The setting of course was the match between David Nalbandian and John Isner today. (Let me disclose that I am thrilled that this event did not occur at the US Open because everyone and his mother would have rushed to conclude that the Americans were cheating for one of their own.)
The tournament is at Melbourne. Isner and Nalbandian are locked in an epic struggle. Since John Isner has clearly decided that his career will be defined by long, drawn out, epic struggles, it’s no surprised that he is a participant in this yet another five-hour special. Isner serves. The ball is accurately called out by the linesman. The Chair overrules and calls the ball good.
The crowd goes crazy because everybody and his sister can see that the ball was out. Isner encourages Nalbandian to challenge the call – a lovely, sporting moment for which he should be credited. Nalbandian then tries to challenge the call. The Chair says that it’s too late and the call stands. The outcome of this match hangs on a single point. We will never know how this match would have turned out if the correct call had been made.
On the one hand I think that as experienced as he is, Nalbandian had no business finding himself in a situation in which a single bad call can make such a difference. He is a solid player and back in the day he could have whipped Isner coming and going. So in a sense he has no excuse for even being in this situation.
But on the other hand, I am getting sick and tired of the bad calls in tennis. It’s as if with every increase in tennis salaries – and these potential top-tier strikers are getting paid so heavily that I want to slap them all silly for complaining about their First World problems and for their selfishness with regard to the bottom-feeders. But I digress.
It’s almost as if with every salary increase, every piece of improvement in technology, every new tournament and surface advance, all of the positive changes seem to be accompanied by a decline in the adjudication of the sport. It makes tennis seem corrupt, almost as if there are collusions to help facilitate certain winners and certain losers at certain tournaments. Something stinks and it ain’t Nalbandian’s sneakers – although I’m pretty sure that those were probably ripe after his five-hour sweat-fest.
I believe that there can also be room in tennis for Do-Overs. Not all the time, and not at every tournament. But certainly at the Grand Slams and perhaps at Davis Cup where the stakes are huge. Perhaps tennis needs an independent adjudicator who will have the power to override a decision when the circumstances are so close and the call so unfair. And because the match was close, and because really the result could have gone either way, I say let the tennis adjudicator first do his or her own independent investigation based on the objective evidence.
Having ruled that an injustice had occurred and that the outcome of the match hung in the balance, the adjudicator could then require both Nalbandian and Isner to agree that a D-Over is in order. After all, tennis is supposed to be the sport of gentlemen and surely both gentlemen would agree that some kind of redress is appropriate? Finally, the adjudicator could suggest that the players play a special ten-point tiebreaker the following morning. The winner takes the win for the match.
It is not fair to either man to let this outcome remain without some kind of Do-Over. But it would also be unfair to have them be required to replay the entire match. Let both men get a good night’s sleep, calm to hell down, and show up next morning to play a special tiebreaker. A duel at dawn as it were. And may the better man finally win.