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Impossibly rare tennis quirk sparks hostile rules debate in match between Frances Tiafoe and Milos Raonic

Impossibly rare tennis quirk sparks hostile rules debate in match between Frances Tiafoe and Milos Raonic

Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic has been left fuming, but stumped, over losing a point to American Frances Tiafoe on an extremely rare rules technicality at the Toronto Open.

Raonic thought he had saved a set point in what was an enthralling first-set tiebreaker that was long into the rally of its 26th point (12-13) when his crosscourt forehand caught the tape of the net and ballooned up before bouncing just in front of the other side of it.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Tennis chair umpire navigates his way through one-in-a-million rules debate.

Watch the latest sport on Channel 7 or stream for free on 7plus >>

But the American sprinted to the ball and got his racquet underneath it before it bounced for a second time with enough skill to bypass the Canadian for a winner.

However, unable to stop himself from the momentum he needed to get to the ball, Tiafoe crashed into the outside section of the net before his winner had bounced a second time which, in ordinary circumstances, would constitute a ‘foul shot’, because a player must not touch the net until such time as the ball is dead.

This one-in-a-million scenario was anything but ordinary though.

Tiafoe passed Raonic with an incredible shot before crashing into the net. Credit: Tennis TV

The chair umpire, Ireland’s Fergus Murphy — who umpired the epic Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz earlier this year — initially called a foul shot on Tiafoe, meaning Raonic stood to win the point.

He then immediately realised that the net being used was in fact a standard doubles net, not a singles net, and the section of the net that Tiafoe made contact with was outside of where the singles net finishes.

Therefore, even though Tiafoe did touch the net, as far as the rule book is concerned, he didn’t.

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Murphy called ‘game’ to Tiafoe, but faced immediate protest from Raonic, and confusion from both.

“Frances, wait — this is complicated,” Murphy said, as he tried to hold court in a suddenly hostile environment.

“The ball has to bounce twice,” Raonic said, observing the rule that would have been relevant if a singles net had been in use and it was touched.

Tiafoe then began to walk away, thinking the issue was over, because he was told he won the point.

“Frances, just let me explain. I know the answer, I know the answer,” Murphy pleaded.

Thinking he knew was Murphy was going to say, and preemptively disagreeing with it, Raonic interrupted.

Murphy tried his best to explain the situation to the players. Credit: Tennis TV

“No, let me ask him (Tiafoe) first, because I know what you’re (Murphy) going to get to … the ball has to bounce twice (before he touches the net, for it to be his point),” Raonic protested.

“And I called ‘touch’ because the ball bounced once, but, he hit this section of the net,” Murphy said, as he motioned towards the extended doubles section of the net, “this section of the net doesn’t count as a touch, so he (Tiafoe) wins the point.”

Raonic: “What the f—? A net is a net.”

Murphy: “No, only after the singles post.”

Raonic then turned to his opponent, who was struggling to process the intricacies of the technicality, and explained in incredulity what Murphy was trying to say.

“He’s saying that this doesn’t count as the net,” Raonic said, pointing to the section of the net that Tiafoe touched in the point.

Apparently unsatisfied with the ruling, Raonic then turned back to Murphy and asked for his superior.

“Can we ask the supervisor if this counts as the net?” he asked.

“You can…,” Murphy said, before being interrupted once again.

“I want to ask,” Ranoic demanded.

Murphy called his supervisor in to make a final ruling. Credit: Tennis TV

The commentator, just as stunned as the two players and everyone else in the stadium, then came in and tried to decipher what was happening.

“Well, we are into the intricacies of the rule book and we’ve got one of the most experienced men in the chair right now, Fergus Murphy, on top of things here. You heard the explanation,” he said.

Murphy’s supervisor then came over and had the situation relayed to him.

“Frances ran into the net, and I called foul stroke…,” Murphy said, before repeatedly having to battle through more protests and interruptions from both players.

“Just let me explain; we’ll get to everything,” Murphy pleaded.

“So, Frances hit a winner, it bounced, and then he ran into the net, so I called ‘foul shot’. Then I realised that he ran into the net section this of the singles stick, so I changed my mind, because that’s a rules question — that’s not a judgement, Milos, that’s a rules question — and so, he (Tiafoe) wins.”

Remaining stubborn in his disbelief at the legitimacy of the ruling, Raonic then tried to play out a hypothetical scenario to the supervisor where he would do the same thing on the other side of the net.

Raonic tried to debate the point to the chair umpire. Credit: Tennis TV

Backing Murphy up, the supervisor then explained, that in that scenario: “You will then have hit the permanent fixture, so the ball will be dead.”

Raonic: “But this is the net?”

Supervisor: “Yes, but beyond there, to here, is (considered) a permanent fixture.”

Murphy: “For doubles, Milos, (it is the net), but not for singles.”

The players then went their separate ways and accepted the decision, before a loud bang was heard, but not seen, coming from Raonic’s side of the net.

“Well, Milos Raonic is bubbling over a bit here — not happy,” the commentator chimed back in.

“Absolutely brilliant umpiring there,” his co-commentator added.

The Canadian crowd started booing furiously as Murphy spoke into the microphone to explain to the crowd why their hometown hero had lost the point, and the set.

“Mr. Tiafoe ran into the section of the net that does not count, it’s a permanent fixture, therefore he did not touch the net, and he hit a winning shot,” he said.

Raonic was fuming at the ruling. Credit: Tennis TV

Watching a replay of the incident, the commentator again went over why Murphy was correct.

“If you think of a singles net, that would be irrelevant because you’d be able to run straight past,” he said, as the replay showed the moment Tiafoe was bent over the net at a right angle.

“So, outside of the singles stick becomes irrelevant in that situation.

“Absolutely brilliant umpiring, to think as clearly as that, under real pressure.”

The 2023 ATP rulebook confirms Murphy’s ruling was correct.

It states: “The permanent fixtures of the court include the backstops and sidestops, the spectators, the stands and seats for spectators, all other fixtures around and above the court, the Chair Umpire, Line Umpires, net umpire and ball persons when in their recognized positions.

“In a singles match played with a doubles net and singles sticks, the net posts and the part of the net outside the singles sticks are permanent fixtures and are not considered as net posts or part of the net.”

Observing the rulebook’s confirmation, tennis author Christopher Clarey said: “So Tiafoe did indeed run into a part of the net that in this case was not ‘part of the net’.”

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