Tennis video replay may be here to stay

The big winners at the Nasdaq-100 Open were Svetlana Kuznetsova, Roger Federer and video replay.

Former United States Open champion Kuznetsova earned her first title in 18 months, while Federer won the men’s final for the second year in a row and remained unbeaten in the United States since August 2004.

But the talk of the tournament was video replay. Fans clamoured for it, and many players raved about it. The pro tours employed video reviews for the first time, and while tweaks of the system are likely, there’s little doubt its use will be expanded.

“I truly believe it’s here to stay,” Nasdaq-100 Open founder Butch Buchholz said.
“I’m proud we were the guinea pig.”

Disputed calls on the stadium court were subject to video review, with replays shown promptly on the scoreboard screen.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that when players challenged a call, they usually were wrong.

Overall, only 53 of 161 challenged rulings (33%) were reversed. In women’s matches, 21 of 77 calls were reversed (27%), while the men were 32-for-84 (38%).

“Maybe we’ll be humbled a little bit,” James Blake said. “I think a lot of us need that, so maybe we’ll stop arguing with the umpires. Maybe we’ll realise that the linespeople are getting it right.”

Tim Henman fared worst among the men, but he liked the system even though all six of his challenges were rejected, saying it was better to have replay resolve the issue than to stew about close calls.

“If there’s an instance where you’re uncertain, and you ask the question and are proved wrong, you look like a bit of an idiot,” he said. “But you certainly move on, and you don’t dwell on it. I think that will help a lot of players.”

Faring worst on challenges was Maria Sharapova, who lost to Kuznetsova in the women’s final. All 11 of her challenges were rejected.

“Pretty sad,” Sharapova said. “I’ll keep trying.”

Her next chance will likely be at the summer hardcourt tournaments in the United States, before replay makes its Grand Slam debut on the two largest courts at the US Open. If the technology can be perfected for grass, even Wimbledon might adopt a video review system, though not this year.

The eight-camera replay system changed the dynamics of matches in several ways. While there were fears it would slow the game, replay instead had the reverse effect, eliminating extended disputes. Shouts of “challenge!” from the stands became common whenever there was a close call.

Limited to two unsuccessful challenges per set, some players eagerly sought the best strategy for appealing a call—saving it for crucial points late in the set.

Other players seemed reluctant to challenge at all, including Federer, perhaps the game’s foremost sportsman as well as its best player. Only one of his six appeals were upheld and he appeared flustered several times when unsuccessful.

“I felt a little bit embarrassed,” he said of one rejected appeal. “I don’t like challenging.”

Federer was the most vocal critic, questioning the system’s reliability and the limit on challenges. The issue of whether coaches can signal players on whether to appeal has yet to be resolved. And with the video system in place, chair umpires seemed less inclined to overrule calls, instead waiting for players to challenge them.

“I don’t think they’re going to overrule anything now,” Lleyton Hewitt said. “I think they’ll take the safer option, and I don’t think that’s the way to go.”

But many players embraced the new system.

“It’s very exciting, especially when you feel like you’re right,” Martina Hingis said.

“It’s fantastic,” said Martina Navratilova, a runner-up in doubles at Key Biscayne. “Where was this 20 years ago?”

“I think it’s great,” Andy Roddick said. “The good thing about challenging calls is that now they have to be accountable for something, which used to drive me up the wall, because they could make a decision and not really care about it. At least they look stupid in front of 15 000 people now if they make the wrong call.

That’s more fun, right?”

Replay is expected to spread eventually to outside courts. While tournaments are unlikely to pay the $100 000 cost for a video scoreboard on each court, a $20 000 replay system with a TV monitor for every chair umpire might be affordable, at least for large events.

“I think it would be problematic for them—some of the girls’ outfits, anyway,” WTA Tour executive Angie Cunningham said with a smile. “They’re not comfortable with that at the moment.” - Sapa-AP

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