Serena, Hawkeye, and a Game of Millimeters

claudia celestial girlAnalyst IJuly 3, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 7:  Serena Williams argues a line call during her match against Jennifer Capriati during the US Open September 7, 2004 at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

You've come a long way, baby!

It may be a little known fact about tennis that Serena Williams invented the Hawk-eye system.  

Er...well, that is, it was a critical erroneous line call against Serena in the 2004 US Open (against Jennifer Capriati in the quarter-finals) that initiated an industry-wide consideration of a new autonomous, technical, line-calling assistance protocol that was based upon the physics of the flight of the ball, and a system of cameras installed all around the stadium.

Instant replay at the time on television showed the call to be wrong. The line call was so eggregeous that chair umpire Mariana Alves was later dismissed from the tournament.

Serena continued to play, without a huge display of histrionics, and lost in due time to Capriati.  This is her at the time, in the picture above, complaining about the call.  (Gee, she looks thinner and younger here!)

I was reminded of this while watching yesterday's instant classic match between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva at the semi-finals of Wimbledon.

Both players managed their ground strokes with fine levels of precision.

If I could include a second picture with this article it would be one of Serena striking one winner that landed in the corner of the doubles alley with about a millimeter of ball on the line, and the rest out of bounds.  

She knew exactly where she wanted that ball to go, and it was only one of the delicately placed winners in this match!

There was also a net-cord point, that landed in, that was initially called out. The ball landed in by about a centimeter (from my position on the couch watching the telly at home).

It is somewhat amazing to someone like me who has lived through a few decades worth of tennis that we are in an era when the modern game is free of the emotional baggage that comes with players feeling victimized by bad line-calling.

A player like Serena can concentrate on the tennis, on painting the lines—without the second-guessing: how would this match have unfolded if that point had been called the way I saw it!

And we fans can treasure the layered game of speed, power, and millimeters, such as what unfolded on Center Court yesterday.