First Use of Electronic Line Calls

The USTA, the ATP and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ATP announced in 2006 that electronic line calling technology, along with a player challenge system, will become part of professional tennis in North America.

The 2006 US Open will be the first Grand Slam to introduce instant replay technology and player challenges. The NASDAQ-100 Open will begin in Miami will be the first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP event to utilize the technology and on-court challenges.

If a ball sticks in the fence before it bounces, it's out.

If a ball sticks in the fence before it bounces, it's out.

There it is: instant-replay will be used in pro tennis.I’m not usually one to buy into press releases so completely but I applaud this move by the USTA. I truly believe this will, actually, add an exciting new element to the sport of tennis. Well, the replays have been there for TV viewers for some time. But the player challenge system is what seals the deal.

The on-court player challenge system for review of line calls will be as follows:
Each player will receive two challenges per set to review line calls.
If the player is correct with a challenge, then the player retains the same number of challenges.
If the player is incorrect with a challenge, then one of the challenges is lost.
During a tie-break game in any set, each player will receive one additional challenge.
Challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.

So now during a match, if a player truly feels they got screwed on a line call, they can challenge it. And the results of the challenge will be displayed in real time at event monitors and over TV broadcasts.

This instant-replay system sounds so much better than the NFL system. It will actually matter! Anyone remember the 2006 Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers? They called for an instant replay review of a “touchdown” by the Steelers’ QB that took several minutes only to have the head Ref overrule the replay official thus making it irrelevant. Lame. In tennis it will be fast and meaningful.

A player will be able to challenge and if they are correct about the line call the point is overturned and they get to keep their challenges. But if they are wrong they lose one of their challenges. This will clean up the calls while still preventing abuse/overuse.

It was exciting to see this in action for the first time at the NASDAQ-100. So are the players, here’s a few of their reactions:

James Blake
“The ball’s moving so fast these days that sometimes it’s impossible for anyone to see, even a trained official. With instant replay we can take advantage of technology and eliminate human error. Having just a few challenges will make it both fun and dramatic for fans at the same time.”

Jim Courier
“Yet another terrific step forward for tennis, something that will benefit players and spectators and bring more intrigue into the game. Based on my experience in the booth with this technology, we’ll all be surprised at how good the linesmen’s eyes are compared to the players.”

Cliff Drysdale
“This would add another dimension for the viewer and the spectator at a tournament. Tennis is singular in the number of close calls you have in a match. Every time the ball hits the ground there is a question, with so many balls landing close to the lines.”

Amelie Mauresmo
“For players out there giving it our all, it’s great to know that we now have the ability to use technology that will make the game more accurate and better than ever, and more exciting for the fans.”

John McEnroe
“If anyone’s been listening to my commentary the past year then they know I’m in favor of using replay. I think it will make tennis more interesting.”

Patrick McEnroe
“We have this idea in tennis that if we try something new that we are going against the history of the game and against tradition. Whatever sport or business you are in, it is important to keep moving.

Andy Roddick
“On top of just getting the calls right time after time, which will be nice, it’ll add another aspect for TV viewers. If a player has two challenges per set, it will add drama and excitement. This will add to tennis and take out a lot of human error.”

Maria Sharapova
“As a player, I want to know that line calls are as accurate as technology will allow. In that sense, today’s announcement is great news for all players.”

Since the first use, it’s been tweaked here and there but is largely a success. Now, how can we find something else to send players into McEnroe-inspired temper tantrums?