The Tennis World Challenges


In light of recent events, I’m sure that many of you are very happy the tennis world has the challenge system in place. You know what I’m talking about: the (uh… not-so-great/downright-horrible) reffing in the US-Slovenia World Cup Game, the call made by Mr. Joyce in the ALMOST perfect game, etc. These bad calls show exactly why the tennis world decided to go with the challenge system. Today, we shall take a little look at how the the tennis world’s electronic reffing system came to be.

Bad calls have existed since the day tennis was first played (current form or not, but that’s another story). I’m sure we all remember McEnroe screaming at the umpire after certain calls, or other players getting exceedingly angry at the near-blindness of certain line calling officials. Nevertheless, implementing a method of challenging calls wasn’t put into place until after the 2004 US Open Semifinals match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

That match was, to say the least, rather unusual. A lot of calls, and a lot of calls on very crucial points, were incorrect. Even without the current Hawk-Eye system, TV replays showed that a lot of balls called good were in fact out, and a lot of balls called out were in fact good. However, due to the lack of any real method of challenging those bad calls, Williams lost her match.

Now, the tennis world wasn’t particularly happy about that. We might not always be the nicest people around, but we sure like to see justice and reason occur on the courts. Thus, the chair umpire that presided over the Williams-Capriati match was dismissed, and serious thought was devoted to implementing some sort of system that could be put into place on close calls.

Enter Hawk-Eye. Now, Hawk-Eye wasn’t the only system that consideration was being put into. The US Open had actually been testing a line judging system called Auto-Ref at the time of the disastrous Williams upset. In the end however, Hawk-Eye beat out its competition and became the first system to be approved by the International Tennis Federation for calling lines.

Now, Hawk-Eye isn’t perfect. It’s a piece of technology designed by humans, and like all things we design, it’s fallible. However, it is impartial. Being a computer regulated system, it has no feelings, no ideas of pressure, or loyalty. It can’t sense whether the point being challenged is match point or a point at Love-All. If, and that’s a really big IF all things considered, Hawk-Eye makes a mistake, Hawk-Eye will have none of the biases that human officials do. I think I’ll take Hawk-Eye over the eyes of a line judge… any day.

Hawk-Eye isn’t a perfect system, and I am certain that in the years to come, improvements will be made. However, having an imperfect system that’s accurate down to the nearest millimeter or two is still really, REALLY good. Proponents of having Hawk-Eye or similar systems installed for other professional sports have for themselves a pretty strong case. In light of recent happenings, their case will be heard loud and clear around the world. Don’t be too surprised if new systems to challenge referee/umpire calls spring into existence in the next few years.


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