Since 2008, professional Tennis has allowed players access to a Challenge System that has largely been successful.

The system, called “Hawk-Eye”, uses several high-speed video cameras to visually track the trajectory of every ball.  That data transmits to a complex computer system which then reproduces the ball’s path and landing spot via a graphic image that can simultaneously be viewed by judges, players, and viewers in a matter of seconds.

A player may use this system by challenging calls made by lines judges without limit, unless they accrue 3 incorrect challenges per set.  There is also an additional challenge available in the event of a tie-break.

A look at how the system works:

But, as excellent and accurate as this system is, this electronic double-checking of lines calls is the only type of challenge system currently available in tennis.

To me, it’s not enough.

I feel that the sport could benefit from an actual instant replay system in which plays and players actions can also be reviewable.

My suggestion comes as a result of several blown calls made by chair umpires in recent memory.

For instance, at this fortnight’s BNP Paribas Open held in Indian Wells, CA, there have been several judgments made by chair umpires that have left players very upset.

Take the call made by veteran umpire Mohamed El Jennati who was in the chair for the 1st round match between Radek Stepanek and Denis Istomin.

During the match, Istomin stopped play by indicating to the judge with his arm that he would like to challenge a call.  But, El Jennati didn’t see this.  Instead, he denied Istomin the right to challenge citing he didn’t do it in time.  However, in watching the television replay, it is clear that Istomin signaled to the judge in a timely manner.  The judge just didn’t see it and Istomin lost the point:


This should never have happened.  If some sort of Instant Replay was available, the play could have been reviewed by the match Supervisor who would have clearly seen that Istomin had indeed signaled to the chair umpire and at the right time, giving him the right to challenge the call.  In any event, the play was clearly stopped by Istomin.  Where the heck was the judge looking?  The player suffered for this lack of observation.

Unfortunately, within a matter of days, another controversial call came about by this same chair umpire in the same tournament.

It happened during the 2nd round match between Fabio Fognini and Ryan Harrison.

Fognini volleyed to Harrison’s back court whereby the play was called out.  Fognini challenged via Hawk-Eye which indeed showed the ball to be in.  However, the chair umpire did not award the point to Fognini citing that the ball was playable by Harrison and had to be played over.  Fognini lost his temper, went on a tirade, and ended up with a code violation.  It was memorable:

In my viewpoint, if instant replay was available, the play could be reviewed to see if, in fact, the ball was gettable by Fognini’s opponent.  In this case, the match Supervisor could take a look and overrule the chair umpire.  In the very least, this situation would quell the player’s concerns for fairness and could have avoided the anger exhibited by Fognini.

Another similar play happened during the 4th round match between Li Na and Aleksandra Wozniak.  After serving, Li returned a volley to the back court of Wozniak.  It was called out, but upon review of the hawk-eye challenge, the ball was in fact, shown to be in.  Instead of awarding Li Na the point, the chair umpire of that match deemed it a replay situation, again citing the fact that it was playable by Wozniak.

However, in looking at the replay, it appears that the ball would not have been playable and thereby, Li Na should have been awarded the point.  A close call, but again controversial:

In this instance, again, instant replay would have been invaluable.  That particular play happened so fast, it would have been very difficult for anyone to be sure that it was playable for Wozniak. Yet, the last word went to the chair umpire.

The bottom-line is that, although Hawk-eye works very well to make sure line’s calls are correct, the use of this technology has created the need for the chair umpire to get involved in the end result.  They must: a) recognize properly when a player wants to challenge a call; and b) judge properly if the successful challenger is to be awarded a point or a replay.

Unfortunately, it seems that a number of chair umpires are failing in either or both of these responsibilities on a regular basis.  And, that can only mean the overall result of the electronic challenge system will result in failure.

So, why not use Hawk-Eye to further advantage?

The company who employs the technology (Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd) indicates that it is developing innovations towards what they refer to as “Player Tracking”.

According to the company’s website, Player Tracking is currently a coaching tool that “utilis[es] the core ball tracking cameras, recent computer hardware and software developments [to] allow player tracking data to be processed, analysed and converted to user-friendly information within seconds of the point ending.”

This sounds like an exciting innovation that could be available for instant replay in the situations I outlined above in tennis.

Of course, due to costs, this high-tech option might not be available to the governing bodies of the various tennis entities.

Then again, there’s always the option of simply rewinding the tape…


Source : Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd

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