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How to Deal with Tennis Cheaters – Tennis Quick Tips Podcast 186

By Kselz @TennisFixation

One of the things that makes tennis a unique sport is that, in most of the matches we play, our opponent is also our umpire. The one person who has a definite interest in having calls go against us is often the very person making those calls. And because of this, because in the vast majority of our matches, there is an absence or a virtual absence of any on-court officials, cheating in tennis is very easy. All you have to do is say "out," and you can win the point. And win it with almost no penalty for this unethical behavior.

So what can we do to deal with cheaters in tennis? How can we try to get our opponents to follow the rules? That's what we're talking about in this episode - how to deal with tennis cheaters.

You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player in this post or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in Apple Podcasts by clicking on this link:

Before we get really deep into this episode, I want to tell you something. I have played matches where I was pretty sure one of my opponents was cheating at least some of the time. And I'm sure you have too. It's that match where none of your lobs seem to be in. It's that match where your alley shots just missed being on the line. It's that match where your deep serves are just out.

But I've never played a match with a well-known cheater. I know there are those kind of players out there, players whose reputation for cheating precedes them and who people dread having to play. And I'm just lucky because I've never had to face a player like that. So if you question any of the advice I give here, if you hear it and think "she has no idea what she's talking about," well, that's fine. I just want you to know that I've given this a lot of thought, I've talked to other players and my pro about this topic, and I've done some research on it. So the plan I'm presenting here is really the best one I could come up with and I think it will be very effective in the vast majority of cheating situations you get into.

Another thing I want you to know is that, even if YOU'VE never faced a cheater, even if you're sure that no one you play with would ever do that, as you get better at tennis and play at more competitive levels, that day will come. And I believe you can go a long way to neutralize a cheater if you have a plan in place for how to deal with cheating before it starts happening to you. So that's why I think this is a good episode to listen to even if you think you'll never face a cheater so that you're prepared when on-court cheating starts happening.


Let's start at the very beginning and talk about just what is the problem with tennis cheaters? Why do we hate them so much?

The problem with cheaters is not just that they take points away from you. Cheaters use cheating as a tactic to get in your head. They cause you to get upset. You lose focus. You get frustrated and flustered and can't play your best tennis. Many cheaters feed off your anger and may even get pleasure from it. And if they see it's working, cheaters are definitely going to continue cheating.


Let's start with talking about how players cheat. Because it turns out there are a lot of ways to cheat in tennis. We all know the most obvious one - making bad line calls. But here are a few other ways players can cheat - calling serves out that are good, calling the score wrong during a game, calling the wrong game count, switching up the order of the servers in doubles, having the same server serve twice in a row, calling lets on good serves. Those are just a few examples. I'm sure there are plenty more ways.

And some of those you might think, "What? Having the same server serve twice in a row? That's never going to happen to me!" But the problem is that we can get so caught up in the game, that we don't pay close attention to things that we just assume no one is doing to do wrong, like serving out of order. Until we realize that we're facing that strong server yet again!

And this is a good time to remind you how important it is that you know the rules of tennis and The Code. I did a whole episode on this called You're Giving Away Points If You Don't Know Your Tennis Rules! That was Episode 170 and I'll be sure and include a link to that in the show notes which you can find at


So, are all players actually cheating in tennis? I'm going to tell you a story about a match I played against someone I thought was cheating. I remember it very well even though it happened several years ago. I was playing on an indoor court and, several times, when I was serving to the opponent in the deuce court, she called my serve out even though I was positive my serve was in. I let this go maybe twice. The third time, I said, "Are you sure?" And she said, yes, she was sure. The fourth time, I said, "Out? Really? Are you sure? Because it looked in!" And, again, my opponent said that my serve was definitely out. I was super pissed about this. Visibly so. Anyway, when the match was over, one of my team mates who had been watching the match, said to me, "Why were you so mad about her calling your serves out? They were way out." Yes, the serves I was so sure were way in were actually way out. And the opponent I was positive was cheating by making bad calls was actually just calling them as she saw them.

So the lesson I learned that day and have carried with me ever since is that most players are really trying to make good calls and I shouldn't question the vast majority to things that go against me. I couldn't see the ball as it landed on the other side of the court even though I thought I could. All that I accomplished by getting worked up about what I thought were bad calls was that I lost my focus and played bad tennis.

The fact is, no one is perfect. The vast majority of people you play against are doing their very best to make accurate calls. People who call the lines wrong are usually not cheating, they're just doing their best and they can get it wrong. In tennis, the balls are often coming at high speed with weird spin on them. We often take them while we're on the move. So it's no surprise that our calls are not always 100% accurate.

I had an email exchange with a longtime Tennis Quick Tips listener, Sal. And I think Sal did a great job of describing the different types of "cheating" we can see on the tennis court. Sal says:

In the years I've been playing tennis, I've definitely encountered many people who, shall we say, make less than accurate or fair/correct calls.
I find these players fall into a few different groups.

One group are players who make bad calls honestly because they either have less than good eyesight, or they are inexperienced at tracking the ball and don't see the ball hit the ground. . . .

Another group might be those that don't completely understand the rules and what constitutes an out ball. Meaning they believe that if the ball is mostly out, then it's out. They may not understand that if any part of that ball touches the line, then the ball is in, e.g., 99% out = 100% in.

Then there's a group that may know the rules, but may choose to make a "bad" call when it's advantageous to them. Say at a critical point, at the 15-30 [or] 30-15 point. Or maybe at the baseline when they believe you and/or your partner are not quite able to see it. This group is the most troubling to play against.

Thanks for your email Sal. I totally agree with you. Those are three types of so-called cheaters that we all may face - they can't see it, or they don't know the rules, or they choose to make a call in their own favor at opportune moments. And I would add a fourth type of cheater to this list - the blatant cheater who is always making bad calls as a tactic for winning.

Let's now talk about a plan for dealing with all of the cheaters we may face.


Step 1. Start on a good note with a positive attitude.

To begin with, I think it's important that you start every match you play with a good, positive attitude. Even if you're playing someone who is a known cheater. Don't begin your match with any preconceived notions about what's going to happen. Instead, think about how you want to play this match. Think about your game, your strokes and what you want to accomplish on court.

This means, your Step 1, right from the beginning, is making clear to your opponent that YOU will be calling a fair match, following the rules. And how do you do this? Well, I do it by making loud, audible calls, even during the warm-up, like "Great shot!" or "Good get!" Once the match starts, I'll make clear calls on any shot that is remotely close of "In!" or "Good!" and use a hand sign to show this. I call the score loudly, every single time, and I ask my opponent to do the same if they're not. I make calls quickly and confidently. I don't discuss it with my partner if I'm playing doubles. I just make the call to show there's no doubt. I want to make sure my opponent knows I'm making good calls, and - by extension - I'm assuming I'll get the same treatment from them.

Step 2. Question the call.

Okay, let's say you are being positive and upbeat and fair, but you get that first call that goes beyond a mistake in judgment. Something that is clearly wrong and looks like a blatant case of cheating. Step 2 - question the call. Be polite but clear. "Out? Are you sure?" Now you've put your opponent on warning. Of course their response will be, "Yes. Definitely out." But now you've told them you're watching. Question the call, and immediately move on. Don't dwell on it. Play your game.

Step 3. Question the call again.

So what if it happens again? What if you now have your second blatant cheating call? What's your Step 3? Here's how Sal, whose email I quoted earlier, says that he handles it:

[I]f it happens a second time, I usually move in a little bit, like I want a better look at where the ball hit the court, and then [I] might say "Are you sure, because that ball looked pretty good." They will probably say "Yes" again. You could say, "Alright, I thought it was in." And then leave it alone.

I agree with Sal here. Question the call again in a little more forceful of a way. Don't be a jerk. Just make clear that you don't think the call was good and you're paying close attention. And then, again, put it out of your mind and move on. Don't dwell on it and let it get in your head.

Step 4a. In an officiated match, call an official.

Usually just using the "are you sure?" steps will ensure that your opponent cans the cheating and calls a fair match. In fact, for a lot of players, just asking those questions will get in THEIR head because now they're starting to think that you're accusing them of cheating!

But let's say we're on the third cheating call. Now, it's time to bring in some outside help if possible. What kind of help? Well, that depends on if you're playing an officiated or an unofficiated match. My last episode was called What Is The Difference Between An Officiated And An Unofficiated Match? and that episode told you why it's important to know the distinction between these two types of matches. So be sure you listen to that episode. Because, in our cheating plan, what you can do next depends on whether you're playing in an officiated or an unofficiated match.

In an officiated match, this is where you are going to call on an official to help you out. If you're playing in a tournament where there are no officials on your court, you can actually leave the court and go find an official and ask them to come watch your match.

How do you do this? Well, Sal suggests saying something to your opponent like this:

Ok, I believe you. I want to win this match, and you want to win this match and I don't want to mess up any calls for you or vice versa, so I'm going to do us a favor and I'm going to get us a line judge so we can make sure that we're not stressed about this.

I like that because it makes it sound like you're doing both yourself and your opponent a favor. You might also just say, "Okay, I'm going to go get an official" without much explanation. And then do it. Be pleasant and polite about it. And be pleasant and polite to the official - just tell them you think there are some questionable calls on your court and you'd like their help. Don't tell them that your opponent is cheating on every single call and they need to get there ASAP.

I know the problem here is that you may be playing a tournament where there aren't that many officials. They may not be available to immediately come over to your court. They may not be available to hang out on your court and watch what's happening. But you've got to try and show your opponent you're serious about this. Then, whatever the outcome, keep playing. Move on. Don't let it get to you.

4b. In an unofficiated match, prepare to make a report.

Let's say you're playing an unofficiated match and you have no officials to help you out. What I would do is first, ask my captain or team mates to come watch the match. They can't offer you coaching or offer any advice on how the calls should go. But they can be there to be a very obvious witness as to what's happening.

And I say prepare to make a report here because, in many leagues, teams are given sportsmanship ratings and this behavior, even from just one player, is exactly the type of thing that can go toward a team's sportsmanship rating. And in one of my leagues, we specifically ask the captains to explain low sportsmanship ratings and may follow up with players accused of cheating. Captains can even go so far as to file grievances against other teams or players due to cheating and, when a grievance is filed, we will look to written statements made by the players and even the spectators to try and figure out exactly what happened on court.

So that's just one more reason why you need to know not just the rules of tennis, not just The Code, but also any league rules or procedures that may apply in your matches.

Step 5. Adjust your game.

So let's say you've worked your way through the first four steps and you're still getting some really questionable calls. This is where you may need to change your game. In fact, you may need to change your game even earlier than this to put a stop to cheating. That means playing a little safer. Adjusting your shots so they are WAY in and not super close to the line. For us recreational players, we probably shouldn't be aiming to hit the lines anyway. Slow down, take your time, and don't rush through the points. Think about what you're doing and play your game in a way that reduces the opportunities for cheating.

Does it make me happy to change my game because my opponent is cheating? No! Absolutely not! I really don't like the idea that a cheater can make me change my game plan. But that's why it's really important to have a backup game plan, a Plan B and even a Plan C, for when your Plan A isn't working. I did a podcast on this very thing. It was called What Is Your Plan B For Your Next Tennis Match? and I'll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode so you can listen and figure out how to have a Plan B.

So Step 5 is to adjust your game to make it harder for the cheater to cheat.

Step 6. Do you retaliate or not?

Okay, so we are now at the final step, the final option. And that is to retaliate by cheating back. I will tell you that I don't like this option and I have never done it. But then I did say up front that I have never played against an opponent that I thought was blatantly cheating against me as some kind of tactic. So yes, it's easy for me to say I don't do it and you shouldn't either.

But the reality is, even if I was playing a cheating opponent, I'm not sure I would cheat back to retaliate. First, I think cheating back often just results in more cheating. It doesn't stop your opponent from cheating so it doesn't really solve the problem. Plus, I don't like the feeling I get when I just have to make close calls. So I can imagine that blatant cheating would be a big mental problem for me. Third, I just want to play my best and sometimes, even when I play my best, I know I'm not going to win. So I'm pretty sure I wouldn't sink to the cheater's level just to win a match. If I lose then I shake it off, know that I played my best and live to play another day.

So my Step 6 is to NOT retaliate by cheating back. Now, you may decide that you do need to retaliate. And you may be in a match or play against an opponent where that actually works. Who knows? Maybe I'll even be in that situation one day. So I'm not telling you that not retaliating is the right or proper or only way to act.

But what I am saying is to give it some thought and decide what is possible for you before it ever comes up. Because I know that, just like me, you want to play your best and live to play another day.

Well, that's it for this week's Tennis Quick Tip! That was a long one I know but I wanted to make sure I really gave you a well-thought out plan for dealing with cheaters.


Check out these great resources mentioned in this episode:


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And if you have any questions about any of this stuff, you can always reach out to me by emailing [email protected]. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for listening and, as always, . . . Happy Tennis!

© Kim Selzman 2020 All Rights Reserved

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