With the advent of technology, its integration into sports has come at an astonishing pace. We have seen technology used to aid in sports training (heart rate monitors, wattmeters, training programs etc), improve the field of play (artificial playing surfaces, covered/indoor stadiums, etc), enhance sporting equipment (tennis racquets, synthetic material for basketballs, hockey sticks, etc) and expand media coverage (newspaper, radio, television, internet etc).
One other area where technology has played a large role is that of officiating. Different sports have embraced technology at various levels. This difference can be seen between sports like baseball or soccer, where there is minimal technology used to aid in officiating, to sports like football and hockey, where video replay can be used to aid officials.
Over the last few years, tennis has been one of the sports that faced pressure from the public to adopt technological aid to assist in line calling. This pressure has been growing as a result of the increasing speed in the game, along with the increasing number of controversial line calls by officials. Perhaps the breaking point in this came in the form of the 2004 women's U.S. Open quarterfinals match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati. In the third set of that match, there was an incorrect chair reversal of a call made by the linesperson which eventually cost Williams the match against Capriati. The mistake was acknowledged when the tournament's head of officiating removed that official from further matches and personally called Serena Williams to apologize for the bad call.
In March of 2006, tennis introduced technological aid in officiating in the form of instant replay technology at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami. Following the great feedback from players and fans, the use of electronic line calling will be expanded to include Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP events participating in the U.S. Open Series. This will culminate in the debut of electronic line calling at the U.S. Open, a first for a Grand Slam event.
How does Hawk-eye work?
Hawk-eye uses multiple cameras placed around the court to track the players and the ball. These movements are then processed by computers. Hawk-eye takes ball skid and ball compression into account and is accurate to 2-3 mm.
A visual description of the Hawk-eye system (number of cameras may vary depending on setup)
It is important to note that Hawk-eye isn't entirely new; however, it has been refined over the years to such a degree that the confidence level in the system is high enough for use as an officiating aid.
The use of this tracking technology also allows for a new range of statistics to be captured and presented to the viewing audience; something that many tennis viewers may already be familiar with. In addition to calling lines, statistics that Hawk-eye can measure include speed of the ball at any point of a rally, service comparisons (i.e. service patterns, direction and depth of aces, placement of 1st and 2nd serves etc), bounce points of the ball, percentage of time a player spends in a region of the court or an approximate measure of distance that a player has run throughout the match.
Statistics from the 2005 Wimbledon Final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. We can see Federer targeting the Roddick backhand side on second serves. Also note the placement of Federer's aces on Roddick.
As part of this system, new video boards will be a large part of the in-stadium atmosphere on centre court for instant replay coverage, statistics, fan interaction, contests and corporate partner recognition. You may even see players sneak a peak at their stats during changeovers, in order to make in-game adjustments. The television broadcast is also enhanced by this system, primarily through the usage of the various camera vantage points around the court, and the display of statistics during the course of the match.
With all this technology in place, there is always an associated cost. The system costs approximately $20,000 to $25,000 USD for a court per week (excluding the video screens in the stadium). As a result, in Toronto's Rexall Centre and Montreal's Uniprix Stadium, this system will only be set up on the main court. Advertising opportunities will help to defray these costs, as partners can associate themselves with this technology (think of the Hawk-eye brought to you by "..." or these Stats are brought to you by "...").
Changes to the game
At all U.S. Open Series tournaments, the on-court instant replay system can be used by the players in the form of a challenge system. The challenge system will work in the following manner:
- Each player will receive 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 his/her challenges is lost.
- During a tie-break game in any set, each player will receive one additional challenge.
- Challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.
Once a player challenges a line call, an official replay will be provided simultaneously to the television broadcast and in-stadium video boards, allowing players, officials, on-site fans and television viewers the opportunity to see the live results of a player challenge.
This serve is out
Reaction to this system
Most players have embraced this system. Perhaps the most notable exception is Roger Federer. "What is happening is madness," Federer said of the decision to use the Hawk-Eye computer system on the main court for the Nasdaq-100 Open. "A pure waste of money." Perhaps with time and/or further refinement of the system, he will come around.
Here are reactions from other players and broadcasters.
Andre Agassi - tennis player
In my 20 years in professional tennis, this is one of the most exciting things to happen for players, fans and television viewers. This new technology will add a whole new dimension to the game.
James Blake - tennis player
The ball's moving so fast these days that sometimes it's impossible for anyone to see, even a trained official. With instant replay we can take advantage of technology and eliminate human error. Having just a few challenges will make it both fun and dramatic for fans at the same time.
Jamea Jackson - tennis player (first to make a challenge)
It takes a lot of pressure off. You don't get so angry. If you think a call is incorrect, you don't spend extra games thinking about it. It's really quick. I remember people were complaining about maybe it throwing off the timing and rhythm of the match, but it didn't do anything like that at all.
John McEnroe - former tennis player, current broadcaster
If anyone's been listening to my commentary the past year then they know I'm in favour of using replay. I think it will make tennis more interesting.
Cliff Drysdale - former tennis player, current broadcaster
I'm thrilled about it because tennis needs it for a variety of reasons, one of which, the main one being the viewing public, the second being the live audience and thirdly just because we don't need more repetitions of what we've seen over the past year with people getting hooked out of matches.
I'm looking forward to seeing this system work at this year's Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto. In the future, I'd like to see them go away from a challenge system. Instead, all close calls should be reviewed, since the results are available to the chair umpire pretty quickly. Regardless, this is definitely another positive step forward for tennis.
Rogers Cup, tennis, Canada, Toronto, technology, media