Vohra’s view: Rules must change to prevent secret signals

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Let slip: Boris Becker courted controversy with revelation.

A few years ago I was sitting on a flight with a man who confessed in that unguarded way that people do to strangers on a plane, which they would not dream of when in contact with the surly bonds of earth.

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He said he was involved with the sports gambling industry. He never said whether he was a member of the mafia or an investigator, but went on to explain how hand signals are used to indicate betting options. 

After mocking the efforts of creating cordon sanitaires around cricket players in India he also shared with me the confidence that dropping a game was not the big one. The big money was in what he called the procedural bets.

Like when a batsmen is in his nervous nineties he begins to delay the game by changing gloves and asking for a new bat or a drink of water, all signs to his back up ‘team’ whether he is going to score that century or not. Sky the ball, get run out, tickle a ball outside the off stump, all depending on the odds.

He also adds that the player knows his contacts are watching the game and if he is on 97 the odds on betting he will not be scoring a century are very good.

Tell me, he says when I bring up the fact that none of this can be proven, who checks cricketers for ear buds? Have you ever heard of that happening, not that you need them, hand signals are enough, even the way you wave your bat.

Clearly, from his viewpoint, you can put commandos around players but you cannot stop the betting.

He skulked off at the baggage carousel and I never saw him again. 

So this week I read about the Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker sign language controversy and it all came back to me. Sportsmanship versus gamesmanship and call it as you will. 

It is not clever, it is just against the rules. If a coach is not supposed to communicate with a player during the game, that is it, period. You cannot use signals, facial twists, hand movements or sign language to get messages across. 

Just because it cannot be proven does not negate the intent to cheat.

No wonder there was less interest in the opening round of Wimbledon with the Joker easily ousting Philipp Kohlschreiber than there was in Becker’s facial contortions. What Becker did was stay as impassive as a Madame Tussauds statue, but is the rot deeper than we think and has this revelation added another dimension to the seamier side of sport?

To many people it would not be cheating per se, more in the realm of practical expediency. You cannot stop communication in toto when a player and his coach are fifteen metres apart. And if such dispatches have become blurred in soccer and basketball, where coaches practically invade the pitch, why should other sports not follow suit. 

Strategy through secret signals will always be part of the game.

The doubles in tennis is all about that. So, too, in American football, basketball and cricket, where it is rife on field. Perhaps a bit too much is being made of all this and it is less sinister than it sounds. 

After all, how much difference can these messages make especially if you factor in a 20 per cent misreading possibility through human error. It’s not as if the player is carrying an almanac with him. Besides which, it would be quite a distraction in the middle of a big match to be interpreting signals. Play hell into your concentration.

I put my right hand on my neck, that meant go down the line. Oops, my bad, I thought it was your left so I tried more cross courts.

As things stand, one concedes it is essentially cheating. Perhaps we should just assume that coaches are not terracotta soldiers sans expression, give this aspect a pass and let it be. If the rules are impractical change them.

There are worse things happening out there in the world of sport than a wiggling of the fingers and a furrow of the brow.

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Wimbledon diary: Dimitrov & Sharapova show support

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Sharapova and Dimitrov regularly attend eachother's matches.

Grigor Dimitrov was in a good mood after beating Steve Johnson yesterday which is probably why he indulged the media and answered some cheeky questions about girls, namely his main girl Maria Sharapova.

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The Bulgarian world No11 was told by a journalist that Boris Becker had tipped him to be the next big thing in tennis provided he didn’t get distracted, to which Dimitrov responded: “I’m always distracted,” he said laughing. “Kidding. Depends on what kind of distractions we are talking about here.

“Obviously I know Boris is… he’s a great guy and I always had a good relationship with him. Even when we see each other in the locker room, he always smiles at me and we always have a little bit of a chat. 

“I get the meaning behind that, and I appreciate all the words that he had to say about me. I would love when that day when I can prove everyone wrong and also prove to myself I can be the best I can.”

Dimitrov and his girlfriend Sharapova were scheduled for back-to-back matches on Court 2 yesterday but neither one of them were able to head out to the stands to support the other due to their own pre and post-match rituals.

“I would love to (go out and watch her), but I’ve got to take care of my body and talk to you guys. There are a lot of things I need to do before that. And she finished quite fast,” said Dimitrov.

Asked if they ever analysed each others’ games, he said: “It’s always good when you have a grand slam champion on your side. Obviously it helps. One tip can change everything for you, one sentence. It’s always good to have that on your side. Of course it’s a plus, appreciating advice and anything that comes from her.”

However, Sharapova gave quite the formal answer when asked about how they navigate their lives when they’re at the same tournament and whether they discuss each others’ games.

“I think we’re quite professional in what we do. We try to separate our match times and go about our business as we would in any other careers, respect each other very much. When we’re out here, we’re doing our job and trying to do the best we can,” said the five-time major champion.

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Ivanovic crashes out of Wimbledon by Mattek-Sands

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Wait continues: Ivanovic has not made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2007.

Ana Ivanovic became the third women’s top-10 seed to crash out of Wimbledon courtesy an all-out attack from American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who beat the world number seven 6-3, 6-4 in the second round. 

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Mattek-Sands, a former world No30 whose ranking has plummeted to 158 due to injury, recorded the sixth top-10 victory of her career, ousting Ivanovic in a mere 69 minutes in which she fired an impressive 32 winners.

“She was aggressive. She was coming in a lot. I thought she was hitting a lot of winners. She made some errors, but there was not a rhythm out there, for example like I had in my first match. I kind of expected that. She played well. She served well. Yeah, she definitely did a lot of good things today,” said Ivanovic, who hasn’t made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since making it to the semi-finals in 2007.

Ivanovic is looking forward to having a training block before her next tournament in Toronto, which starts on August 10, where she plans on rebuilding her fitness.

“I changed my team a little bit. My fitness wasn’t at all at the level I wanted it to be. In the French Open (made semis) I really worked hard and tried to get a level up. I played really well,” said Ivanovic.

“Since then I’ve been working really, really hard. I felt like I improved a lot. Also I was working a lot throughout the tournaments. 

“Actually now I’m looking forward to having some time off and doing proper preparation because that’s what I’ve been lacking. I’ve been playing catch‑up in that area for a while. I have lots of changes within the team. Now I feel like I have solid base.”

Mattek-Sands, who hasn’t made it to the third round at Wimbledon since 2008, is yet to drop a set through five matches – three at Roehampton in qualifying and two at the All England Club. 

“Ana likes to play aggressive and she likes that run-around forehand and she wants to be dictating the points. I really went out there trying to be the first one to do that,” said Mattek-Sands, who plays Belinda Bencic next.   

“I was playing aggressive. I was going to throw in slices and throw in some serve and volleys, and really play aggressive and work my way to the net. That’s grass court tennis, but that’s how I play on all the surfaces.”

Meanwhile, world No1 Serena Williams faced little trouble in her dismissal of Hungarian Timea Babos.

Williams had to wait all day to get on Centre Court after Marin Cilic’s match before lasted for five sets, but she only needed 58 minutes to get off court with a routine 6-4, 6-1 victory.

She and her sister Venus remain on collision course as they both are due to face off in the fourth round. 

Venus, seeded No16, took out Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 7-6 (5), 6-4 to book a third round with either Aleksandra Krunic or Sara Errani. Serena faces home favourite Heather Watson who is back in the last 32 here for the first time since 2012.

World No4 Maria Sharapova skipped past Dutchwoman Richel Hogenkamp 6-3, 6-1 in 64 minutes to set up a third round with No29 seed Irina-Camelia Begu.

Ex-world No1 Victoria Azarenka and Kristina Mladenovic both earned victories to book a last 32 meeting against each other.

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