Instant Replay: Where the Challenges Are

USTA New England Magazine
September 2006

2006 has become the year of the instant replay for tennis. Unlike other professional sports, tennis is just beginning to try out this technology, but it is slowly working its way into the game, as well as the mindset of players. Although television replay has been a part of tennis for a few years now, it has only served to enhance the television viewer’s experience. On the court, singles and doubles players finally have a voice to challenge a line call, which had previously fallen on deaf ears. The rocky relationship between players and chair umpires has changed, as tennis has opened the door to a new era, where technology trumps the human eye.

The buzz surrounding the electronic line calling system is positive, but not without debate. Most agree that instant replay adds a level of objectivity and opportunity that simply didn’t exist before. But, with opportunity comes responsibility. Instant replay forces players to extend their strategic thinking beyond the baseline and their opponent. Challenging a line call brings a whole new level of winning or losing valuable points in a match. Much in the same way you would manage money, spending a challenge carelessly and quickly could put yourself in a losing position. Yet, most players would jump at the chance to challenge a bad line call. The problem for the players is that they never know when a bad call will be coming their way.

According to the USTA, this is how the instant replay/challenge system works:

-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 tiebreak game in any set, each player will receive one additional challenge.
-Challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.

This technology works in collaboration with 10 cameras. Each camera feeds data into its own computer, and the information is sent to another computer that creates animated images of a line call—all within 5 to10 seconds.

The reason for implementing electronic line calling in the first place is to offer players a more "fair" system than simply relying on the judgement of the human eye. For the player, instant replay provides a sense of control over the game, even if the opportunity to challenge a call only arises twice during a set. Some have argued that only allowing two challenge opportunities in a set isn’t enough, while others believe that having instant replay "dehumanizes’ the game.

More importantly, is the electronic eye 100 percent accurate? Even instant replay can be too close to call. After all, the image displayed on the screen is not the actual ball hitting the ground, but a computer generated simulation. And even with instant replay, the chair umpire still has the final say in calling a ball in or out after the challenge.

© Paula Vergara 2007

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