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Why Player Challenges
are a Bad Call

Essay by Paul Fein and Christopher Noble

John McEnroe
( Photo credit: Art Seitz ©2009 )

John McEnroe

""It's not a question of the technology. It's about how smart you are about using the capabilities."
- Charles Lurio, space exploration historian



Paul Hawkins, the British inventor of the revolutionary Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling technology, echoed those telling words in The Times when he advised the ATP and WTA Tours: "You've chosen this route, now just be careful how you use it."

Nearly 26 years after an electronic eye was introduced at Wimbledon for service calls, Hawk-Eye made its eagerly awaited debut at the Nasdaq-100 Open on March 22. Hawk-Eye's precision, reliability and speed drew rave reviews.

One wonders why Pro Tennis waited so long: studies have confirmed that the human eye cannot accurately and consistently tell whether typical pro shots, let alone Andy Roddick's 155-mph-record serve and Dmitry Tursunov's 114-mph forehand, land barely on or outside the lines.

That fact, which television viewers have witnessed with instant replay for years, was confirmed again at Nasdaq when 33 percent of the line calls (53 of 161) that were challenged by players were overruled.

Unless technology comes to the officiating rescue, as it has in so many other sports, pro tennis will tarnish its integrity and lose its credibility. Thus the nearly unanimous consensus: the devil may be in the details, but there is no turning back.

Those devilish details, though, stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy during the Nasdaq-100.

"In my 20 years in professional tennis, this is one of the most exciting things to happen for players, fans and television viewers," enthused Andre Agassi.

Fiercely opposing the innovation, Marat Safin told the Orange County Register: "I am totally against it. I think it will destroy the game. It will slow it down, lose the momentum and the motion of the game. Who was this genius who came up with this stupid idea? Who approved it? They are looking for solutions on how to save the game, and this is not it."

Most of the controversy, however, is not about the Hawk-Eye system itself. Electronic line calls are to be used according to a new set of rules, jointly proposed by the USTA, ATP and WTA, and innocuously called the "player challenge system." According to this system, Player Challenges to line calls would need to follow six rules:

  • Each player receives two challenges per set to review line calls.
  • If the player is correct with a challenge, then the player retains the same number of challenges.
  • If the player is incorrect with a challenge, then one of the challenges is lost.
  • During a tiebreaker game in any set, each player will receive one additional challenge.
  • Challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.
  • Challenges can be made only on the last shot of a rally.

NEXT: Let's analyze Player Challenges with the most valid criteria and determine how they measure up

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