- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Temper tantrums and obscenity-laced arguments about line calls soon could become obsolete. The U.S. Tennis Association is taking the human part out of human error.

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic, a stop on the U.S. Open Series, is one of 10 tournaments this year that is employing an instant replay and player challenge system before it makes its grand slam debut at the U.S. Open.

The tournament is using the Hawk-Eye system, named after its British inventor, Paul Hawkins.

“It is such a great fan enhancement,” Legg Mason tournament director Jeff Newman said. “We all recognize how important it is for the future of the game.”

A USTA task force studied various replay systems and determined Hawk-Eye was the best fit.

In this system, unlike football or basketball, a computer generates an illustration based on images captured by cameras positioned at different angles on the court. Within five to 10 seconds, an animation of the ball hitting the court will be displayed on video screens visible to both the players and the audience as the umpire determines the proper call.

“I think it is the greatest thing ever because we need to become more fan friendly,” said former top-five player and current coach Brad Gilbert. “We are always focused on the history of the game, but you know it is quick. It comes up in 10 seconds. The fans love it. Instead of a player getting mad, he sees it and it is finished one way or another. I love everything about it.”

Although television broadcasts can show Hawk-Eye animations after any shot, umpires will rely on instant replay only if a player chooses to challenge a decision.

In the U.S. Open Series, each player receives two challenges a set. If they challenge a call correctly, they retain that challenge. If an umpire’s decision is upheld, then they lose that challenge. Players also will have one additional challenge available to them if a set goes to a tiebreaker. But challenges do not carry over between sets.

“On the officiating side, we are looking at it as more of an officiating tool than something that is used just to prove them wrong,” said Gayle Bradshaw, the head of officiating for the ATP. “We have to keep reinforcing to officials that they go in the chair and umpire as normal. They can’t relax and think that a challenge could be made so that they don’t have to do their job as well.”

The instant replay and challenge system is a monumental change for an old-fashioned sport that still maintains all-white dress codes at some venues. The change has been successful so far in upholding the accuracy of line calls.

The first tournament to use Hawk-Eye was the NASDAQ-100 Open, held in Miami in March. At the tournament about a third of the calls (53 of 161) were reversed.

With the success, the USTA has toyed with the idea of eliminating umpires entirely in the future.

“Technically it could happen, but right now we are not looking to replace humans,” Bradshaw said. “Officials add a nice human element to the match. One of the fears is that if you go to computers instead of umpires, the game becomes too sterile. Right now there is a nice balance between humans on court, which gives the game flavor, and the computers.”

The tournament will have to pay between $40,000 and $80,000 to run this new technology on Stadium Court — a cost that will be divided between the USTA, ATP and the tournament’s broadcast partner, ESPN.

Because of the cost of running Hawk-Eye, tournaments like the Legg Mason only use instant replay on the main court — an inequality some players would like to see removed.

“I think it would make tennis better and fans enjoy it, which is the most important thing,” said Andy Murray, the No. 8 seed at Legg Mason. Murray has not had the opportunity to challenge an umpire’s call, because he has not played on a court equipped with the technology yet. “I think if you are going to have it on one court, it is probably best to have it on all the courts because some players may say it is an unfair advantage to those that are lower ranked and playing on the outside courts.”

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