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Cummings and Goings V

April 7, 2006 10:15 PM

On March 24, I received an email from Ernie Mosby, USTA Mid-Atlantic Chair of Officials, saying that, effective immediately, USTA has adopted the International Tennis Federation (ITF) policy relating to electronic devices. ITF policy bans the use of all electronic devices by players at any time during a match, even if the device is only used to play music So from now on, make sure all ipods, cell phones, Blackberrys,  laptops etc. are stowed away before you go on court. Written material may be consulted during a match, but remember, you only have a maximum of 90 seconds for a changeover starting with the moment that one point finishes to the time the first serve is struck for the next point. At the end of each set, there is a 120 second break, the same parameters applying.
 
Instant Replay
 

By now, for better or worse, the advent of instant replay is history. My only surprise is that we have not had it sooner. Electronic line calling systems have been around for a long time. In my files is a report on an extensive test conducted by the USTA at the 1992 US Open. The results were pretty good, but apparently not good enough to gain acceptance by the powers that be.

 

Before that, I remember testing an earlier version of Cyclops. The morning of the test, a few of us officials who were service line umpires were shown how to operate the system. We had to wear a pair of glasses, minus any lenses, containing a red and a green indicator. If a red light came on, the serve was a fault and we would make the call accordingly. Green indicated a good serve. If no light came on, the serve was out of the machine's range and we were to make the call as we saw it. The only problem was that the morning of the test there was a heavy dew and the test was a washout.

 

Eventually, Cyclops gained acceptance, but not without its problems. The first time at the Open that I called the service line using Cyclops, I saw a serve hit about an inch or so out and there was only the sound of silence from Cyclops. Before the match, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were to go with Cyclops' calls. The only time we were to make a call was when the ball hit beyond Cyclops' range, roughly a foot After that point, I gave the chair umpire a look to let him know we might have a problem.

A few points later, the same thing happened, but this time the chair overruled the machine. As I remember, the machine was turned off and I was relieved to be on my own again. But adjustments were made and Cyclops went on to prove itself as a very reliable machine. I think the Hawk-Eye Officiating System will prove equally reliable.

 

Player reaction to Hawk-Eye has been interesting Andy Roddick has been quoted as saying that "... refs have to be accountable." and "At least they look stupid in front of 15,000 people now if they make the wrong call."  Stupid? Ouch! What is stupid about being wrong on a call of a ball just missing or hitting a line by a fraction of an inch in many cases? Statistics from 104 challenged calls had line umpires leading players 76 to 28. Considering all the other calls made during a match that go unchallenged, that is not too bad, I'd say. And Mr. Roddick, there are no refs on the court; only line umpires and a chair umpire. A tournament has only one referee and that person is not an on-court official. As far as accountability, it does not take many mistakes by an official on a main court before that official finds himself on a backcourt in the boonies. Hmmpff!

 

Questions have been raised about the fairness of using instant replay only on main courts. The people who raise this question are forgetting that main courts also get the best chair umpires and the best line umpires. There is nothing new about this and it is no secret. It is inherent in every sports program that exists. Major league officials do not officiate minor league games. Players have always had to work themselves up the ladder. And at events such as the US Open, only proven officials are called and not all are chosen. 

 

I like having instant reply. When I was working the Open back in the 70s, 80s and 90s, I would have been happy to have such a check as Hawk-Eye on the calls that I made. And in all fairness, if umpires are going to be booed for the calls they miss, I think they should be applauded when their call is proven correct. But that won't happen, will it?

 

Instant replay adds another dimension to a televised tennis match that makes it more interesting to watch and I think fans will take to it like a duck to water. It is a great boost for the game. Instant replay is entertaining and, as Arlen Kantarian, CEO of the USTA pointed out, "We can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend we're not in the entertainment business".

 

And then there is this. A few years back, I was roving the National 18 Clay Courts at the Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland. Several times, I reversed calls when a mark clearly showed that a shot had caught a piece of the line After that experience, I recommended that USTA provide a fact sheet for juniors showing the various types of marks that indicate a shot was good Nothing ever came of that. Instant replay could be that learning tool - - - and not only for juniors.

 

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