Re: Electronic line call system gets ITF thumbs-up
Here's a longer, very interesting article about it from Tennis Week
Technology Passes Test: ITF Approves Hawk-Eye
By Richard Pagliaro
Technology is ready to call the the shots in tournament tennis. Electronic line-calling technology that may well revolutionize tennis officiating is officially ready for tournament play.
The British-based Hawk-Eye ball tracking system has made history as the first — and only — electronic line-calling system to meet International Tennis Federation accuracy standards in a series of tests conducted earlier this week at Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. The ITF announced today it has approved Hawk-Eye for tournament use in reviewing decisions made by on-court officials.
"The latest version of the Hawk-Eye electronic line calling review system has, following a series of tests, met the criteria set by a committee comprising representatives of the ITF, ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for use in reviewing decisions made by on-court officials," the ITF announced in a statement.
The ITF's announcement means professional tennis tournaments, including Grand Slams, Masters Series events and standard ATP and WTA Tour events, can use Hawk-Eye to review and correct calls made by officials during matches.
The sheer speed of tennis today makes calling lines about as easy as reading the registration sticker off the windshield of a car passing a pedestrian at 80 mph on the highway. The approval of Hawk-Eye as an electronic line calling device is a significant breakthrough in a sport where the human eye can often have difficulty detecting accurate line calls due to the accelerated pace of play as well as variables such as sun, shadows and the occasional need for lines people to duck for cover from the oncoming missiles approaching down the center service line.
In a two-day test staged on Arthur Ashe Stadium court on Monday and Tuesday, Hawk-Eye correctly called more than 80 balls fired at a fast, flat pace from a ball machine to pass the ITF accuracy tests. The test came less than four months after Hawk Eye failed to meet ITF accuracy standards in a test staged on the same Stadium court in July. Tennis Week caught up with Dr. Paul Hawkins, founder and managing director of Hawk-Eye, as he packed up his equipment at the National Tennis Center. Hawkins, who has been in New York refining Hawk-Eye since its failed test in July, is returning to the UK today armed with a new tennis title.
"The ITF were delighted that we met their criteria with flying colors and, indeed, pushed the bar higher," Hawkins told Tennis Week. "We're delighted and proud to accept the responsibility to take the sport forward. Tennis needs accuracy in line calling and Hawk-Eye can provide it. We're thrilled that we were rewarded for all our hard work by passing the ITF's accuracy tests and now any event can use Hawk-Eye. We look forward to working with the tournaments. "
Hawk-Eye has already taken its technology to televised tennis. If you've watched ESPN's tennis coverage then you've already seen Hawk-Eye at work. Branded "Shot Spot" by ESPN, Hawk-Eye earned an Emmy award in the "Outstanding Innovative Technical Achievement" category in 2003. The Emmy award came two years after Hawk-Eye claimed Britain's Royal Television Society award for technical innovation.
"I'm hoping that we can convince the Australians that they should be the first (to use it)," ESPN's voice of Tennis Cliff Drysdale, a long-time proponent of Hawk-Eye told Tennis Week. "I'm thrilled about it because tennis needs it for a variety of reasons, one of which, the main one being the viewing public, the second being the live audience and thirdly just because we don't need more repetitions of what we've seen over the past year with people getting hooked out of matches."
Critics cast doubt on Hawk-Eye's ability to accurately call the lines, but Drysdale believes even if the system is slightly off it's better than the human eye.
"Even if it's off by one-tenth of 100 percent it's impartial," Drysdale said. "And that's the key and it's better than the naked eye — I'm convinced of that. So if you combine those two things it's close enough to where it should be used. I'd like to see players have a chance to legally talk to a coach by calling a timeout, once per set, for example."
Throughout his career, John McEnroe had more clashes with Cyclops than Ulysses. The man who could make a chair umpire feel as comfortable as a vampire in a sun-tanning advocates each Grand Slam event adopts an electronic line-calling system.
"If anyone's been listening to my commentary the past year then they know I'm in favor of using replay. I think it will make it more interesting," McEnroe told Tennis Week in an interview prior to the U.S. Open. "The bottom line is if the U.S. Open decides tomorrow they'll use it and if Wimbledon decides they want to use it, then they'll use it."
Created in 2001 for television, Hawk-Eye combines the data recorded by a series of cameras placed around the court to register line calls.
"Hawk-Eye is a state-of-the art processing technology to accurately identify the center of a tennis ball in five cameras positioned around the court," Hawkins told Tennis Week. "Combining the information from each of these cameras together, we are able to work out the accurate three-dimensional trajectory of the ball throughout the rally and thereby accurately work out the position where the ball bounces to within three millimeters."
There was wide-spread speculation the U.S. Open would become the first Grand Slam event to use an electronic line-calling system in August, however the USTA wanted to introduce Hawk-Eye during one of the U.S. Open Series events so that players and officials could adjust to it before use at the Open. When Hawk-Eye failed to pass the ITF test in July, the USTA opted against experimenting with it. Hawkins said insufficient lighting in Arthur Ashe Stadium likely contributed to Hawkeye's three errant calls in its second test in July.
"We did two sets of tests in the stadium in July and in the final set they fired about 90 balls and we basically got all of them correct expect for three and one of them was only a millimeter off, but quite honestly the light was horrendous during that test," Hawkins told Tennis Week. "It was like 7:30 p.m. and everyone was trying to get the floodlights on. The conditions were such that you could not have played a professional match under those conditions without the floodlights on so in retrospect what we should have done was stop that test until we could get the floodlights on. To be fair, the USTA had put a lot of time and energy in and was under a bit of pressure because they wanted us to pass that test before the U.S. Open so it had to be glitch free."
Rather than resigning themselves to failure, Hawkins and three members of his staff stayed on in New York, hit the practice court and watched the U.S. Open unfold while preparing for another opportunity.
Beneath an overcast sky earlier this week, Hawkins and Hawk-Eye took the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium facing the type of pressure a player commonly confronts walking out on stadium court to play a U.S. Open match — a poor performance would mean elimination.
"After the test in July, this was do or die," said Hawkins, who plays recreational tennis. "The sporting analogies of an athlete who responds to disappointment by keeping quiet, putting the time in on the practice court and letting the improved performances do the talking are clear. We had much more confidence in the system this time and the tests this week were a lot less nerve-wracking because basically I kind of knew it was going to work. Still, there was pressure because people have put their careers on the line for this. We have a fairly large development team so it was obviously very important that we pass this test and we're proud to follow the example which sport teaches us and earn approval."
Hawk-Eye made its Grand Slam debut as a television tool during the 2003 Australian Open and is currently used in television coverage at all four Grand Slams, the Masters Series events, Queen's Club, Hopman Cup and select Davis Cup ties, according to Hawkins.
Tennis Week has contacted both the USTA and Tennis Australia officials to ask if either organization plans to use Hawk-Eye as a line-calling device at any future tournaments. A spokesman told Tennis Week the USTA will issue a statement on Monday.
The USTA was eager to implement a line-calling system at the Open in August. Questionable calls in Jennifer Capriati's 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal conquest of Serena Williams at the 2004 U.S. Open thrust the current line-calling system into the spotlight as the USTA acknowledged chair umpire Marina Alves' overrule against Williams in the opening game of the final set was incorrect in a statement released after the match.
Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive of Professional Tennis for the USTA, is an innovator who was the driving force behind the U.S. Open moving the women's final to its Saturday night prime-time slot, and a chief architect of the U.S. Open Series that has resulted in a ratings rise for American networks. In a past interview with Tennis Week, Kantarian acknowledged the need for an electronic line-calling system.
"With these 140 mph serves and 100 mph forehands, the game has gotten much faster than it was," Kantarian told Tennis Week. "The human eye cannot pick up the close calls like (lines people) could years ago. So our goal is to move fairly aggressively to introduce a system that will first and foremost improve the accuracy of line calls and also add some intrigue for the fans and the players. That would be great for the sport."
The USTA was strongly considering introducing Hawk-Eye during last summer's U.S. Open Series as tournament testing ground for use at the U.S. Open. However, when Hawk-Eye failed to meet ITF standards during an accuracy test in late July, the USTA announced it would not use Hawk-Eye until it passed ITF standards.
"The USTA continues to feel strongly that the introduction of new electronic line calling, with the opportunity for players to challenge calls, will be an important addition to the game in the near future," the USTA said in a statement released in late July. "The USTA will continue to pursue the goal of introducing line calling technology at the 2006 U.S. Open."
It is quite possible — and even probable — Hawk-Eye could make its professional debut before next year's U.S. Open. Since Hawk-Eye is already used as a television tool during the international mixed-team Hopman Cup competition contested in Perth, Australia in January, it is possible officials there could experiment with it. The move would make sense given the Hopman Cup is an ITF exhibition event.
Officials from two of the four majors — the U.S. Open and Australian Open — have been vocal in supporting the need to introduce the technology to tennis. At the conclusion of the 2005 Australian Open in January, Australian Open Chief Executive Paul McNamee called for instant replay to be implemented as a line-calling device at the 2006 Australian Open and and predicted Hawk-Eye could be used to call lines at the 2005 U.S. Open.
"Both Hawkeye and Auto Ref, which are very good, have to be tested by the ITF, and assuming they're okay and the USTA approves them, it's very keen to use one this year," McNamee told the media in January. "I have little doubt we will see replay technology here next year for all matches on Rod Laver Arena. It was reinforced here this year that we need to improve the line calling."
McNamee had a front row seat to witness another questionable call in the decisive set of a Grand Slam quarterfinal where human error contributing to costing a player a crucial point. Australia's Alicia Molik appeared to strike an ace down the middle while deadlocked at 7-all in her quarterfinal against top-seeded Lindsay Davenport. However, chair umpire Andreas Egli overruled the apparent ace, Davenport went on to break serve and win the match, 6-4, 4-6, 9-7. It is a call that could have been corrected had Hawk-Eye been used, however some speculate Hawk-Eye will not make its Grand Slam debut until it has been tested in tune-up tournaments, meaning Tennis Australia would likely have to test the system at a warm up tournament in January before using it in Melbourne.
The consensus among officials Tennis Week has interviewed recently is that if Tennis Australia does not experiment with Hawk-Eye in January, then the U.S. Open will almost certainly be the first Grand Slam event to use the system in 2006 though it is probable a North American hard-court event prior to the U.S. Open — perhaps even as early as the spring of 2006 at Masters Series events in Indian Wells or Key Biscayne — would employ Hawk-Eye first.
Cost is also a consideration to tournaments seeking Hawk-Eye's services.
Radar guns tournaments use to measure service speed reportedly cost between $5,000 to $10,000 and Cyclops, which calls the service lines is estimated to cost between $15,000 to $20,000 per court per week. The Canadian-based Auto-Ref line calling system, which has not yet met ITF accuracy standards, is priced at "$20,000 to $25,000 per court, per week, which is comparable to those prices and we are calling all the lines — not just one," Auto-Ref CEO Peter Szirmak told Tennis Week's Steve Flink in an interview last fall.
Hawk-Eye's cost is considered comparable to Auto-Ref meaning smaller tournaments may not initially be able to afford it on all courts though Hawkins said tournaments and television networks could conceivably share the expense and brand Hawk-Eye with a sponsor's name and logo to offset the cost.
"Cyclops has set a bit of a precedent; I think Grand Slams will (eventually use Hawk-Eye) on between two and four courts, smaller events one or two courts," Hawkins said. "Much of our cost is in freight, people and hotels so two courts doesn't necessarily cost double what one court does. The core tracking system can be shared across all uses for the system, then each broadcaster has their own dedicated machine to produce its virtual replay of that tracking info. It gives each broadcaster the ability to brand/sponsor and customize the look of their virtual world. The umpire would then have their own dedicated machine, which would be separate from the broadcast."
The USTA was reportedly planning to use Hawk-Eye, which takes about two days to set up and test prior to use in a tournament, on its three stadium courts: Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand. While the exact rules to be enacted with Hawk-Eye have not yet been finalized — officials have considered adopting a policy similar to the NFL in which players would receive a specified number of challenges where a call would then be reviewed and a player potentially assessed a point penalty if the challenge was incorrect — the USTA had planned to make the use of Hawk-Eye an interactive experience by displaying the replay on the large video screens in the stadium so spectators could see the replay of the call in question along with the players and chair umpire.
Hawkins, who has a Ph.D in artificial intelligence, left the U.S. Open grounds today hoping Hawkeye will have a place in the main draw at the 2006 Open.
"I'm a sportsman and we're all excited about the opportunity to take tennis forward with Hawk-Eye," Hawkins said. "Now that the ITF has approved the system, we're in a position to help a great sport like tennis in improving the officiating. If we're invited to be back here next year as part of the U.S. Open, it will be our privilege."