Former Line Umpire Explains Foot Faults In Tennis

At the U.S. Open semifinal on Saturday, Serena Williams launched a profanity-laced tirade at a lineswoman who called a foot fault, resulting in a double fault for Williams. That moved her rival, Kim Clijsters, one point away from victory. The outburst cost Williams the match. Jeff Ponder, a former tennis line judge, says the rule states that you cannot in the motion of your serve step on the baseline.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

So, what are the rules on foot faults and when does a line judge call them? Jeff Ponder is a former line judge with the U.S. Tennis Association. And he joins us now. Mr. Ponder, what is the rule? What is a foot fault exactly?

Mr. JEFF PONDER (Tennis Line Judge, U.S. Tennis Association, Former): Well, the rule is that you cannot in the motion serves step on the line. There's the base line, that's in the back of the court and that you basically stand behind. And you cannot touch with any part of your foot.

BLOCK: It's not a matter of going over it, you can't even touch it.

Mr. PONDER: You can't even touch it.

BLOCK: While you're serving.

Mr. PONDER: Right.

BLOCK: Well, you've seen the footage of the match in question. Did Serena Williams commit a foot fault, do you think?

Mr. PONDER: You can't tell from the angle on the TV if it's - she's stepping on the line, you can possibly see it. But that angle that they shot, there was just no way to tell.

BLOCK: And from where the line judge is sitting, did she have a good view of it, do you think?

Mr. PONDER: Yes. And she would've known. Absolutely.

BLOCK: Well, I guess there is a separate question beyond whether it was a foot fault. The question being: Do you call it at that point of the match knowing that that would give the match to the other player?

Mr. PONDER: Your thought from day one when you're - when you become a lines umpire - line umpire, that you call foot faults and it's just part of your training.

BLOCK: You would've done the same thing. You would've called it.

Mr. PONDER: I would've called it, yes. You know, the other thing is it's built into your psyche. It's part of the game. It's part of what you do. Sometimes you may forget where you are, or the moment. But I still think that it is a rule. It has to be upheld and unfortunately, it was called or, you know, it happened.

BLOCK: I gather foot faults are not reviewable under U.S. TA rules, right? You can't challenge that.

Mr. PONDER: There's no camera. There's nothing on that they can review. No.

BLOCK: Do you think that might change now?

Mr. PONDER: Absolutely. It probably could.

BLOCK: You know, I did read this on a blog. Bruce Jenkins' blogging for the San Francisco Chronicles says the big story is a lineswoman who torched the U.S. Open and gets to skate without her name being revealed. He says, Bruce Jenkins says, she should be barred from working at all future U.S. Open events. Do you think that the lineswoman bears some responsibility here, at least for that we should know who she is - what her name is?

Mr. PONDER: No. She was doing her job. It doesn't make any difference who she is. No, it doesn't. Anybody who's at that level, who's at a semifinal match of the Women's U.S. Open is a very, very qualified umpire and should be there.

BLOCK: What kind of training would she have had?

Mr. PONDER: To be at that level, you have to put in days and days and years and years of on-court training to be at that level.

BLOCK: You've been a line judge for the U.S. Open for a number of years, I gather, before you retired. You've been on the court with Serena Williams, right?

Mr. PONDER: Yes, I have

BLOCK: And did her response over the weekend surprise you?

Mr. PONDER: She's always been very even tempered to me. And - but she does have a tendency to foot fault, and she knows it - I mean, most of us know it. But it's part of her game. She should've changed it probably a few years ago or maybe just stepping back a little bit, but I've never had any problems with Serena. She's always been - on the matches that I've done, which has been several. She's always been very polite and, like I said, very even tempered. But like I said before, it's a rule and, you know, if the line umpire sees it, it's her job to call it.

BLOCK: Well, Jeff Ponder, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. PONDER: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Jeff Ponder is a former line judge with the U.S. Tennis Association. He has officiated at seven U.S. Opens.

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