Monday, November 19, 2007


In recent years top level pro tennis has introduced computer systems to resolve disputed line calls. “Shotspot,” and “Hawkeye,” are two of the brand names we’ve heard.

It’s a form of instant replay, which produces a graphical representation of where the computer calculates the ball actually landed in relation to the line.

The processing time required for any particular bounce is enough that it can’t be used in real time. It takes maybe fifteen seconds from challenge to outcome.

Because of this processing time, the use of shotspotting systems must be limited. If each player could challenge any shot the natural flow of the game would be disrupted. A player might challenge a line call just to gain a few extra seconds of recovery time after a strenuous point, or just to throw off the opponent’s rythmn.

So the rule is: Each player has only two unsuccessful challenges per set. In other words, each player can challenge any call, but after a player makes two wrong challenges (as determined by the computer), his or her right to make challenges is suspended for the rest of the set.

This system punishes wrong challenges but doesn’t reward correct challenges.

When Hawkeye determines a challenge to be correct, the reversal of the adverse call is not a reward, it is simple justice.

When a player makes a correct challenge, he or she should be awarded an additional (incorrect) challenge for that set. Otherwise, a player could, conceivably, have a high average of successful challenges but still lose the right to challenge, (e.g. ten correct challenges followed by two incorrect).

This rule change would place greater pressure on the judges, and could even get the chair umpire back in the business of overruling the calls of line judges.

While no system is perfect (I once saw Cyclops, which is devoted to service line calls, and Hawkeye disagree),but anyone who’s watched much tennis has seen egregious bad line calls at the highest level of the game. It’s good that some errors are being corrected.

Someday I’ll learn what could motivate someone to be a line judge. I think Major League Baseball still forbids ballparks from showing big-screen replays of close calls, the umpires wouldn’t stand for it. In tennis, a lineguy or gal must be able to have a clear mistake shown to a packed stadium plus millions of TV viewers, and not cry.

One commenter said that dealing with bad line calls (and not going berserk and totally losing it) is an important psychological element of the game, and he hates to see it go. This seems cruel to me.

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