Monday, September 14, 2009

T and Sympathy

The recent courtside debacle at the US Open tennis tournament, in which Serena Williams went ballistic during a tense but well-played semifinal against a resurgent Kim Clijsters, has sparked frenzied discussion around the blogosphere. Judging from early remarks, the blame has been heaped heavily and high on Serena, whose unusually surly (and un-serena) behavior during the entire match became overwrought when she was called for a foot fault. She then lost it, threatening, shaking her fist and using old Anglo-Saxon words, all of which were caught on tape: "If I could, I would take this [bleeping] ball and shove it down your [bleeping] throat!"

I got called (by my opponent) on a foot fault in a doubles squash match once, and it was definitely quite discombobulating, but I looked down at my feet, realized it was more than likely true, and got on with the match. Williams was so tightly wound before the call that any hope she could play out the match with any semblance of cool went out the window when she heard the lineswoman yell ‘foot fault!’

That behavior, plus an earlier racket-breaking incident, earned her a premature exit from the match, which by most accounts she was destined to lose anyway -- indeed, probably in another point or so. (Ms. Williams obviously didn't read my earlier blog about how top players demonstrate both high focus and low excitability....)

All of which serves as background to my point, which is that officiating at major sporting events is a very high-stress occupation. I dislike refereeing squash matches during tournaments, although if it is my duty I will certainly comply. But imagine the stress the tennis officials were under when they had to give match point to Clijsters because of Williams’s intemperate display. Many would likely have backed down, but the officials on duty did not dilly-dally; they made the call, and I believe it was the right call to make.

Have sympathy for the long-suffering squash ref as he stares at the two players dancing around the T. In the world of squash, the speed of the ball and the angles from which the referee(s) must watch the game all conspire to enhance the pressure of the moment. The result is stress, big time. To aid these officials in their masochistic profession, a website for squash officials has been created and updated by Squash Canada, with Barry Faguy editing. It is an informative and fun site to check out:

They tend to have updates three times every year, with the next online magazine due in October. While you are there, read this review of interesting comments overheard during squash matches, and be thankful you weren’t there to make the call:

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