Photo : Tennis TV
My apologies to the purists and traditionalists, but I’m putting the issue back on the table.
For several years, I’ve been emphatically advocating for electronic line-calling (ELC) on clay. We must use Hawk-Eye or Foxtenn to determine a ball’s position with superhuman accuracy (yes, in some cases, AI undoubtedly surpasses human intelligence).
We’ve reached a point where we can’t imagine a tennis match without ELC, but clay court tournament organizers continue to resist all logic and modernity.
Still, the winds of change may be blowing since the trend seems to be reversing.
I was thrilled to see the Foxtenn system in use in Barcelona last week. It’s also been implemented in Estoril this week and at the upcoming Madrid Masters.
The choice of technology isn’t surprising, since Foxtenn was developed in Barcelona. It also happens to be giving Hawk-Eye—the reference on the courts since its launch in Key Biscayne in 2006—a run for its money.
Compared to Hawk-Eye, Foxtenn adds actual images of the ball bounce, and the data provide very, very conclusive evidence that the system makes the right decision. Though tiny, Hawk-Eye’s margin of error has still managed to leave its fair share of players bemused. Foxtenn relies on more than 40 ultra high-speed cameras on the ground, in combination with a high-speed laser scanner system. Together, they generate up to 3,000 images per second compared to Hawk-Eye’s 150.
Foxtenn has been used on a trial basis since 2019 and officially at the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open. This season, the Estoril Open and Barcelona Open have called upon its services. All that’s left to do now is hope that the last bulwarks will fall so ELC can finally put an end to the archaic way of line calling.
Unfortunately, the diehard defenders of the tradition are adamant that ball marks are clear enough to justify sticking to the status quo. To them, I retort that nothing exceeds the accuracy of an image captured by a high-tech device.
What’s more, a human perched in a chair that, in many cases, is far removed from where the ball bounces, will eventually peer at the wrong mark after a few points have been played.
This skirmish at a match between Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling in Rome in 2008 is a classic. The Swede truly acted in bad faith when he tried to convince the chair umpire that an outlying mark was where Rafa’s ball had bounced.
There’s also this episode involving Rafa, David Goffin and chair umpire Cédric Mourier, whose error was confirmed by Hawk-Eye.
As far as the ELC you see on TV, know that it’s for the viewers’ benefit only. The images aren’t relayed on the court. If they were, the umpires would never hear the end of it.
The thousands of similar situations make umpiring a pretty thankless task. Asking umpires to judge the call, come down from the chair, take their eyes off the point of impact and then walk across the court to find it again is a ridiculous practice that should have stopped years, if not decades, ago.
“We thought that tennis deserved to have more truth,” said the founder and CEO of Foxtenn Javier Simón in an interview. “Our technology sees what really happens.” He’s promoting his own agenda, of course, but I do think he should be proud of his new toy.
As the experiences on the Iberian Peninsula have shown, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Iga Swiatek has won 23 in a row.
She hasn’t lost in an entire month, since March 25. When she triumphed in Stuttgart, she raised her fourth straight winner’s trophy. You might even consider it her fifth if you count her two wins when her native Poland took on Romania at Billie Jean King Cup a few weeks ago.
She’s 32–3 since the start of the season and the brightest star in the WTA sky.
Everyone agrees that getting close to 40 straight wins is a true feat, especially these days, when the field is so much deeper than it was in the 70s and 80s.
That said, 40 isn’t even close to the records in women’s tennis in the Open Era.
|1- M. Navratilova||74||1983-1984|
|2- S. Graf||66||1986-1987|
|3- M. Navratilova||58||1986-1987|
|4- M. Court||57||1972|
|5- C. Evert||55||1974|
|6- M. Navratilova||54||1983-1984|
|7- S. Graf||46||1988|
|8- S. Graf||45||1987|
|9- C. Evert||41||1975-1976|
|10- M. Navratilova||41||1982|
Compiled and detailed by the WTA in 2020, here are the top 10 longest winning runs in tennis. Note that Martina Navratilova makes no less than four appearances.
And here’s a comparison with their ATP colleagues by Tennishead. Without taking anything away from the select group, their streaks just aren’t as dazzling.
The leader is a lefty with long, flowing hair. But not the one you think.
|1- G. Vilas||46||1977|
|2- I. Lendl||44||1981-1982|
|3- B. Borg||43||1978|
|4- N. Djokovic||43||2010-2011|
|5- J. McEnroe||42||1983-1984|
|6- R. Federer||41||2006-2007|
|4- N. Djokovic||43||2010-2011|
|7- T. Muster||35||1995|
|8- R. Nadal||32||2008|
|9- A. Murray||28||2016-2017|
|10- J.M. del Potro||23||2008|
Passing of the torch
At just 18 years old, Carlos Alcaraz has been racking up huge matches, amazing performances and titles on the regular. So much so that they’re not even considered surprises or feats anymore.
The Spaniard is currently cementing the title of next big thing—a label affixed on many players who haven’t always delivered.
It’s been 17 years since a teen burst onto the men’s tennis scene and actually fulfilled the expectations placed upon him. That teen was Rafael Nadal.
Alcaraz’s recent win in Barcelona is looking a lot like his predecessor’s.
Just like Rafa in 2005, Alcaraz was seeded 11th.
Just like Rafa, Alcaraz won the event at 18 and entered the Top 10 as its youngest member. More specifically, he’s the youngest since Rafael Nadal. Will he stay there for the next 17 years just like Rafa has? That’s another story.
Did I mention the name of the court on which Alcaraz won? Pista Rafa Nadal.
That’s all as far as anecdotes about the young man from Murcia.
It’s unquestionably fair to speak of him as Rafael Nadal’s worthy successor.
At the 2021 Madrid Masters—their first and only head-to-head—it took the veteran 78 minutes to show his young countryman the door (6-1, 6-2).
Like a kid in a candy store, Carlos was all smiles at first. By the end, he was still all smiles, since he’d fulfilled his dream to battle one of the greatest of all time.
I bet their next confrontation will look a lot different. Alcaraz will smile less and win more points. Maybe even the match.
So goes the passing of the torch.
How much longer for Fed?
The countdown to Roger Federer’s comeback has begun.
On April 11, he posted three pics from the gym with the caption “Rehab is rockingggggggggg”.
The FedExpress is expected in late summer or September, which means he won’t compete at Wimbledon or the US Open. There are rumors he’ll play in the fifth edition of Laver Cup, the tournament he founded and yearly gift he gives himself.
The event is slated for September 23 to 25 at the O2 in London. Both Roger and his doubles partner Rafael Nadal RSVP’d months ago.
And after that, it will be in his Swiss hometown of Basel, where he plans to compete in the indoor tournament he has won 10 times.
The countdown has indeed started.
But if he does get back in the game, how long will he stay in it? Will he want to rise in the rankings or say a final farewell that befits his great career?
Because Federer won’t come back just to play in second and third rounds at tournaments he once blazed through until he’s 45.
So, what if this return was only a pretext to retire after two events that are so important for him?
Frist, in this prestigious London arena when he won two of his six ATP Finals titles, then in the city where he was born and where it all begun for him, as a ball boy.
It would be a more prestigious exit than leaving after yet another early-round loss like Andy Murray, for example.
On April 20, in a romantic Tuscan setting, Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic married Belgian fashion model Camille Ringoir, his long-time love who’s graced the covers of Elle and Marie Claire magazines.
Still rehabbing his Achilles tendon, Milos has yet to play competitive tennis this season. In his last appearance, on July 28, 2021, he fell in three to Brandon Nakashima in Atlanta.
It may be a tennis year to forget for him, but this happy event certainly makes 2022 one to remember.
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