Hawk-Eye Instant-Review Technology and Tennis
Guest Authored by Michael Emmett, November, 2017
With all the talk about changes possibly coming to both the ATP & WTA tour there is one change that nobody is discussing, and for me, it’s a vital move that will make our professional game that much better and more entertaining.
Without a doubt, in my opinion, the best advancement in the game (and in all of sports) was the implementation of the Hawk-Eye system used for players to ‘challenge’ questionable line calls throughout the duration of a tennis match. Hawk-Eye instant-review technology & their accompanying challenge system made its Grand Slam debut at the 2006 US Open. Tennis took on a major ‘new’ look with this innovative and amazing new technology and it made tennis more interesting to the casual fan who, in years past, may not have watched. The move was partly the reason tennis became the #1 spectator sport in Europe.
Currently, each player gets 3 challenges per set and one additional challenge if the set goes into a tiebreak. For me, this was the perfect number of challenges based on where the game was several years back when this system was implemented.
However, tennis is no longer the same sport it was back in 2006. The balls are being hit harder and faster than ever. Serves are regularly registering at speeds in excess of 140 MPH. And the players are hitting the balls closer to the lines – in other words, 3 challenges per set are NOT enough – it is time to increase this number to 5 with the possibility of 6 if the set goes the maximum and a tiebreak is required.
The statistics are proving that these bigger, stronger players of this generation are hitting the ball closer to the lines than ever before. In one set, with a new device to calculate such information, Federer had 223 hits in a 6-4 set and 51 of those balls landed within one inch of the line (either just in or just out). That is far too much pressure to put on the human eye who are still calling the lines. Humans make mistakes and they missed 11 of those ‘close’ calls by Roger in that match. Federer is not known as an ‘aggressive challenger’ – meaning he often lets close calls go – but this is because he is judicious with his challenges because he only has 3 in his back pocket and he does NOT want to run out.
I believe the solution is simple – put Hawk-Eye on all the lines and permanently get rid of the lines people like they did in the NextGen event in Milan in early November. This was a smashing success in my opinion. The problem is this is too expensive to do on all courts at all events. So the only solution is give the players – like Roger – who ran out of challenges that day because of the horrendous line calling – more challenges. The shot that gets challenged the most is the serve. The players could use their 3 allotted challenges per set just on the serve because this is the shot – mostly due to the speed – that gives the umpires and lines people the most difficulty.
Detractors would say “no way, it slows down the match and brings it to a grinding halt.” I say, the most important factor in this decision is – LETS GET IT RIGHT! If this means adding a few seconds per set so that the best players in the world are not being ripped off – then let’s do it.
Hawk-Eye takes 8 seconds to load and it never slows down play. These players, on average, use 22 seconds of the 25 seconds allowed between points. The Hawk-Eye, as its being displayed in front of the players, spectators and television viewers, adds excitement & drama to the situation and puts everybody on the edge of their seats. This system is quick and it gets the call right as everybody who has seen it in action can attest to. This is not the like a challenge in hockey or football where the play being reviewed can sometimes takes 3 minutes before a decision is made.
I’ve seen countless matches in 2017 where a player has exhausted all his challenges in the first 6 games and had to rely solely on the competence of the chair umpire and lines people – this is not fair to the players. I know some of you are thinking right now that the players have to get better with their challenges – and that’s true. Some players challenge balls that are more than 6 inches out and that is a massive waste of a challenge. But for the most part, the challenges are decent, the problem is there are far too many close calls these days in a tennis match & the player often doesn’t challenge – even when they are fairly sure it is in or out – because they want to have at least 1 challenge remaining for the crucial stages at the end of the set. When a player runs out of challenges, and the set is tied near the latter stages, some have compared it to playing with a broken string – it’s a massive handicap that they often can’t overcome!
There are far too many mistakes made in this day & age to leave a top notch player with no recourse in this sticky situation. The statistics are out there for all to see. It is very clear and evident that 5 challenges per set is the way to go. This will eliminate egregious errors and help solve some of the problems associated with inexperienced lines people who are, for the most part, volunteers. It is a simple change that won’t cost money, won’t significantly change the overall complexion of the match & won’t change how a match is officiated. Simply put, it’s a change that is needed if we are to bring this sport to the next level.