There are several rules in competitive tennis, some are on-court rules and some are off-court rules, but the rules are in place to protect the integrity of competition. What happens though when the rules are used to gain an advantage over your opponent? This behavior is not unfair, but it can be said that that it is not in the spirit of competition and the game.
One example of a rule used to gain an advantage over an opponent is the 15-minute rule. Matches are timed (unless otherwise agreed upon), and so when it’s time to begin, it’s not fair if one team is there ready to start and the other is not. This rule makes an allowance for players who are having trouble getting to the club (traffic or bad directions for example). There are some captains though who would rather take a default from a tardy opponent then to play it out. Sure, the match is played at their discretion since they were on time and the opponents were late, but unless the tardiness was intentional and/or malicious, why wouldn’t you want the match to be played out? The whole purpose of competition is to find out who is better. Using a rule to get around competition is definitely not in the spirit of the game. I know this does not happen that often, but it does occur. I have witnessed teams force an opponent to default for being 16-minutes late, and on another occasion, force an opponent to default after she got there 20-minutes late because her train was delayed at a station midway for track issues.
Another rule that is taken advantage of is the rescheduling rule. A match can be rescheduled if both teams find it impossible to play on their scheduled day and time … the key word here is “both.” If one team has trouble fielding a team for a match, they may ask their opponents for an alternate date. While not frequent, teams can and have refused to reschedule a match in order to gain points for forfeited courts or win the match outright. While it is their right to refuse to reschedule, it is not exactly in the spirit of the game. Each team should be invested in a league to find out who has the best game, but the only way to really find that out is to play out the match.
The consequences from situations have an effect not just on the teams and players involved, but on others who are not involved. Each court is worth points, and at the end of the season, those points can make or break a team’s playoff chances. Forfeited courts and defaults are aberrations in the system. For example, if a team that is in first place plays a team that is in fifth place and is forced to forfeit a court because of a tardy player, it might bump that fifth place team into fourth place. The team that was in fourth place originally might now be out of playoff contention and would have a good argument in saying that had that court been played, the fifth place team would more than likely never have won those points. Now we’ll never know.
Teams and players who try to gain an “unfair” advantage should be punished and that is exactly why rules are in place, to protect the integrity of the game. Situations do exist though where the same rules used to protect the integrity of the game are used to trample the spirit of competition. There will always be nitpicky captains standing by with their atomic watches to force a default when a player is one second past the 15-minute lateness mark, or refuse to reschedule a match, or enact one of the other dozen rules that can be exploited. This is not to mention the tactics outside the rules of the game that are commonly called “gamesmanship.” If everyone played the game fiercely, but with honesty and understanding, competitive play might not need as many rules.
Miguel Cervantes III
Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.