Illegal Hidden Serves
As I've blogged a number of times, cheating is rampant in our sport when it comes to serving. At the higher levels, over half of matches involve a player hiding his serve, i.e. cheating. Here's what I wrote about this two days ago, after the U.S. Open:
"Once again I came away from a major tournament disgusted at all the cheating – in particular, players hiding serves. Why do they do it? Because it helps them win and they get away with it. They may fool the umpires, who aren't sure if the serve is hidden (which is synonymous with saying the serve is illegal, but that's the least enforced rule in table tennis), but they don't fool coaches and experienced players, who know who the cheaters are. It's common at the world-class level, of course, but that was also true of, say, steroids. Does that mean we should copy those who cheat? I have no objection to someone hiding their serve if their opponent does it first and the umpire doesn't call it. It's the ones who do it first, with the sole intent of winning by cheating, that disgusts me. A player I coached lost two matches because of this cheating – learning to return them is going to become a major part of his training. (Note that few players hide the serve every time. The norm is to use border-line serves early on, to numb the umpire to such serves, and pull out the hidden ones several times a game and at key points at the end. I have video and still pictures showing many of these players hiding their serve.)"
As I've blogged many times, the rules, while very clear, are not easy for umpire to enforce. From their angle, it's hard to see when a player is serving if the ball is hidden or not as players will often serve borderline serves over and over to establish the "legality" of the serve, and then hide the serve at key points. And so they don't call the hidden serves, when in reality, they should not only be calling them, but the borderline ones they aren't sure about as well.
The serving rules state:
2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
2.06.06: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws…"
And even more importantly:
2.06.06.01: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."
So it's really simple: If an umpire isn't sure if a serve is legal, that's exactly the same as saying the serve is illegal. And so it's either a warning (allowed one time) or a fault.
But the problem here is human nature, where umpires don't want to call the serve unless they are certain the ball is actually hidden. So how do we fix this problem? By changing the serving rule so it becomes obvious if the server is trying to hide the ball from the receiver.
There's a simple way of doing it – require that the ball cannot be hidden from the receiver (as currently required), and from the entire net assembly and its upward extension. (The net assembly includes the net posts.) Suddenly serves that are hidden from a receiver are obviously hidden from one of the net posts.
For example, if a righty tries to hide his serve from a receiver standing across the table from him, it's obvious he's hiding it from the net post way over on his left. The lines from the ball to a typical righty receiver and the ball to the left net post is about 90 degrees. If he's serving to a lefty in a typical ready position, it's about 45 degrees. I've tested this rule at my club, and other almost universally agree it solves the problem.
Here's the proposal:
02.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
Proposed Rule (additions bracketed in bold):
02.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver[, or any part of the net assembly and its upward extension,] by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
As I've blogged before, I already made this proposal to an ITTF official, who said he will propose it to a new group or task force that is looking to fix the rule. Hopefully something will come of it, and they'll either adopt this rule or some other one that fixes this problem. I also plan to create a page dedicated to the proposal.
And now, the Contest. I need a catchy name for the new rule. So far my best one is the "Serve Always VisiblE" rule – SAVE. I've also tried finding one using SANE, with the S and N perhaps standing for Serve and Net, but nothing really works. So here's my challenge to you: Come up with a catchy acronym name for this new serving rule! Submit yours in the comments below.
If I choose your submission, you'll both get credited for it here in the blog, and I'll send you a signed FREE copy of any of my books. Let the Contest Begin!!!
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