EXCLUSIVE: International Tennis Federation Sheds Light On Coronavirus Fight - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: International Tennis Federation Sheds Light On Coronavirus Fight

Ubitennis has been in contact with an official from the governing body about the threat the worldwide virus poses to the sport.

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The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has told Ubitennis that health and safety of both players and fans is ‘paramount’ as they continue to deal with the evolving threat posed by Covid-19 (aka Coronavirus).

 

Tennis tournaments have been disrupted worldwide by the illness, which has claimed the lives of more than 3000 people. Although experts estimate that the death rate from Covid-19 is roughly 1% with the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions most at risk. Numerous outbreaks around the world have resulted in various ITF, WTA and ATP events getting cancelled or postponed across South Korea, China and Japan. Meanwhile, the final of the Bergamo Challenger was also recently cancelled due to northern Italy being placed on a lockdown.

As experts try to conjure up with a solution to the outbreaks, sporting organisations have been placed under pressure to do what they can to minimise the disease spreading. Heather Bowler is the Executive Director of Communications for the ITF in London. In an email exchange with Ubitennis.net, she stressed that the ITF is taking a ‘case by case’ approach to dealing with the impact of Coronavirus on their events.

“The ITF is constantly monitoring the data and information from the relevant authorities about the evolution the virus and reviews the situation on a daily basis. The situation is different in each country.” She said.
“We monitor WHO notifications, review travel restrictions issued by national authorities and consult with security and medical experts to monitor the situation daily. Decisions about specific events continue to be made on a case by case based on at this time.”

The organisation is responsible for all tournaments that don’t fall in the jurisdiction of either the ATP or WTA. This includes Davis/Fed Cup ties, junior tournaments and the Olympic tennis competition. There has been doubts concerning the Tokyo Olympics going ahead on time, but organisers remain determined that this will not be the case.

Italy has one of the biggest outbreaks of Coronavirus. At least 79 people have died, according an update from the country’s civil protection agency on Tuesday. At present there will be at least 10 ITF singles tournaments taking place from now until the end of April there. Four men’s, four women’s and two juniors. All of the professional tournaments will be hosted in Santa Margherita Di Pula, Sardinia. Meanwhile the junior events are set to be played in Florence and Salsomaggiore Terme (Northern Italy).

Despite the threat, the latest stance is that the ITF has no restrictions implemented on those participating in forthcoming events in Italy. Something that could change in the coming weeks.

“We are monitoring the situation on a country by country basis but have not imposed restrictions on players participating in Italian events.” Ubitennis is told.

Italy is expected to host their most prestigious tennis tournament, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Rome, in May.

Player fears

The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 outbreak places player’s in an uncomfortable position with many planning months in advance of what their schedule will be. For those ranked outside of the top 100, any last-minute changes will likely result in extra costs and panic about where to play instead.

“If a player makes the decision to withdraw from a tournament citing concerns about COVID-19 they will not be fined.” Bowler stated.

There are ongoing conversations between the ITF and the other governing bodies of tennis concerning the ongoing crises. At present their advice is based on information provided by the World Health Organisation in relation to certain countries. Should it deteriorate any further, there is a chance the ITF could make adjustments to their ‘global policy.’

“We are in regular communication with the ATP and WTA. Currently, the evolution of the virus remains specific to each country and decisions relating to events are made on a case by case basis.” The ITF reiterated.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and the data provided by WHO, as well as the policies and travel restrictions issued by relevant national authorities, together with advice from expert medical and security advisors. Should the situation evolve and the need arise, we will review a global policy.”

How the ITF could review their global policy is unclear. Although in a worse case scenario, it could advise players against playing in certain countries all together if it was deemed that the threat posed was too substantial.

No fans allowed

This weekend will see countries battle it out in the Davis Cup for a place in the 18-team finals later this year. One of those ties, however will be played in mostly silence with no spectators. Japan will host Ecuador in the city of Miki. In a bid to minimise the Coronavirus threat, organisers have decided to suspend mass gatherings of people. Something that has been seen at other sporting events in the country, which is set to host the Olympics in August.

“Health and safety is paramount. We will make the necessary decisions according to the notifications of the relevant authorities and our expert medical and security advisors. The Japan vs Ecuador tie at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki, Japan on 6-7 March will be played without spectators. This decision was taken in consultation with the JTA (Japanese Tennis Association) following advice from Japan Sports Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.”

The problem with Covid-19 is the unpredictability at present. It is thought illness originated from a market in Wuhan, which illegally trades wild animals. As experts get to grip with the science behind the illness, the world of sport is left patiently waiting and hoping for a solution sooner rather than later. Especially for the world of tennis, which hosts numerous top tennis tournaments across Asia during the final quarter of the season.

Despite the mayhem, Bowler is confident that the ITF has the relevant resources to deal with whatever occurs in the future.

“We have dealt with many issues that have had widespread impact and most have their specificities. When dealing with such occurrences, we ensure that we monitor the data closely, remain in close contact with the relevant authorities, constantly monitor and provide information, and, in consultation with the relevant experts ensure we are in the best position possible to make the right decisions about our course of action.” She concluded.

Covid-19 Impact on Tournaments

ATP Challenger Tour
-Anning, China (Week of 20 April 2020) – CANCELLED
-Seoul, South Korea (Week of 27 April 2020 – postponed to August)
-Busan, South Korea (week of 4 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Gwangju, South Korea (Week of 11 May 2020 – postponed to August)
-Madrid, Spain (Week of 23 March 2020) postponed to October following ATP’s agreement to the club’s request.

Women’s Tour
-WTA Xi’an Open (April 13-19) CANCELLED
-WTA Kunming Open (April 27-May 3) CANCELLED

Davis Cup

-China withdrew from competition in February
-Japan to play Ecuador without spectators

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Alex Corretja: “I’ll tell you who can win the gold medal if Djokovic doesn’t go to the Olympics”

The two-time French Open finalist, now working for Eurosport, makes his predictions for the 2020 Olympics

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Former world N.2 Alex Corretja, the winner of the 1998 ATP Finals (then known as the ATP Tour World Championships) now works with Eurosport, and, while he won’t be in Tokyo, he will still cover the Olympic Games and provide match commentary in Spanish.

 

During a brief rendez-vous with Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta, Corretja made a prediction for the men’s singles event at the upcoming Olympic event, which at the moment is slated to feature billboard names such as Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini. Here’s their chat:

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EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Says No To Replacing Line Umpires With Hawk-Eye, But Others Say Yes

Electronic line calling has become a regular feature in the world of tennis and is set to expand over the coming years. However, such a development will have big implications on the sports tradition, as well as on those working in it.

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Court 10 in front of the Centre Court with the Hawk-Eye testing markers laid out on court as they set up ahead of The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Monday 14th June 2021. Credit: AELTC/Thomas Lovelock

Wimbledon has always taken pride in its ability to combine tradition with modern technology. Players are required to wear all white, those invited to sit in the Royal Box must dress smartly, and hundreds of people congregate on the ‘Henman Hill’ to watch the play unfold every year. These traditions have made the tournament unique in the sporting world. However, given the growing presence of technology, one of said traditions is under threat.

 

The use of computer vision systems such as Hawk-Eye has revolutionised the sport in recent years, with more tournaments than ever turning to the technology. Using automated player tracking cameras and intelligent production software, officials can establish whether a ball is in or out with the use of a computer. Its margin of error is claimed to be in the region of 2.2mm but one study argues that the difference could be up to 10mm.

“Hawk-Eye’s goal is to implement our software wherever it is desired or required to ensure that sports are made fairer, safer and better informed by whatever means we can. In tennis, we develop our technologies to meet the needs of the likes of the ATP and WTA for them to use to serve their objectives, if that means we’re at every event, it means that we’re one-step closer to our goal,” a Hawk-Eye spokesperson told UbiTennis.

Ironically the COVID-19 pandemic has been an advantage for those working on such technology. With organisers eager to limit the number of people on court due to the virus, many have gone down this avenue. One of the most notable is the US Open, which used the software on the majority of their courts last year and will use it to replace line umpires in 2021. Meanwhile, this year’s Australian Open was the first major to be played without lines judges.

However, such technology doesn’t come cheap. The exact price is unclear with Hawk-Eye telling UbiTennis they are ‘unable to provide such information at this time.’ One academic paper by Dr Yu-Po Wong from Stanford University estimates the cost of a ‘professional system’ to be in the region of $60-$70,000.

We are always evolving and developing our technologies to be as accessible as possible, and work with event organisers to support them in making it affordable for their events,” Hawk-Eye states.
“Our Electronic Line Calling System in tennis is a combination of robust software and hardware, and requires highly trained operators. As an example, we often generate revenue for events by opening up opportunities for sponsorship and fan engagement. Hawk-Eye is focused on making our technologies as efficient and streamlined as possible, while we continually work on pushing the boundaries of sports technology.”

The disappearance of lines judges

Line Judge pictured working at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships – Credit: AELTC/Ian Walton

One of the biggest concerns some have about this technology is the risk it poses to those working at tournaments. Should more tournaments rely on Hawk-Eye or similar, it is inevitable that the traditional use of lines officials will disappear. The New York Times previously reported that the 2020 US Open slashed their number of judges from roughly 350 to less than 100 following a decision to use Hawk-Eye Live on 15 out of its 17 courts.

“Over the past 18 months, we’re proud to have contributed towards the safe and successful delivery of events which otherwise may not have gone ahead during the pandemic. As a technology provider it is never the intention that our creations “replace” or make anyone redundant- as a technology provider that isn’t within our power,” they outline.

Richard Ings was a top chair umpire from 1986 to 1993 before going on to become the director of officiating for the ATP Tour for four years (2001-2005). Like many others in the industry, his pathway into becoming a Tour umpire was via the experience of calling lines from the side of the court.

“I started out calling lines. First at smaller events and then in the finals of major events. I then started chair umpiring. First at smaller events then larger events and gaining my international qualification gold badge equivalent at 19. I was then hired by the MIPTC ad a professional salaried unite at 20,” he tells UbiTennis about his career. “Lines (calling) has been a critical and necessary step in an official’s career path. That’s gone now. Working up the tables to major pro events as a line umpire is now gone. All those major event line jobs have been taken away.”

Ings believes that, as the technology gets cheaper over time, these roles will even start to go at lower-level tournaments at some stage, something he describes as ‘sad’ and an ‘end of an era.’ However, he believes there are positives too.

“The game will still need chair umpires. They won’t need the core skills of calling lines. So line calling experience is not required in this new world. It’s sad, sure, and good people will lose their link with the game as officials. But the quality of line calling will go up. Accuracy and consistency will go up. And that’s what officiating is all about,” he points out.

The future

Photo credit: AELTC/Bob Martin

So is it only a matter of time before every tournament will be switching to electronic line calling?

Wimbledon first tested Hawk-Eye back in 2004 before implementing it on their two premier courts three years later. Now it is currently used on Centre Court, as well as Courts 1, 2, 3, 12 and 18. Ten cameras are built around each of those courts: they capture 60 high-resolution images per second. At least five of those cameras cover every ball bounce. It is said that the Hawk-Eye Live team is made up of less than 30 people.

Whilst there is high praise, The All England Club tells UbiTennis they don’t intend to solely rely on the system just yet.

“Line umpires remain an important element of our officiating set-up at The Championships, and there are no plans to switch to electronic line-calling,” they said in a statement.

Wimbledon’s view is one which is also echoed by the WTA when it comes to the running of their tournaments, although they are monitoring the impact of electronic line calling on what they describe as the ‘tennis community.’

“The WTA supports the use of automated line calling in order to limit the number of personnel at tournaments that are operating during COVID-19, creating a safer landscape for players, staff and officials themselves to work in. The WTA will continue to support live electronic line calling where appropriate for the remainder of the 2021 season while monitoring its impact closely on the tennis community. Line officials are and continue to be an important and highly valued part of the WTA Tour,” the WTA outlined.

Hawk-Eye Live will be used throughout the upcoming US Open series. In May, the USTA, ATP and WTA confirmed the use of electronic line calling at the US Open, ATP Atlanta Open , ATP Citi Open, National Bank Open (ATP Toronto and WTA Montreal), ATP Western & Southern Open, WTA Cincinnati, ATP Winston-Salem Open and WTA Tennis in the Land.

As for the Lines Judges who will be affected, there appears to be no program in motion aimed at redeploying them to another area of the sport. Hawk-Eye says they have no comment on this matter because it is “not an element within our control.”

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