Saturday, September 8, 2012


So, based on the statistics, in all likelihood you have come to see about the hindrance rule referred to in this post concerning Serena Williams in the final of the US Open last year against Sam Stosur, or this post concerning Mardy Fish in Miami this year against Matthew Ebden.

There were a couple of coincidences about the two incidences that made them interesting to align with each other - both players against whom the hindrance rule was called were Americans who were ignorant of the specifics of the rule, thought they should get a let and refused to shake the umpire's hand at the end of the match - umpires who were 100% right, by the way - and they lost the ruling and the match to Australians.

Interestingly, today in the US Open semi-final between Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray, the end of the first set saw another hindrance ruling, only this time, I have to say that 

(1) the umpire, Pascal Maria - one of the best in the game - got it all wrong, but 

(2) was man enough to admit his mistake, and (with help from Murray)
(3) make right what he did wrong.

Let this be a lesson to all umpires:  don't make two wrongs out of one if you screw up a call. Take a deep breath and just fix it...nobody's perfect, just fix it.

But first the rule:


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..."

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

Clearly the hat falling off of Murray's head in the middle of the point, fully in Berdych's line of sight, while he still had a play on the ball, was a hindrance.  And just as clearly, unlike Serena and Mardy, the act that caused the hindrance was not intentional - Murray didn't intend to take off his hat. But Pascal Maria, one of the best umpires in the game, allowed the point to stand, originally ruling that the hindrance did not affect Berdych's ability to reach the ball - only that's not part of the hindrance rule.

The rule that Maria referred to is used when an overrule is made - when a ball is called "out" that is corrected to "in".  Appendix V, Case 7 states:

"If a chair umpire or line umpire calls “out” and then corrects the call to good, what is the correct decision?

Decision: The chair umpire must decide if the original “out” call was a hindrance to either player. If it was a hindrance, the point shall be replayed. If it was not a hindrance, the player who hit the ball wins the point."

So if the play "invalidated" by a corrected "out" call was not affected by that call (either because the player chose not to swing at it assuming incorrectly that it was out, or the shot was just too good), then the player who hit the shot on the corrected call wins the point. But this doesn't apply to a hindrance caused by AN OPPONENT, to which THE hindrance rule 26 above refers.

Murray then approached, sensing that the umpire had made a mistake and didn't want to take a point he didn't deserve, and asked Berdych (several times actually) if he was 100% certain that the cap hit the ground while the ball was in play, which speaks to the first hurdle of whether it was a hindrance.

Fortunately Murray was man enough to suggest to the umpire that they play a let, and Maria was man enough to agree to correct his mistake (which I believe he only did once he realized he was applying the wrong rule) and justice, almost accidentally, was actually served.

Unfortunately Murray proceeded to lose the point he would have won had his hat stayed on, and also proceeded to lose the set. But FORTUNATELY he won the match and not a single question was asked about it in the post match press conference with Berdych.

Oh how quickly we forget.