Without fairness, the sine qua non of all pro sports rules,
all the other criteria mean nothing. Fairness, in the officiating
of tennis line calls, indisputably means getting them right
as often as possible. With Hawk-Eye, that now happens a near-perfect
99.9 percent of the time.
This should virtually eliminate incorrect line calls that have
influenced the outcome of some matches. Who can forget distraught
Serena Williams being victimized by egregious human errors and
ultimately beaten by Jennifer Capriati in the 2004 U.S. Open quarters?
Pro tennis is blessed or burdened? with an abundance
of close and often controversial line calls, occasionally as many
as two in a given point. Therefore, any rules that
result in incorrect line calls not only are terribly unfair to
the players but also a bad reflection on the sport of pro tennis.
Nothing justifies incorrect line calls when Hawk-Eye can
Ironically, just when instant replay ensures that players won't
have to worry about bad line calls, Player Challenges involve
them more, not less, in calling the lines. Imagine if 100-meter
sprinters were instructed before the race: "OK guys, good luck,
run as fast as you can, but do us a favor. We'd like you to figure
out which one of you beats the others if it's really close." There
would be mutiny on the track.
Similarly, professional tennis players in world-class tournaments
should not be responsible for calling the lines in any
fashion, including challenges. High-speed photography analysis,
conducted separately by Vic Braden and John Van Auken, revealed
that players call the shot correctly much less often than experienced
linespeople, and for a host of reasons.
Why? First, players have considerable visual problems because
in singles the sidelines and center service lines are the only
lines they are ever lined up with with rare exceptions
and even there, seldom exactly. Second, because players
are moving, and often rapidly, their visual acuity is hampered
by the parallax factor: an apparent change in the direction of
an object, caused by a change in the viewer's position that provides
a new line of sight. Third, the net sometimes blocks their vision.
Fourth, the sheer distance is far too great for accurate calls
when, for example, a player on his baseline tries to judge a ball
landing 78 feet away on the other baseline. Fifth, the player's
primary focus is fixed on the entire flight of the ball so that
he can hit it effectively rather than a small spot where
it very briefly (3 milliseconds) lands.
Besides all these disqualifying factors, highly motivated pro
athletes are typically far from objective during the heat of battle.
Yes, they insist they want, even demand, fairness, but they typically
are fighting for their rights, not those of their foes.
If truth be told, they fervently want all close calls adjudicated
in their favor, especially on crucial points. Tennis rules
should accommodate this normal behavior, not exploit it in ways
that distort the outcome and then blame the athlete for the result.
Let the players focus on playing great tennis!
NO PLACE FOR GIMMICKS
Even if players should call lines, which
they shouldn't, and even if they could call lines accurately,
which they can't, player challenges are game-show gimmicks that
don't exist in any other pro sport and don't belong in pro tennis
Here's why: At the Nasdaq-100 Open, players challenged some
line calls when they clearly should not have because they
had a challenge or two left to use near the end of a set, or they
were honestly mistaken by a wide margin, or merely being frivolous.
Equally silly is the spectacle of players glancing over to their
entourages for advice on whether or not to challenge, which is
a violation of the no-coaching rule.
Far worse, though, players sometimes did not challenge
when they should have because they were honestly mistaken,
or rather pathetically, because they had no challenges left.
"What happens if you use the challenges up? And it's the U.S.
Open final," TV analyst Mary Carillo rightly stresses. "And
there's an incorrect call, and you have no more challenges. And
if all the fans are yelling, 'Challenge! Challenge!' and you can't."
Carillo calls that "the doomsday scenario" that she doesn't
want to be around to witness. "Twenty-four thousand New Yorkers,
just like me, are going to have lanterns and pitchforks, screaming,
"What do you mean you can't correct the call?!? What do you
mean the wrong guy wins?!?"
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