perspective than mine was.

What about the claim that the ball was on the far sideline a long way from Gary? The closest I got to where the ball bounced (before lunging to my right to play the shot) was when I was at the baseline. The baseline is 19 feet from the service line. Gary was 3 feet from the center service line. The service box is 13.5 feet wide. That means Gary was about 16.5 feet from where the ball bounced. Gary was closer to the bounce of the ball than I was.

Hmmm. Now I think Pete and Andre don’t have a case. But what about the nagging question of the angle, the line of sight relative to the line? Let’s have a look at that.

Being of a scientific nature, I decided to check this out before accepting it as fact just because The Code says it’s true. A simple experiment easily cleared this up for me. I placed a ball as close as I could to the line, but wide. When viewed from Gary’s position the ball looked wide. Gary could see the space between the ball and the line. Viewed from my perspective, the middle of the spherical ball covered part of the white of the line. That meant the ball looked in. As I moved to my right outside the sideline, the ball looked even more like it was in. If the goal is to tell if a ball is out, Gary’s view across the line was better than my view looking down the line.

The Code is wrong. Gary’s view was superior. Our call stands.

On the very next point, Pete hits a first serve to Gary that Gary rips up the line past Andre for a winner. Andre never budges. He says Pete’s serve was long. The serve was moving awfully quickly, but it looked to me like it caught the back of the line so I didn’t call it out. Andre thinks Pete should hit a second serve? Should he?

Nope. The rule is clear. It’s our call. We played it and we won the point. This situation comes up a lot, especially in doubles when the server’s partner tries to call a serve first serve long. To see why this happens, just return to the discussion of the prior point. Since Andre is standing close enough to the net that he can see the service line over the top of the net he’s in the best position of all the players on the court to see the space between Pete’s serve and the outside edge of the line. Therefore, Andre will correctly see a ball that is barely long, whereas Gary and I won’t be able to call it long, since from our perspective’s we can’t see the space between the ball and the line.

Pete and Andre are wrong on both counts, and even The Code is wrong on the first one. At least that’s how I see it.

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