Approaching the 10th anniversary of the introduction of Hawk-Eye at a professional tour event – in 2006 at the Nasdaq-100 Open (now Miami Open) – it’s a good time to take a look at electronic line-calling in tennis.
Originally there was emphasis on the players informing the chair umpire promptly when challenging a call. That’s still a concern but now there’s a more nuanced angle to the challenge procedure – namely how forthcoming should an umpire be when asked by a player for an opinion about whether a linesperson’s call is correct or not?
There’s a hard line school that believes the onus should be entirely on the player and that any assistance offered by umpires leaves them open to charges of bias. For example, say a ball is good and a player asks the umpire for an opinion and he or she says it was out. The player may accept the umpire’s opinion and not challenge only to later learn the ball was good and that a significant error had occurred.
A worst case scenario would be that the umpire, for whatever reason, favoured the player’s opponent and wanted to discourage him or her from challenging so they would lose the point.
Additionally, by offering an opinion on whether a line call is close or clearly out, the umpire can help a player not make mistakes with challenges and avoid unnecessarily using up one of the three allowed per set. This could affect whether a player retains challenges – or has used them up – for important moments late in a set or match.
The strict no-intervention position on umpires responding to players’ questions on calls is based on the belief that umpires should not intercede in any way – that they should have over-ruled if there was a disagreement with the call. Otherwise they should simply confirm the linesperson’s ruling.
Now when umpires say “it was close” it has virtually become code for “you’d be smart to challenge.”
The opposite viewpoint is that some collaborative discussion between players and umpires is in the best interest of getting the right call.
Questioned about these divergent beliefs about how umpires should react, Gayle Bradshaw, ATP Executive Vice President, rules & competition, replied, “(I’m) not sure there is a completely right or wrong answer to this. Players are always looking to the chair for confirmation of calls, most times just to satisfy themselves of what they already know. We want the chairs to give honest answers when a legitimate question is posed to them and that has led to the question “how did you see it?” As it currently stands there have been no issues that I’m aware of on court with this practice.
“The common complaint is about the player not challenging “immediately.” What we have used as a guide for the officials on this is the same as our protocol for clay. If the player’s immediate interest is the result of the shot (mark on clay) then it is allowed – what we don’t want is for him to show no interest and then after a period of time suddenly make a challenge. This would usually be when a player turns away but then his box yells/signals for him to challenge. In this case it shouldn’t be allowed.
“Back to the original question – yes some players may decide to challenge after a chair says “it was close” but in the end it is still the players’ decision on whether to challenge. I think the overriding principle is that we want to get the call right so you are going to give a little more freedom to the challenge protocol. I have seen players get a “close” comment from the chair, not challenge and then it is shown on TV that they would have won the challenge.”
Part of the reason more flexibility is permitted between players and umpires is that Hawk-Eye is mostly used in the biggest stadiums and with players who are familiar with the procedures and the umpires working those matches.
“We don’t look at it as giving advice, more as help to a player,” Bradshaw said regarding the umpire-player interaction. “He’s answering a question. In the worst case, it could be abused. But it hasn’t become an issue with the players themselves. The whole goal is to get it right.”
Bradshaw, who has been involved in officiating since the mid-1980s and served as US Open referee from 1986-89, has been around for many of the advances in both officiating and officiating technology. “When Hawk-Eye started, everyone was feeling their way with a new tool,” he said. “Now what separates tennis from the other sports is the speed of our review – much quicker than the other sports. That’s one of the positives of the protocol that we use.”
Bradshaw pointed out that commentators on television sometimes suggest a player shouldn’t be allowed to walk up to the net to check a mark after his first serve. “They say he shouldn’t be able to do that,” he said. “But it’s like looking at a ball mark on clay and whether he shows immediate interest (in verifying the mark). It may take a little longer but he’s only delaying himself (before a second serve). It’s different with the receiver (in that situation). We’re not as tolerant.”
The basic procedure for umpires is straight-forward when they’re questioned about calls by a player. “We always tell our chairs to give an honest answer,” Bradshaw said. “It’s still down to the player whether he challenges or he doesn’t. It could be abused, but at our level we put our faith in the chair umpires.”
Fed Cup toughie for Canada
In a draw at the International Tennis Federation’s offices in London on Tuesday, Canada learned it will be travelling to Slovakia for the Fed Cup World Group II Play-off the weekend of April 16-17.
It was one of the more difficult potential opponents for Canadian team and the only one of Slovakia, Belgium, Ukraine and Chinese-Taipei that Canada would definitely face away from home.
The two teams are close in the Fed Cup rankings with Canada at No. 14 (and seeded) and Slovakia at No. 17 and unseeded.
Last weekend Canada was beaten 3-2 by the visiting Belorussians in Quebec City while the Slovaks were upset at home by Australia playing indoors on hard courts in Bratislava. Samantha Stosur won both her singles matches for the Aussies over Jana Cepelova 6-3, 6-4 and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-6(5), 7-5. She combined with Casey Dellacqua for the decisive 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 doubles victory over Cepelova and Daniela Hantuchova.
Dominka Cibulkova, the Slovak’s most successful singles player, only played on day two (beating 17-year-old Kimberly Birrell 6-3, 6-1) ostensibly because she had a very poor record (0-5 and never winning a set) against 31-year-old former US Open (2011) champion Stosur.
In the current WTA rankings, the Slovaks are as follows in singles:
- Anna Karolina Schmiedlova: No. 29
- Dominika Cibulkova: No. 66
- Magdalena Rybarikova: No. 78
- Daniela Hantuchova: No. 101
- Jana Cepelova: No. 135.
In all likelihood, the Slovaks will elect to play on clay. The Fed Cup round is immediately followed the next week by the WTA Premier indoor clay court Porsche Tennis Grand Prix event in Stuttgart. That could make it relatively convenient for players, most notably top Canadian Genie Bouchard. Except that with her current No. 58 ranking she would have to play the qualifying for Stuttgart, which would conflict with the World Group II Play-off.
Milos vs. Cam: Losing and losing it
Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Super Bowl-losing Carolina Panthers, has been roundly criticized for his sullen, curt media conference performance after his team was beaten on Sunday.
It may have been overly harsh but when you’re the best player in the National Football League – he was this season’s MVP – it’s all part of being a professional.
You can see his dismal interaction with the media above.
Newton is 26 years old and losing the Super Bowl after all the hype about him could not have been easy. Still 25-year-old Milos Raonic had a recent tough loss in the Australian Open semifinals. He injured himself against Andy Murray and was diminished in a five-set loss after leading two-sets-to-one.
Raonic was devastated by the missed opportunity to play in his first Grand Slam final. But he conducted himself (above) like a pro in his media conference just 25 minutes after the match. He made an honest effort to answer questions as best he could despite his disappointment.
This is our final Australian Post Card for 2016. The shot was taken one evening last week on the Manly ferry heading back to Sydney’s main Circular Quay docks.