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Player Challenges with the most valid criteria
and how they measure up


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 be used.


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!


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 either.

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?!?"

NEXT: Entertainment, The Human Element and the Solution

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