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SUBSCRIBE! I'll only email when I've written a new story OR if I'm giving away something!

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"Are You Sure?"

I know you’ve been posed this question on the tennis court before. It seems it's all the rage these days and hard to escape. Or maybe you’ve asked it yourself. In either case, let me answer the question with a question, “Seriously?”

I’m not sure where or when this trend began but through all my many years of playing tennis, it’s only been over the last 5-6 years that I’ve noticed the growing popularity of this question.

I actually heard it first while watching my son play in a 10U USTA match. Some little sandbagger who should have at least been playing at the 14U level, tried to stripe another forehand winner down the line and had my son not called it out, the little stinker would have gone up 5-1. Instead, he yells from the baseline, “Are you sure?” It was the first time my kid had been confronted on the tennis court like that so he was dumbfounded. “Uh, yeah.” he muttered. His opponent grunted something under his breath, pulled out a ball from his pocket and served an ace to win the set.

Afterward, my son asked me if I’d heard what his opponent had said. “What was I supposed to say?” he wondered. “Why would I call it out if I wasn’t sure? Did he think I was going to change my mind?”

“I’m with you.” I explained. “I’ve never heard a question like that on the tennis court before.” We both agreed it must have stemmed from some insecurity the poor over-achiever was harboring.

Not too many months later, I was asked the same question from a 40-something woman who clearly had been cheated out of a line call or 2 in her day.

“Out!” I called.

“Are you sure?” she asked with her hand on her hip.

(Under my breath) “Seriously? WTH?!”

“Yes. It was out.” I yelled back, pointing to the spot on the court where the ball landed.

And then from Doubting Thomas’ partner, (Loud enough for everyone to hear) “That was SO in. Great shot! Let’s go!” All accompanied with rapid-fire high-fiving, racquet head-fiving, and a slap on the rear for extra emphasis.

I don’t know, but if Venus Williams rarely uses her challenges in matches and, chooses instead, to trust the people on the side of the court who have the best vantage of the ball in question then shouldn’t we? Whatever happened to the quiet dignity displayed on the court by the likes Chrissy Evert and her contemporaries?

Sure, there are times when this line of questioning is appropriate. When you're honestly out there trying to play your best and your opponent refuses to allow you to win any point that lands close to the line AND the call can be refuted from your side of the net by both you and your partner without hesitation, then I'd say, go for it. You have every right to question the call. But you'll probably notice that the "friendly" game you've all intended to play, does not stay as friendly once you doubt your opponent's character. Just sayin'...

And for those who are actually cheating (God forbid, at this age) OR might not understand the rules regarding whether a ball is out or not (God help us, at this age), I guess you'd just better expect your opponent to question your line calls. Something tells me if you are one or both of these types of players, you’re probably used to the distrust from the other side of the net anyway. Can you blame them? Do you care even a little bit about your reputation on the court? And, is tennis really fun for you?

So, if you choose to include doubt of your opponent's line calls into your game whether warranted or not, I'm thinking . . . maybe "Are you sure?" should be re-worded or more clearly stated to have a better chance of working in your favor. As it is worded now, you're giving the accused a way out..."Yep, I'm sure!" Now what? It doesn't accomplish much, if you ask me.

My son eventually incorporated the “Are you sure?” line into some of his matches. The strategy was only to pull it out if it was first used on him. Then, it was deployed as a mind-game technique rather than an honest question. Not expecting each other to really stand down, he said those matches ultimately became more of a head-butting contest and not much fun. Then came the day when he met the opponent who offered the unescapable version of the debate.

“Out!” called my son.

“No it wasn’t.” commanded his over-zealous opponent.

What do you think? I think it's better. At least it doesn't sound like a ridiculously rhetorical question. And it's not a question at all. It's a full on frontal assault, plain and simple. Hmmm...but it may change the game of tennis into a contact sport. If that happened, I’d have to put down my racquet for good. My knees aren't up for a wrestling match these days.

Whichever version of the engagement you prefer to use, I'd suggest:

  • not being too quick to the draw

  • allowing your opponent, regardless of reputation, to prove herself worthy of your accusation

  • employing only in earnest

  • and, going in with the understanding that LESS is more

Tennis teams belong on tennis courts. Not debate teams.

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