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Chris Chase

Should tennis players challenge more calls?

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An op-ed in Sunday's New York Times suggests that tennis players don't challenge enough line calls and it is having an adverse effect on their success on the court. Writes Paul Kedrosky, a senior fellow at a center for economic research:

Professional tennis players are almost certainly losing matches because of their unwillingness to do so.

That's a bold statement to make. Surely Kedrosky has some examples or proof at his disposal to back it up, right?


Kedrosky includes some statistics that support his claim that players don't challenge enough, but nothing to sustain his assertion that matches are lost because of this. Some of the key stats: The 29 percent success rate of challenges shows that line judges are frequently incorrect. And the fact that there are only 6.3 challenge per match despite each player getting three incorrect challenges per set indicates that many challenges go to waste (as they don't carry over from set to set).

But those numbers don't at all suggest that players are losing because they aren't challenging enough. There are certainly occasions when a player has lost a point because of a failure to call a challenge, but a match? If Kedrosky had an example of one, I'm sure he'd have mentioned it.

There are only so many calls per match that can be realistically challenged. Extrapolating stats about challenges and asserting that a player would win three more points per match if he challenged more (like Kedrosky does) is as specious as reasoning can get. Players challenge calls they think they can win. Challenging more would only lead to more challenges of calls that they can't win. Thus, the 29 percent success rate would plummet.

Surely challenging for the sake of challenging can't be beneficial?

Kedrosky sort of addresses that at the end of his piece when he does a complete 180 and states the real reason he thinks players should challenging more often:

So what should players do? Rather than fretting about Federer's fondness for challenges, they should try to out-challenge him. Even challenge recreationally now and then. Sure, it might be embarrassing to challenge on a ball that looked well in, but who cares? The disruption to an opponent's rhythm can be worth it, as can the opportunity to take a short breather after a tough rally. The real challenge is to ignore the giggling critics.

So there you have it. The path to beating Roger Federer lies in making frivolous challenges.

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