Hawk-Eye on the future of tennis

10/17/2005 - Tennis

The eyes still have it, unanimously -- but perhaps not for long.

Tennis has taken another step toward using high-tech backup to review line calls.

The International Tennis Federation announced late last week that the Hawk-Eye electronic officiating system has been deemed technically sound by a committee made up of representatives from the ITF and the men's and women's pro tours.

Still unsettled are a timetable for implementation and rules under which players would be allowed to request reviews.

Hawk-Eye, developed by British entrepreneur Paul Hawkins, uses video feed and computer analysis to generate an image of a shot's precise landing point on a monitor within three to five seconds.

The ITF statement recommended "stadium-specific" testing before the system is used in a tournament. The first Grand Slam on next year's calendar is the Australian Open, three months away, but tournament chief executive Paul McNamee said that probably isn't enough time to put Hawk-Eye into play in Melbourne.

"Tennis Australia is committed to the technology in the long term," he said in an e-mailed response. "However, it is highly unlikely that we will be using it at Australian Open 2006 given the lack of time between the approval of Hawk-Eye Officiating by the ITF and tournament's commencement in January."

ATP senior vice president for communications David Higdon said men's tour officials likely will caucus at their board meeting next month in Shanghai to begin hashing out an implementation schedule. He said the most likely scenario is that the system would be installed and tested in a stadium the week before a tournament, then used if all goes well.

A survey of more than 100 top ATP players at a tournament in March showed 79 percent supported introduction of an electronic system, Higdon said. The tour considered using Hawk-Eye at its Masters Series event in Cincinnati this season but backed off because of qualms about the accuracy of the system under different lighting conditions. Higdon said those "bugs" have been worked out to the tour's satisfaction.

He said the ATP has discussed allowing players unlimited challenges during a match and placing an extra official next to the Hawk-Eye operator. That official would signal the chair umpire electronically to indicate whether a call was good or should be overruled.

"I'm sure some people are going to think this is not a great thing, but if it's going to make the game more accurate and not take away from the entertainment value, we see it as a positive," Higdon said.

"It's instantaneous, and it's a fun TV graphic. I look at it like the yellow [first-down] line in football -- why didn't someone think of that 20 years ago?"

U.S. Open officials also seriously considered using Hawk-Eye this year. U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said he didn't want to speculate about the chances of the system being in place on one or more of the show courts next summer, but added that the organization regards the recent ITF approval as "a positive and encouraging step."

Hawk-Eye has been tested by the ITF in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the day but not at night, Widmaier said. "The tests need to be broadened," he said.

The WTA issued a statement saying that "additional testing of the Hawk-Eye and other systems would be required before the Tour would approve use" at tournaments. (Hawk-Eye's competitor, the Auto-Ref system developed in Canada, also has been tested by the ITF.)

WTA chief legal officer David Shoemaker said tour officials are "very excited by the prospect" of electronic line calling but intend to proceed "cautiously." Discussions will continue at the board meeting next month and at the next meeting of the players' council, he said.

"It's a possibility for 2006," Shoemaker said. "The next stage is to get a comfort level … with players, officials, tournaments and sponsors." He added that the tour would welcome competition from more than one manufacturer of such a system. "We believe Auto-Ref is still in the game," he said.

The concept of electronic line testing is far from new. Several television networks, including ESPN, USA and the BBC, have used it in their coverage for several years. Cyclops, the infrared system that emits a shrill beep to signal a bad serve, has been around for 25 years.

World Team Tennis pioneered the use of Hawk-Eye this past summer, using it in 26 regular-season matches and adding its own characteristically colorful touch.

When coaches wanted a call reviewed, they threw a beanbag with long, neon green or yellow streamers -- fondly known as "the squid" -- onto the court. Each coach was allowed three challenges per match. Unsuccessful reviews cost the team one challenge.

During seven televised WTT matches, coaches challenged 18 calls and had 10 overturned. Some replays were shown to spectators on big screens. WTT commissioner and CEO Ilana Kloss said that the system had a couple of technical failures but that she is sold on it overall.

"We thought it added to entertainment value and it made our umps better," Kloss said. "It's definitely better than the human eye when it's working, and if it's not working, turn it off. When this kind of technology was available, we felt we owed it to our fans and athletes to use it."

Still hot: James Blake won the Stockholm Open in his first appearance since falling to Andre Agassi in an epic U.S. Open quarterfinal. Blake's 6-1, 7-6 (6) defeat of Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan on Sunday marked his first ATP title in Europe and vaulted him 10 places in the rankings, to No. 23, one notch lower than his career high No. 22, achieved in spring 2003. … The WTA's late-season swing through Asia has been lucky for Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic, who earned her third straight title in Bangkok -- following victories in Seoul and Tokyo -- and moved up to No. 17 in the rankings. She is only the sixth WTA player to win five championships before her 17th birthday, which isn't until April.

And not: Vaidisova's success came at the expense of Russia's Nadia Petrova, who could have used the extra points as she tries to stay in the hunt for the year-end WTA championships. She's currently in 10th place, two spots shy of qualifying. … Maria Sharapova, with a slot in the championships secured, was upset by fellow Russian Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals of the Kremlin Cup. … No one has been able to slow Roger Federer down this season, but he'll get some forced rest after spraining his right ankle in training last week. Federer has withdrawn from this week's Madrid Open and next week's tournament on his home turf in Basel, but said he expects to be ready to defend his ATP title in Shanghai by mid-November.

Noise annoys: Donald Young wasn't amused by the rowdy fans cheering him at courtside in the final of the Chanda Rubin Pan American junior tournament in Tulsa on Sunday. The world's top-ranked junior player breezed through a 6-1 first set against No. 2 Ryan Sweeting of the Bahamas, then lost the second in a tiebreak when his serve deserted him, in part, he said, because of that distracting crowd support. Down 1-2 in the third set, Young complained to the chair umpire. "I think they are senile … there was definitely something wrong with them," the 16-year-old Atlanta resident said later, according to a report on juniortennis.com. The fans promptly and vocally began to root for Sweeting, who prevailed 6-4 in the third set and said his recent Davis Cup experience -- he was 1-3 in matches this year -- helped him deal with the ruckus.

Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.