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Pandemic accelerates adoption of automated calling systems

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Pandemic accelerates adoption of automated calling systems

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The ball shoots through the air towards the end line, the topspin pulling it down just off the line. “Get out,” shouts the linesman.

For 15 years, a player who disagreed could protest with a challenge, and fans of the Rolex Paris Masters, and all other major tournaments, would then watch the video screens, often applauding in rhythm, walking towards when the Hawk-Eye system line call would deliver true justice.

The pandemic has changed that. For safety reasons, this year’s Hardcourt Masters 1000 tournaments, as well as the Australian and US Opens, have replaced the linesmen (supported by Hawk-Eye for challenges) with a fully automated system, Hawk -Eye Live.

This system, which ATP launched in its 2017 Next Gen finale, makes instant calls. Automated online calls have increased confidence in accuracy, while also raising questions about the human element of the game.

A machine-driven tour is a long way into the future, but this temporary fix gives some idea of ​​where online calls can go.

To maintain a human element with Hawk-Eye Live, tournaments use recorded voices instead of beeps and boops. “It would be wrong for tennis to become too robotic,” said Ross Hutchins, ATP tour director. (A Hawk-Eye executive publicly pitched the idea of ​​using sponsor names, so instead of “Out,” you might hear “Ralph Lauren.”)

The challenge system has shown that linesmen are more often right than players, but the machines are even more precise. “Being the most precise is the most important thing,” said Hutchins. Eliminating challenges also speeds up the game.

Top-ranked male player Novak Djokovic said he liked the system.

“I don’t see why we need the linemen if we have the technology,” Djokovic told ESPN this year. “I support technology. It is inevitable for the future of tennis.

The suppression of people provides more space behind the baseline for players, said Pam Shriver, ESPN analyst and former professional player, while automated reliability produces fewer distractions for players and therefore better tennis: “This gives players one less thing to fear. “

But Hawk-Eye Live doesn’t actually mark the spot – it uses its cameras and data to project an estimate of where the ball will bounce. Shriver finds the idea of ​​projected estimates puzzling, given potential distortions like gusts of wind. “It sounds like guessing,” she said. “People think what was caught was the physical rebound as it was occurring.”

Hawk-Eye representatives claim accuracy to less than 3.6 millimeters and self-reported 14 errors in 225,000 calls to the US Open in 2020.

A rival company, Foxtenn, uses cameras to capture the actual movement of the ball.

“Our precision is perfect, and one thing that makes us believable is that the player sees the real ball bouncing in the replay, not a drawing,” said Felix Mantilla, sales manager and former player. “I think only one technology will survive in 10 years.”

For now, Hawk-Eye remains the dominant player.

“We are continually innovating in our technologies, while delivering the highest possible precision,” the company said in a statement.

The tour trusts both systems, Hutchins said, adding that there was “absolutely” room for two. Still, it took Covid – and the need to limit the number of people on the courts – to push towards live calls. And plans are to have Hawk-Eye Live as an option on the ATP Tour for only the first quarter of 2022.

“It’s not about to be permanent,” Hutchins said. “We always want to better understand the impact of the system.
Fan comments have been mixed and there are issues regarding the impact of the development of future chair umpires. Hutchins said the cost of Hawk-Eye Live would be hard to pay for the hundreds of junior, future and challengers tournaments, which means the linesmen will stay. “There will still be a lane for chair umpires for a very long time. “

Mantilla said that while Americans liked advanced technology and embraced these changes, Europeans were more traditional. “I don’t know if it will take 10 or 20 years for the lines to run out in the big tournaments, but it will take time.”

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