Tuesday, September 13, 2011

THE HINDRANCE RULE

There's been a lot of discussion about the hindrance rule, and how it was applied in the US Open final Sunday, between Sam Stosur and Serena Williams. Here is the rule as it is written in the USTA rules of tennis which govern this match:

"Rule 26. HINDRANCE

If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point.

However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player’s own control (not including a permanent fixture)."

Now let's take a look at the point in question:

So, there are two parts of the hindrance rule: (1) was it a hindrance? and (2) was the act that caused the hindrance deliberate?

In this case it's fair to say that Serena called out before Stosur got her racquet on the ball, so it was a hindrance. The second question is whether the act that caused the hindrance was intentional, and since Serena fully intended to shout, "Come on!", both parts of the rule apply, and the point was duly awarded to Stosur.

All other discussion about it is pontification, because the rule is clear and so too are the conditions of this point. The umpire had no choice but to call a hindrance, and she did her job. It would have been easier to ignore it and hide behind the crowd and the moment, but she did her job properly and should be commended.

But this has happened to Serena before - with the same umpire. No, not the incident from 2009, that was a different umpire (a young blonde European umpire, yes, but not the same one). Take a look at this.

Here too, Serena yells out, "Come on!" before the point is over, but the umpire calls a let. The same umpire! So what gives?

Well, first, we must read the rule that governs this match, which is the WTA year end championships, and is thus governed by the WTA rules. There, the hindrance rule is written slightly differently:

"H. HINDRANCE RULE

If a player hinders her opponent, it can be ruled as either involuntary or
deliberate.

1. Involuntary Hindrance

A let should be called the first time a player has created an involuntary
hindrance (e.g., ball falling out of pocket, hat falling off, etc.), and the
player should be told that any such hindrance thereafter will be ruled
deliberate.

2. Deliberate Hindrance

Any hindrance caused by a player that is ruled deliberate will result in
the loss of a point."

Here, the hindrance rule doesn't specify that the ACT causing the hindrance need be voluntary, but the hindrance itself. Unfortunately it cites an example of two hindrances that are clear-cut involuntary. But clearly Serena did not intend for the shout to hinder Kuznetsova (even though the shout itself was intentional) and thus the hindrance is involuntary and merits a let the first time it occurs.

I don't know why the WTA feels the need to have a different set of rules from the ITF - the USTA rules are exactly the same as the ITF with the exception of the 5th set tiebreak rule, but that's a different story.
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