Tennis Refereeing is Antiquated

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Tennis Refereeing is Antiquated

So, let me get this straight. Nick Kyrgios gets coached by the umpire in his third-round match at the US Open, while Serena gets penalized for coaching for a gesture her coach made, and which she didn’t even see. The Nick Kyrgios intervention led to him to a win after being down a set and a break in the third round of the US Open. For Serena, her coaching warning happened at a critical point in the second set and ultimately led to an insane turn of events that tarnished the US Open Final.


I’m not going to give Serena, nor the Umpire the benefit of the doubt or choose sides between the two. What I do want to address is the fact that referees in tennis have too much power over the outcome. Many of the rules that they are enforcing come from a subjective perspective. When you get into the subjective, you end up with heated players yelling obscenities at Referees because they believe they are acting on bias. Can you blame them? There’s tons of evidence of missed calls, harsh punishments and sometimes even bullying by Referees.


From John McEnroe getting defaulted in the 1990 Australian Open, to Jeff Tarango walking off the court because he felt he was being unfairly penalized, tennis has always been the loser when the Referee gets overly involved. The fans are the ones on the losing end. To the credit of tennis, everything has gotten a bit better with the introduction of the challenge system. Before the challenge system, referees had even more power if you can believe that.


So, what do I propose to make things better? Here’s the changes I would make to make this less subjective.


  • Verbal abuse only when there is a swear word involved. This puts it in line with racket abuse. You either did it or said it or you didn’t. Let the player vent all they want, who cares. Unless the player starts swearing, then you penalize.


  • Allow coaching. Every other sport in the entire world allows coaching. You see coaches up and down the sidelines of every professional sport out there. Why should tennis be any different? Also, Davis Cup allows coaching. They sit right next to the player in silence most of the time. It works there, and it would work fine on the professional tour.


  • Don’t penalize with points, penalize with fines, and don’t default. Hit the player immediately where it hurts the most, their wallet. If they want to keep acting up, it’s going to cost them a big chunk of change.


The above three changes would make everything so much better in my honest opinion.


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