Officials say replay is in sport's future
NEW YORK -- The first call for replay here at the U.S. Open, oddly enough, came from Jennifer Capriati.
It was last Friday and Capriati had just won her fourth-round match over Vera Douchevina. There had been a moment early in the third set, however, when it looked like a bad call might put the match in jeopardy. Capriati said she wasn't impressed with the quality of the lines calls.
"Even from watching other matches, they haven't been good," she said. "This level of the game, when it's so close, one or two shots can make a difference. I don't think it's fair.
"I'd like to know what we're waiting for. I don't see why they don't start at least trying it. Money, maybe. I don't know. I don't see this tournament being short on money, you know."
That was four days before the dramatic match that may move tennis toward a replay system. That was before Serena Williams had her pocket picked Tuesday night -- in the plain view of a near-capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and hundreds of thousands watching at home on television.
In the pivotal first game of the third set of her quarterfinal match with Capriati, Williams was victimized by chair umpire Mariana Alves. Her backhand passing shot at deuce was clearly good -- and ruled so by the lineswoman -- but the Portuguese umpire overruled and gave the point to Capriati. She eventually won the game and, in the final game of the match, Williams suffered three more bad calls that Alves failed to overrule.
Williams lost the match, and despite 57 unforced errors, was clearly affected by the quality of officiating. Afterward, she speculated that Alves had gone "temporary insane" and "obviously anti-Serena."
Wednesday was admittedly a slow news day, with rain washing out all of the day session. The highlight: John McEnroe (pitching) and Andy Roddick (hitting with a tennis racket held backwards) entertaining the few patrons in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Talk of instant replay in tennis dominated discussion around the grounds of the National Tennis Center.
The first-hour of New York radio station WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog show, normally given to the meat-and-potato sports of football and baseball, was all Serena. When U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe announced his team for the semifinals against Belarus, he fielded eight straight questions about replay. Many newspaper writers were chasing tournament officials, looking for quotes on the subject. The United States Tennis Association was moved to offer up chief executive Arlen Kantarian and tournament director Jim Curley to the baying media hounds.
Alves, according to Curley, was under consideration to umpire one of Wednesday's women's quarterfinals matches, but the silver-level official -- the second-highest level -- was passed over.
"The decision was made in the best interests of the tournament," Curley said.
Was it punitive?
"It was appropriate," he said.
Kantarian reported that he had called Williams in mid-afternoon to issue an apology, which he said was accepted.
Most tennis people queried on the subject Wednesday said they were in favor of some form of instant replay -- as long as it was accurate.
"I think they should use it," said Steve Flink of Tennis Week, one of the game's most astute observers. "It's such a reflex call by the linesman. I don't think it was anything deliberate against Serena. If the woman saw the replays, she had to regret it. Replay would be a way to correct that."
The NFL, NBA and NHL, in varying degrees, have come to the same conclusion.
"In my opinion," Patrick McEnroe said, "we should work towards using it. I think that would be fun for the fans. I think it would be good for the game."
Andre Agassi weighed in on the subject after his third-round match with Jiri Novak.
"One of the hardest things in practice, when you play against a guy, is just calling balls," Agassi said. "It's easy to miss calls. I mean, I can't see the ball out there, and I've watched the ball my whole life. There are times when I'm really unsure.
"I think it would save time on the arguments, and all that. So it would be a nice feature."
There are already three computerized systems in use that attempt to do the job of lines judges. Auto-Ref, which employs eight slow-motion cameras and advanced software, was used for the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in a joint experiment with the USTA, International Tennis Federation, the WTA Tour and ATP. Auto-Ref is an animated video replay of all shots from various angles. The USA Network uses the Hawkeye system and ESPN's Shot Spot won an Emmy for technology last year.
Chris Watts, a virtual reality operator for Hawkeye -- in use for the second straight year -- said it was accurate to within one-fifth of an inch. Which raises a serious question.
"Until it's perfect, it's not appropriate," Kantarian said, underlining the major issue. "But that doesn't mean we're not pursuing better technology. With the fast pace of today's game, that begs for technology."
Said Curley, "We're not convinced that it is 100 percent accurate."
According to Curley, all of the participating groups will gather after the Open and evaluate the Auto-Ref system. "I think down the road, we're heading that way," Curley said.
How would the system work? The NFL uses television cameras from a variety of angles to determine if officials calls are correct. If the visual evidence is clear, calls can be reversed. If a coach's challenge is not upheld, he loses a timeout.
In tennis, it wouldn't be so easy. Would the chair umpire invoke the system? Would a third party review the match from above the court? What if a player disputes the third stroke of a 10-stroke rally? Are all points challengeable, or just final points? While Williams apparently was victimized by three incorrect calls in the final game alone, how many challenges would a player have? And, in the course of a long match -- Capriati, appropriately, won 93 points, one more than Williams -- would one or two overrules really make a significant difference?
And, of course, the biggest question: what would the penalty be for being wrong?
"You've used up your challenge," McEnroe said. "To me, that's penalty enough. No Gatorade on the changeover? Try that. Only one visit from the trainer?"
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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