The announcement yesterday that the 2007 Australian Open will feature video line-call technology, aka Hawk-Eye, wasn’t much of a surprise. The technology was a big hit at the US Open and will soon be a regular feature of the entire tennis circuit, you’d imagine, with the possible exception of Wimbledon just because, well, it’s Wimbledon.
The best thing about the introduction of Hawk-Eye is the way tennis has made it a limited resource for players. At Flushing Meadow, players could call for a video review of a close call twice per set (if the player was right, they retained their challenge).
Just having that challenge up their sleeve was clearly enough to calm some of the game’s hot heads. On clay, central umpires regularly clamber down from their high chairs to check a mark in the dirt, and Hawk-Eye is a quicker, smoother way of occasionally allowing the player’s complaint to be heard in an official, no-nonsense way.
If the players could call for it whenever they liked, tennis would fall apart very quickly but two challenges per set felt about right.
It was also worth noting that the players were only correct in their challenges 32% of the time. During play, tennis professionals are caught between finely-tuned judgement on where the lines are, from having hit so many balls to and off lines, and an emotional desire for an important ball to fall out, not in, regardless of the truth.
During a point, professional players watch the ball and nothing but the ball more closely than a dog at the park. They focus on the ball from the moment it leaves a server’s hand, tossed into the air, until they hear the point is over. They can’t be watching lines carefully at the same time.
But, of course, not having any real idea whether that ball that streaked near a line was in or out has never stopped the likes of McEnroe or Cash from screaming at linespeople from a position of absolute certainty. If Hawk-Eye does nothing else but defuse this, it’s a step forward. Cricket should be watching closely.