- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It’s always subtle. Preceded by a glance, it has the understated, almost cool resemblance to a reluctant greeting.

Call it the Hawk-Eye Handwave.

In the last year at tennis tournaments worldwide, the sight of players arguing with linesmen and umpires has been replaced by the wave, which serves to say, not impolitely, “I beg to differ with that call.” It calls into action Hawk-Eye, the instant replay system that is making its second appearance on center court at this week’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic at William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in the District.

The ATP Tour introduced the system, which uses a network of 10 cameras stationed at various points around the court, at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami last year. The tour then tried it at several U.S. Open Series events, including the Legg Mason. Hawk-Eye made its Australian Open and Wimbledon debuts this year, and it will be used at next month’s U.S. Open for the second time.

For players, Hawk-Eye has offered a method of recourse in cases in which they disagree with a linesman’s call (at most tournaments, each player receives two “challenges” a set).

British favorite Tim Henman yesterday won a point in the second set in his loss to American John Isner after challenging a linesman who had called a forehand wide.

“I was 99 percent sure that that was in, but they called it out,” said Henman, who unsuccessfully challenged another call. “So it was a big benefit to have Hawk-Eye there to change the call.”

For fans, it has created some additional drama; a computerized replay of a shot is shown on a video board, where fans can see within seconds whether a call will be overruled.

“I think it’s been a hit for the fans and for the players,” ATP Tour supervisor Mark Darby said. “Everybody seems to like it. It adds a level of excitement to matches. It’s been a success.”

A team of British engineers led by Paul Hawkins invented Hawk-Eye in 2001. It is now operated by Hawk-Eye Innovations, a division of Wisden Group, a British media company. Originally, it was used during television broadcasts of cricket matches but has evolved for use in tennis and snooker.

The system was put to the test at Wimbledon in June, when it overruled several calls during the tense final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. One reversal of a baseline call in the fourth set led some television commentators to question the system’s accuracy; at one point Federer requested the system be turned off. Hawk-Eye Innovations officials later published a six-page photo spread showing how a ball could touch a line even if it appears to land outside the line to the naked eye. Hawk-Eye generally overturns about one-third of all challenged calls.

“Often, the system displays challenged calls that hit or missed the line by one millimeter, and therefore it displays to the crowd quite how tough the job of calling the lines really is,” said Luke Aggas, tennis operations manager for Hawk-Eye Innovations, which began using the technology in cricket matches. “There have been some notable instances where challenged calls have turned matches on their heads, and therefore the improvement in ‘fair play’ is unquestionable.”

Hawk-Eye may never become ubiquitous. The system requires the use of 10 cameras, making installation on anything but stadium courts and grandstands impossible. Clay court tournaments generally have passed on the technology because balls leave a clear mark on the surface. And not every tournament has the space or resources to accommodate the system; setting up and operating Hawk-Eye can cost between $40,000 and $50,000 a week.

But Darby said the ATP Tour is constantly talking with tournaments about expanding Hawk-Eye’s use.

“The tournaments have seen it work, and they’re embracing it,” he said. “They like it. We’re not twisting any arms to get it done. The idea that we have this technology to get the calls right, what’s not to like? If anything, it relaxes the players that play on center court, and they know that they have an opportunity in cases where they think they have a missed call of getting it corrected.”

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