The winner list of the Bausch & Lomb Championships, better known under the name of Amelia Island and wiped off the professional tour map in 2008, includes some former stars such as Navratilova, Sabatini, Graf,...

The winner list of the Bausch & Lomb Championships, better known under the name of Amelia Island and wiped off the professional tour map in 2008, includes some former stars such as Navratilova, Sabatini, Graf, Sanchez, Seles, Mauresmo or even Williams. But it’s in 2002 that the tournament finally went down in history for a strange case of measurements. And this thanks to two men: Bert Evatt and Ted Watts.

  "I've never heard anything like that..." On Monday 8th of April 2002, while she was hanging out in the aisles of the of Amelia Island’s tournament, Mary Pierce literally received the shock of her life. The French, 250th in the world and who was there thanks to a wild card issued by the organizers, just learned some news that will undoubtedly remain as one of the greatest failures in tennis’ history...    

29 double faults

  A few hours earlier. when entering the green clay of the Stadium Court where fate brought them together for the first round, Anne Kremer and Jennifer Hopkins had a funny feeling. A strange impression, indescribable at the time, which increased during the five minutes warm-up: "I was thinking: ‘What a shit day, I can't even manage a first serve’” remembering back ten years later, the Luxemburg-born Kremer, 522nd in the world today, but member of the tennis elite at the time (18th). "What was funny, she says, is that Hopkins, who had a good service, was hitting all her balls into the net or a good yard behind the service box..." At the time, the young ladies just thought that it simply was one of those days... The match started and the two protagonists were unable to adjust any of their shots. To the point where the game became a feast of double faults. In total, over three sets and two hours of match time, an expert spectator could have counted at least 29 of them (16 for Kremer and 13 for Hopkins, Editor's note)! After deep questioning and no answers on the horizon, the two players asked chair umpire Ted Watts to look into the dimensions of the court. Very casually he replied "Everything is ok, just play." The match ended with the victory of Kremer (5-7, 6-4, 6-2). Hopkins wouldn’t budge and again asked to have someone measure the damn court. This time, tape measure in hand, Ted Watts complied. And sure enough; the service boxes were not 21 feet as required by regulations, but only 18 feet. 3 feet less! The American immediately demanded a replay. Only in vain.    

"I screwed up! And I’ve been doing this for 22 years..."

  Later, the WTA justified their refusal: "Under the Rules, the decision of an arbitrator on matters such as measurements shall be final." Behind the scenes, somebody wasn't feeling too good. Not good at all. This person’s name: Bert Evatt. His job: maintenance manager of the Amelia Island Plantation courts. Bert readily acknowledged his blunder: "I screwed up! And I’ve been doing this for 22 years..." His mistake: he reversed the distances between the bottom line of the court and the net. "Instead of 18 feet then 21 feet, I did 21 and then 18." Meanwhile, John Arrix, the tournament director, preferred to look on the bright side of things: "Unfortunately, it happened but it's good that we found out at the beginning of the tournament." Ignoring the fact that all of the qualifying matches were played on the very same court. Jennifer Hopkins found it hard to bite the bullet and asked to leave Amelia Island not with the  $1700 amount victims of the first round were entitled, but with the $3,300 reserved for those who passed through. The story doesn’t say whether her request was granted or not, but Anne Kremer left with the tidy sum of 24,500 dollars after taking care of Sandrine Testud and Amélie Mauresmo but falling in the semi-finals to Venus Williams. The same Venus Williams, whom two years later at Wimbledon, would take the scalp of Ted Watts. Guilty of forgetting a point in favour of the American in the second set tie-break, he appeared to be aiding Karolina Sprem’s cause. And even though "the error had no consequence on the game", says Venus Williams, she took the career of Watts who was promptly demoted from silver to bronze badge, and banned from Wimbledon that year. But that’s another story...   By Charles Michel