Hawkeye and Shot Spot Technology on All Surfaces: The Red Clay Controversy

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Hawkeye and Shot Spot Technology on All Surfaces: The Red Clay Controversy
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The 2011 French Open has completed, which means the clay season for tennis is now over. But many issues resulted throughout the tournament that deserve closer glances.

Whether it be the new, fast-moving Babolat balls differing from those used all season or the lack of available light for a match to finish at night, there seem to be easy and simple solutions to these problems.  

There have been many disputes over the past few months during the clay season. The most frequent and ongoing debate regarding matches on clay is that of introducing and using Hawkeye and Shot Spot technology instead of relying on the human eye to check the marks that the balls leave on La Terre Battue.  

In a constantly developing world of technology, tournament officials for red clay events still feel the need to stick to what was done in the past. Keep in mind that the tournaments on hard and grass courts are continually evolving to improve match quality and fix problems.  

In 2009, Wimbledon introduced a brand new, retractable roof for the stadium court. This would prevent any rain from affecting gameplay for more than 15 minutes and allow for lighting to be used that was not the sun itself.  

Previously this year, in March, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells set a historical record for being the first tournament ever to showcase Hawkeye cameras on more than three courts. Ten cameras were put on each of the eight courts, and a total of 80 cameras were used for the tournament. Every single court had the challenge system in effect.

Some of the major television networks that broadcast the clay events on the men's and women's tours offer Shot Spot for the viewers to see where a tennis ball actually lands. So the technology is already available and set up for the main courts in tour events, yet the chair umpires and tournament directors still find it unnecessary to use it for the players.

Checking the ball mark would make much more sense if it was a more accurate and trustworthy process.

Even in this past French Open women's final, Li Na hit what appeared to be an out ball, which would have given Francesca Schiavone a set point for an opportunity to take the second set and swing the momentum of the match her way.

Unfortunately, the chair umpire walked over to the far sideline and pointed to a mark that did not quite match up with what Schiavone claimed to see herself. The umpire called the ball in and gave the point to Li, who went on to win the next eight points in a row against the distraught and frustrated Italian to claim her first Grand Slam title.

The ultimate outcome of a match, even in a Grand Slam final, can be decided entirely on a bad call or incorrect sighting of a mark on the clay surface. Roger Federer also dealt with many problems himself, complaining several times throughout the tournament that the ball marks that the umpires were pointing to were the wrong ones.

Another important issue that exists only on the red clay is the replaying of points after a ball is called in or out.

On a hard or grass court, a player must challenge immediately if he or she thinks their opponent's shot is out and it is not called by the lines people. If the ball is actually out and the player did not make an attempt to play the next ball, the point goes to that player.

On a clay court, if a player's opponent hits the ball out, and then the player hits that next ball out but decides to call over the chair umpire to check the first mark, the umpire has the power to restart and replay that point. This is an unfair situation since the point was already lost by the opponent during the rally.

The tennis world keeps adding new features to its venues to keep up with changing times. We shouldn't have to stick to tradition for this long, especially when the other events have moved on and progressed.  

Although creating more space for Roland Garros, or even relocating it to a larger setting, is an important issue, a simpler problem that can be fixed includes the usage of cameras and technology to track the tennis ball's movement without the human eye's unreliability playing a role.  

Don't worry, umpire—feel free to sit down the entire match.

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