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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland

Who can forget John McEnroe melting down in a 1981 Wimbledon first round - already dubbed by the British press as "McBrat" - screaming out at the chair umpire, "chalk flew up," among other things, after the umpire refused to reverse an apparent ace on the line that was called out by the volunteer linesman.

Tennis ball bouncing on the lineChalk actually did fly on the All England Club grass center service line, a sure indication that ball was indeed good. His opponent, future US Davis Cup Captain Tom Gullikson, always the perfect gentleman, lingered and looked as if he thought it was good as well.

Of course this was eons before computerized line calling systems (Hawkeye), and also preceded the now professional cadre of paid, trained lines people and chair umpires that tour players also mostly enjoy having present today at just about all tour events.

However, across the channel at the lo-tech French Open, tradition still reigns on the red terra battu where balls leave marks, and umpires are expected, upon player request, to climb down from their perches to confirm or reject any close calls by the lines people in dispute.

Although Hawkeye results are still viewed by the telecast team there, and by us at home watching on the tube, the umpires are off the grid in Paris. The chair's eye test ruling stands when, once down on the court, they either point the mark out with their index finger, or place a palm down to signal good.

Here in Florida clubland where clay courts are often featured – that's "American green clay" as it's known internationally, or Har-tru to us – bounce marks are also left on the court, and visible to help players play fair and square when in doubt on a close call.

As a bonus, when a ball strikes squarely on the plastic line tapes it typically skids rapidly away, noticeably faster than court's normal speed off the bounce, often without leaving a trace. And, can also make a distinct sound as well. If the ball strikes the edge of a line, particularly on so-called "high" lines on poorly maintained courts, it'll squirt off either sideways, jump straight up, or rocket off at warp speed in a barely above the surface low trajectory.

So, despite having no one in the chair to arbitrate, or having the luxury of a hi-tech line calling system with its 10 strategically placed camera location above the court, one would think that line calling by competing players, even in "friendlies" on clay, would be readily copasetic.

Graphic with the words Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic
Contributor, Photographer: Allstar Picture Library

Often not so I'm afraid.

But let's get one thing straight right off – no one, and I mean no one, gets up in the morning and consciously decides they're purposely going to make bad calls, or more commonly phrased, cheat their opponent(s) that day if that what it takes to win. This has been well established by psychologists, neuroscientists, social scientists, et.al.

It can get complicated though since those employing the poor eyesight excuse, curiously, never seem to make bad calls against themselves.

Those who make bad calls on a regular basis, and are known for it - otherwise perfectly fine people – are victimized by themselves. Since they are over the top with winning outcomes being vitally important, their brain actually tricks their eyes into seeing what they so desperately want to see. That's the brain and eyes always working in tandem, as always, but in this instance in an unfortunate manner. These folks then become sincerely oblivious to balls skidding off the lines, making distinct noises, and even, here's the kicker, seeking out erroneous ball marks to make their case.

As a player I've had more than a few of these unfortunate experiences, the most egregious happening over 50 years ago – yes I still remember it - when I was an up and coming young teenager in the final of my home city's championship before a large crowd, back when these city tournaments were held in esteem in tennis' shamateur days before the "open era" began.

I was pitted against the area's acknowledged top player and longtime champ, who was not only heavily favored and undefeated, but also highly respected. Then, as it became clear that I actually had the goods to take his title after winning the first set, the bad calls began. Left, right, and deep on any ball that I hit on or even close to the lines. Such was his obsession in not losing to a punk kid still wet behind the ears. I ultimately became totally frustrated at losing key points that I was actually winning - blatant cheating as I saw it - which steadily morphed, being emotionally immature, into some serious anger on my part. I lost my composure and self-destructed. Game, set, match. 

Graphic with the words Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic
Contributor: Aflo Co. Ltd., Photographer: Nippon News

Lesson learned…don't lose your cool to these folks no matter what the provocation. Persevering and still winning the match is the best payback.

I'm betting that you're no doubt familiar with the decades old line calling so-called joke, "When in doubt, call it out," that's unfortunately, though unconsciously, practiced by more than a few. Not really funny at all for the opponents. Should be something like, "When in doubt, don't be a lout, call it good."

In closing, Willy the Shake understood the human condition, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not within the stars, but in ourselves."

Compete hard.
Play fair.
Always give the benefit of the doubt.
Sleep well.


Copyright© 2019 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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Past Essays

  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
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  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner – The "Switch"
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  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
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  • November 2022 - Movement Enhancement to Stay Better In-Point Connected
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  • September 2022 - Advanced Visualization 301
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  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
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  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
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  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
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  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
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  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
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  • March 2022 - Caving
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  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
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  • January 2022 - The Knees
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Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
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  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
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  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
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  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
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  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
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  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
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  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
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  • May 2021 - The Focus
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  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
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  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
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  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
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  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
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  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
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  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
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  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
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  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
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  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
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  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
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  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
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  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
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  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
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  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
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  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
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  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
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  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]


  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]


  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.