Why John McEnroe Is Wrong About Abolishing Tennis Umpires


John McEnroe wants to do away with line judges and umpires. He reckons tennis “would get a whole lot edgier” if players were to call their own shots in or out, resorting to Hawk-Eye technology when they failed to agree.

“I guarantee you that tennis would be, like, 30 per cent more interesting,” he said. “It would be unbelievable for tennis, I promise you.”

No one ever baited umpires and line judges more than ill-mannered, fiery-tempered McEnroe. The Superbrat, they used to call him, during the 1970s and 1980s. 

And his hot-headedness got him disciplined at more than a few tournaments; even slung out on occasions.

Which makes one suspect his revolutionary new anti-umpire idea is predicated on revenge rather than common sense.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if million-dollar matches relied purely on the gentlemanly fair play of the combatants? Down that route anarchy lies.

What an utterly ridiculous idea. McEnroe should think things through before he opens his ‘New Yoik motormouth’. A tennis match without officials is totally impractical.

Line judges don’t just call the lines – they also adjudge foot faults and accompany players on bathroom breaks.

And the umpires have many more duties than simply tossing the coin and yelling out the score in a designer sports jacket. There are hundreds of rules to tennis they must adjudge from code violations, misconduct and deliberate disruption to the time taken between points, double hits, double bounces and net touches.

Besides (as McEnroe himself concedes), without officials, you’d need Hawk-Eye technology on every court. These systems cost tens of thousands of dollars per court – far more costly than human wages.

Also, who would manage the court during a match? Umpires marshal the ball kids and shush the spectators; they decide when rain or darkness stops play; they call for trainers and allocate bathroom breaks.

Without them, matches would rapidly descend into park-court brawls. That’s because professionals aren’t competing just for personal pride or to take the tin of balls home – there are ranking points and eye-watering piles of cash at stake.

McEnroe does make one valid point among all the fatuous others: he says sacking the officials would spice up dull matches.

“From purely an entertainment value, it would make the fans much more involved,” he says. And he’s right.

But what he fails to realise is that professional sport relies on strict and precise regulation. Otherwise the whole shebang quickly unravels.

Just imagine a Luis Suarez on court against a Mike Tyson, unofficiated and left to their own devices. They’d eat each other in minutes.

There will be no lack of officials at the US Open next month. Favourite to win the men’s event is Novak Djokovic at 2.50, followed by Rafa Nadal at 4.33, Andy Murray at 6.50 and Roger Federer at 7.00.

In the women’s event it’s Serena Williams as favourite at 3.25, followed by Maria Sharapova at 6.50, and Petra Kvitova and Eugenie Bouchard, both at 7.50.

Read 'Why Bouchard and Raonic are leading a Bright new era in Canadian Tennis'

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