Tennis is a sport unique like no other for many reasons. One reason is the individuality. Another is fact that you’ve never lost until you’ve lost. But perhaps the most unique aspect is the lack of objectivity in making calls. Most sports have referees that make calls and often, fans disagree with them and many times, they can alter the game (See: Bruins in game 5, Saints in NFC Championship game). Even in sports with a review system like baseball and football, subjectivity creeps in. But tennis has adopted a great system, known as Hawk-Eye. It’s simple: Hawkeye uses many different cameras and angles to recreate a shot. This allows players to challenge calls that they disagree with, and within a few seconds, Hawk-Eye recreates the shot and shows whether the ball hit the line or not. If a player is correct with their challenge, they get to keep it. It’s simple.
Despite this advancement in technology, the French Open (and as a matter of fact, no clay court tournaments) use Hawk-Eye. The reason is because on a clay court, the ball makes a very clear mark on the court. And given that Hawk-Eye has a mean error of 3.6mm, some say it’s better to not use it if possible. After watching the French Open this weekend, I think the decision to not use Hawkeye is ridiculous. Early in a set, it is very easy to determine where the ball hits. But as we get later in the set, the inevitable happens: shots start to hit the same place. There are so many shots hitting the court that its tough for the chair ump to determine which ball mark is the mark of the last hit ball. I saw multiple cases where the chair ump actually made the incorrect call (which was determined using Hawk-Eye, which is available to use for the commentators). Also, using the spot is forcing the chair ump to make a guess of the way the ball hit and the flight path of the ball. The ball rarely hits the ground as a perfect circle, making it tough to determine exactly how it hit.
The French Open and all clay court tournaments need to get over tradition and just institute Hawk-Eye. Even on a clay court, it’s more accurate and quicker than the chair ump, who needs to climb down off their chair, find the mark, make a call, and then climb back into their chair. It also puts more pressure on the chair ump, since the commentators are able to very quickly point out when they made the correct call. We have the technology to make the calls as precise as possible. Might as well use them.
-Stephen Brown III (@sbtrey23)