© Ella Ling

umpire

Melbourne diary - When umpires don't know the rules

   

Players often fall foul of the rules during tournaments all over the world, which is not surprising as it is sometimes hard to keep up with all the minor changes that come and go in the sport. When he was kicked out of the Australian Open in 1990 after one of his most famous tirades, John McEnroe claimed he had not known that the penalty rules had changed, implying that he known, he would have stopped just short of being defaulted.

But at Melbourne Park on Sunday, there was a rare occurrence as the players knew the rules better than the officials. On Show Court 3, the fifth biggest court here, Frederik Nielsen and Sabine Lisicki were taking on Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden in a mixed doubles clash, which drew a nice crowd thanks to the Australian involvement.

Nielsen, of course, won the Wimbledon doubles title with Britain’s Jonny Marray last summer and is a draw-card himself but he played below par as the Australians claimed victory. But the drama bizarrely surrounded the coin toss and a rare instance where the umpire, Julie M Kjendlie of Norway, didn’t know the rules. When Nielsen and Lisicki won the spin, they opted to defer the choice to their opponents. Kjendlie, it seems, had no idea that was an option for Nielsen later tweeted: “Shite performance from me today, but umpire gets shocker of the day for not knowing the rules about the coin toss.”

Following up with Nielsen, the Dane confirmed that they had tried to give their opponents the choice, much to the shock of the umpire. As he said: “Umpire didn’t understand the defer rule. At a Grand Slam. On a show court. Incredible really.”

The defer choice is the least often used, especially at club level, where it often throws players who either don’t know it, or are freaked out by the decision of their opponents to put the ball back in their court, so to speak. But at professional level, every player and certainly every official should know the rules inside out. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Serena Williams cranked down the biggest serve of the tournament on Sunday, a 207 kmph (128.6 mph) bullet against Ayumi Morita. Venus Williams still holds the record at 129mph, achieved at Wimbledon a few years ago. Serena’s effort is a full 13 kmph faster than the next best, Germany’s Lisicki, and she may be tempted to see if she can overtake her sister in the coming days. In the men’s event, Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz tops the list so far at 219 kmph (136.1mph), well down on the fastest of 156mph held by Ivo Karlovic. However, Australian Sam Groth hit a 163mph serve last year in a Challenger Tour event in Busan but its validity remains slightly dubious.