May 1, 2022  ·  Barbara Wyatt

I made a mistake. I tossed a rule away because I wanted to be kind. I’ll never do that again.

A muffled ringing resonated during a USTA match. Four tennis bags lay on the bench. One was guilty.

All four players stood frozen. Who left their phone on? The ringing stopped.

Rule 36 in The Code states, “If an opponent’s cell phone rings during a point, the player may immediately stop and claim the point.”

We were not in play because Amalia, my partner, was retrieving a ball from the back curtain for her serve.

The rule says the player may immediately stop. That word, “may,” gives me and others the responsibility to respect our opponents, play fair, and keep fun in the game. In this case, the word “may” means to determine if the noise was truly disruptive.

It wasn’t disruptive. It rang twice then stopped.

Amalia began to serve. The phone rings again. She had not tossed the ball, but play had started because she had parted her hands for the serve.

I ask, “Whose phone?” No one moves. The phone rings on, oblivious to the growing irritation. Players on the adjacent court snarl.

Like a hound dog on the search, I leave the court and stand by the nearest tennis bag and listen. The noise was not from Amalia’s bag. I take another step and stand near my bag. The phone calls out. Whew! Not mine. I spy a blue bag and stop abruptly in front of Grace’s, one of our opponents. The phone chimed out from deep inside. Grace had left her phone on.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “I know I turned it off.”

The phone answered her wail with another ring as she unzips her bag. Its full volume echoes throughout the indoor courts. 

Grace made a mistake. It stopped the match. It is against the rules.

I said, “No worries. We won’t take the point. It’s a simple mistake.”

What on earth was I thinking? The mistake was mine; I should have followed the rules and taken the point.

My reasoning at the time was understandable. We were friends. I didn’t want to be contentious. If I arbitrarily decide to toss that rule aside, which other rules should we toss? The rules are provided to ensure a fair and enjoyable game of tennis.

A fellow official mentioned that if she was the offender with the ringing phone, she would have refused to accept my offer of a re-do. She would have insisted the penalty be upheld. “Because I know the rules, and because I wouldn’t want my opponent to feel our friendship was in jeopardy if they imposed the penalty.”

That is an example of sportsmanship. 

Learn from my mistake. Show your sportsmanship by relishing in friendship, enjoying the game, and abiding by the rules.

Published New York Tennis Magazine July/August 2021.