Print and Go Back Page 2 [Print without images]

Friday, September 3, 2010
Dear tennis: Don't take away our beloved tirades!

Andy Roddick
Andy Roddick protested a call in his Wednesday loss, and his reaction is part of why we love tennis.

First Serena Williams. Now Andy Roddick. Two years, two foot faults, two memorable U.S. Open tennis tirades. In the wake of Roddick's Wednesday night meltdown over a foot fault call -- in sum: Roddick faulted; a lineswoman misidentified the offending foot when Roddick questioned her, never mind that she was under no obligation to speak; Roddick spent much of the remaining time in his four-set loss to Janko Tipsarevic bellyaching about the irrelevant error -- a New York Times article asks if tennis should adopt electronic measurement for foot faults, the way it already has for line calls.

For the love of John McEnroe, we sure hope not.

Look, we're all for getting things right, erasing uncertainty, better living through technology. NFL replay is a must (if only to protect gamblers). Baseball replay should be expanded. Following a rash of inexplicable non-goals during the World Cup, it's pretty clear that soccer needs to get on board.

But tennis? No way. Leave it alone. From the red clay of Paris to late night slugfests in Flushing Meadows, we want blown calls. Or at least the distinct, immutable possibility that calls can be botched. We want creeping, nagging, infuriating doubt.

Why? Because we like tirades. Love them, really. Love the theater, the drama, the unrivaled entertainment value. What's better than Dennis Green's "they are who we thought they were!" own private postgame Chernobyl? Doing the same thing on the field of play is pretty much what Johnny Mac was all about (in his unhinged youth, at least; not so much in his self-parodying dotage). Bad calls and the mere notion thereof both spark and inflame tirades. You Cannot Be Serious!

Eliminate them, and you eliminate the fun.

That's not all. Beyond serving as watercooler fodder, a good tirade teaches you something about the player unleashing it, reveals character in a way that a whiplash forehand winner can't. Can players keep cool? Can they handle adversity, real and imagined? Do they succumb to negative emotions? Do they secretly feed off them? This is the inner game of tennis, and it's just as interesting as on-court geometry and angles. Maybe more so, given that tennis is boxing without punching. It's also a hidden game, by and large, until a controversial call pries open the attic, if only for a short while.

When tennis adopted electronic line judging, the sport gained certainty. But it lost something, too. Here's hoping it doesn't make the same mistake twice.