Pro Tennis (Finally) Gets Video Replay Challenge

Posted on March 6, 2006

By Richard Vach, Senior Writer

The ATP and WTA tours, pro tennis' men's and women's governing bodies, and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) have gotten together to sanction the use of an instant replay challenge system at the NADAQ-100 ATP event later this month in Miami, and at this year's US Open.

And the fan response? 'About ******* time!'

The parties have dragged their feet over the years due to issues with the accuracy of the technology (and the expense), but finally tennis is catching up to the NFL and other sports in integrating fan-friendly technology that adds excitement from both a fan and player perspective.

Under the new challenge system each player will receive two challenges per set to review line calls. If the player is correct, then the player retains the same number of challenges. If a player is wrong, then one of the player's challenges is lost. During a tiebreak in any set each player will receive one additional challenge. Challenges won't be carried over from one set to another.

The system will use the Hawk Eye officiating brand, the only technology that has been approved for use in professional tennis.

"We all feel that today's announcement represents a major breakthrough for the sport," said Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive for Pro Tennis for the USTA, who was also the architect for the US Open Series, and is seemingly behind the scenes when any kind of cooperation happens between the tours or the subset of alphabet groups in pro tennis in the U.S. "I think it's an opportunity for us to help officials and players while hopefully creating a bit more excitement and intrigue for all of our fans."

Etienne de Villiers, also credited with fast-tracking many decisions that have benefited the men's tour during his brief period as the top dog (though don't use the term "CEO," as he was supposed to be the guy to find a new CEO), says this is something he has also been waiting for.

"To me it was always crazy that with modern GPS technology we could tell where a person is within to yard or a meter on planet earth, and yet we can't tell whether a tennis ball is in and out," de Villiers said. "So technology is going to help us do that. But technology is also the ultimate double edged sword. It is the great enabler, but it does make consumers and anyone that is aware of technology that much wiser and, therefore, the bar is set that much higher in expectations. So to me this is a very significant step for our sport, but it is also a significant step for the entertainment value of tennis."

The tours agreed to a limited number of challenges per set, and also for the necessity of giant video screens at the tournament venues so fans can see the replays.

"There's going to be two video boards on the center court that will be visible by the players, the chair umpire and all the spectators," said Gayle Bradshaw, ATP Doubles Commissioner. "Once a challenge is made, then the review official that's with the technicians, once he determines that the correct impact has been identified, gives the order to release the video to the boards. Then everybody will see the result at the same time. The entire process will take less than 10 seconds."

The replay will only be set up on the Stadium Court in Miami, and on the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong courts at the US Open.

"I think it's highly likely we will use the system at the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships in Madrid," said WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott. "The system would not be used, it goes without saying, on clay."

The ATP says it will push for the 2006 US Open Series events to get involved, though the system costs an estimated $100,000 to set up.

Gamesmanship by players using the calls was a worry, but the ATP says previous tests at exhibitions such as the Hopman Cup returned positive results.

"In Perth, we were averaging around five seconds from challenge to display," Bradshaw said. "Some conversations I had with Taylor Dent, he noticed that this technology actually speeded up play rather than slowed play down. There was less reason or no reason to argue with the chair umpire.; The players, once they saw the call, just went back and played. The two incorrect challenge limit kind of is a built in safety net in case anybody tries to abuse the system. I think the concerns now for a player using it for gamesmanship is minimal."

Bradshaw contends the technology will be entertaining, and could surprise players and fans.

"(At the Hopman Cup) there was a call on a baseline against Thomas Johansson that he really didn't know about the call," Bradshaw said. "There was a quite expensive box of fans on that line that were encouraging him to challenge. He did so at their request and was quite wrong. It made for a good laugh around the audience, and he had a good laugh about it."

The system boasts 100 percent accuracy outside a margin of error of three millimeters, and while world No. 1 Roger Federer is not so happy with the introduction of the system as he says he has seen enough changes to the game of late, the ATP hopes once the system is in place it will change the minds of detractors.

"I met with Roger in Dubai," de Villiers said. "Roger believes where we've come out on the limited protocol is okay. I think he would prefer not to have it, but he understands that we need to make advances. He understands that rule changes need to be made. He kind of feels we've done enough now and would not like to see us do very much more. But he's very supportive of everything we're doing to date. He thinks beyond his own needs and thinks about what's best for the game. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he's not fighting us on this one."

Yeah, as long as it's not a Rafael Nadal overrule on match point.

Richard Vach is a senior writer for and can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel's "Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders" episodes.