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By Blair Henley
Friday, Aug. 9, 2013

Milos Raonic’s 7-5, 6-4 win over Juan Martin del Potro in the Rogers Cup third round Thursday night was a big win for Canadian tennis. But, according to many observers, it was a loss for the game’s perceived “honor code.”
In case you missed it, Raonic chased down a short ball with del Potro serving at 4-3 in the second set. Unable to stop himself, the 22-year-old’s foot clipped the net – a misstep that would normally result in automatic loss of the point. But no one saw it; not del Potro, and not experienced chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani. It wasn’t until the incident was replayed on the stadium Jumbotron that the controversy erupted. Though anyone with functioning eyeballs could see that Raonic did, indeed, touch the net, Lahyani refused to reverse his call, determining that the ball was dead before the contact. The ruling gave Raonic the break point and ultimately the match.

MATCH REPORT: Raonic Takes Controversial Win

The baby-faced Canadian would come clean following his win, likening the incident to receiving a bad call after a using all of his challenges. And he’s right. Controversial rulings from human officials affect professional matches, for better or worse, on a daily basis. Tennis may have been founded on an honor code, but any hope of its preservation went the way of Dinara Safina once prize money totals soared into the millions of dollars.

The game can’t have it both ways. If players are expected to turn themselves in, why have umpires and line judges in the first place?  In any other sport, save golf, where professionals are charged with keeping their own scores and assessing their own penalties, most athletes (even nice, Canadian ones) would have done the exact same thing. In fact, if tennis were a team sport, Raonic may even have been hailed by his teammates as a guy that “plays smart.”

No one expects Adrian Peterson to admit touching a toe out of bounds as he’s running a football into the end zone. And let’s not get started on hockey and soccer flopping, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Derek Jeter, sport’s reigning pillar of class and sportsmanship, created a similar conundrum for baseball fans back in 2010. Tampa Bay pitcher Chad Qualls threw a ball that looked like it might have hit Jeter on the elbow, which the home plate umpire confirmed after seeing the Yankees’ captain grab his arm in pain. Jeter’s reaction was standard procedure after being hit by a rock-hard projectile at 90-plus miles per hour – except he wasn’t. The umpire gave Jeter his free base, which he gladly accepted. 

"He told me to go to first base. I'm not going to tell him I'm not going to first, you know," Jeter said.
Raonic’s situation is no different.
Hypothetically, or Technically?
After the match, del Potro tweeted that he was leaving Canada “very bitter.” Understandable. But we can only hope he was directing his ire in the direction of the chair umpire, not Raonic. Lahyani had the benefit of instant replay and still stuck to his erroneous guns. When a journalist in the post-match press conference insisted that the point was rightfully del Potro’s, Raonic summed up the matter perfectly, saying, “Hypothetically, yes. Technically, no.”
While the concept of a tennis honor code is heartwarming, it is also archaic. A personal moral code, on the other hand, is a different story. No doubt there are some players who, based on their own convictions, would have admitted to touching the net. And, if Raonic were a more seasoned player, perhaps he would have done things differently (if for no other reason than to avoid the ensuing public relations nightmare).
But, no matter what an athlete’s moral principles, they cannot be expected to officiate their own matches. While Raonic will likely learn from the incident, the blame here rests solely on the umpire, on tennis.  If this isn’t an argument for official instant replay, what is?
In the end, del Potro can’t pin the loss on one missed call, just like Raonic can’t be surprised with the fallout. The scenario is, and will remain, controversial simply because it’s easy to wonder what you would do with thousands of dollars on the line. Even if your answer is “the right thing,” it doesn’t necessarily make Raonic’s choice wrong…in the world of sports, anyway. 

(Photo Credit: AP)


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