The Madrid Open finished overnight with the indomitable Roger Federer cruising to victory over Fernando Gonzalez 7-5, 6-1, 6-0, and the successful, if unlikely, on-court melding of fashion models as ballpeople and HawkEye as an umpire assistant.
The computerised line-caller has fast become a standard feature on the world tennis tour and, given the Australian Open recently announced it would become the second Grand Slam after the US Open to embrace the technology, Crikey rang Richard Ings, former chair umpire and now chairman of ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, to see what a senior umpire would think of players demanding a replay of a linesperson’s call on the big screen.
Ings, a veteran of 150 ATP national finals, and more than 2000 professional matches, said he loved the idea. It’s all about umpires leaving their egos off the court.
“HawkEye is what umpiring has always been aspiring to; correct calls as often as possible so that the umpires are barely noticed in a match. Over the years, when I was working with and training new umpires for the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals – the men’s tour), we always said that the best umpires were the ones who were never noticed.
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“This technology clearly works and it is the nirvana for officialdom: clear, consistent, accurate calls and it is always there, always on. The players and spectators can concentrate on the match without worrying about the line-calls.”
Ings said when he was training umpires, he would ask them to sit in the chair umpire’s high-stool, then would walk over to the far line and place a tennis ball a centimetre either in or out. “They had no chance of knowing which side of the line the ball was, and that was a stationary ball, not one moving at 220 kilometres per hour,” he said. “The fact is, as a chair umpire, you are being asked to do something physically impossible – to make a judgement on a ball moving that fast 20 or 30 metres away.
“The fact umpires get decisions right 60-70% of the time is actually pretty good. If HawkEye can do better, fantastic.”