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

ATP

EXCLUSIVE: Ex-No.1 Ana Ivanovic Backs Jannik Sinner To Wins More Slams

The former tennis star shares her thoughts about Italy’s new sporting sensation with Ubitennis.

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Image via https://twitter.com/anaivanovic/

Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open was ‘incredible’ in the eyes of fellow Grand Slam winner Ana Ivanovic. 

At Melbourne Park Sinner became the first Italian player to win the tournament after staging an epic fightback against Daniil Medvedev in the final where he clawed his way back from two sets down to win. Something that has only been achieved in a title match at the Australian Open once before by Rafael Nadal. Earlier in the tournament, he also scored wins over fifth seed Andrey Rublev before ending Novak Djokovic’s 33-match winning streak in the semi-finals. 

The triumph of the 22-year-old has been hailed by Ivanovic who was two years younger than Sinner when she won the 2008 French Open. Ivanovic was one of the stars of women’s tennis during her playing days, winning 15 Tour-level titles and spending 12 weeks as world No.1. She was also runner-up at the 2007 French Open and 2008 Australian Open. 

It was incredible,” Ivanovic tells Ubitennis of Sinner’s latest achievement. “The way he played the whole tournament. He really showed mental strength and endurance. The way he strikes the ball with such a sweet spot was great to watch.”

One of those guiding Sinner on the Tour is experienced coach Darren Cahill who has also coached Ivanovic as part of the Adidas Player Development Program. Cahill has worked with some of the biggest names of the sport with his past clients also including Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep. 

While the Australian is known by many in the sport, what is it like to work alongside him?

I always enjoyed working with Darren because he is so knowledgeable about tennis,” Ivanovic explained. 
“He was always giving me the best advice in the moments when you are the most under pressure. He always found words to calm me down and to point me in the right direction. 
“I was very happy when I saw him in Jannik’s box.”

Besides Cahill, Sinner’s team also includes co-coach Simone Vagnozzi, physio Giacomo Naldi and fitness trainer Umberto Ferrara.

Fame and the future 

Sinner was already a popular figure in his native Italy with thousands cheering on his run to the final of the ATP Finals in Turin last November. Shortly afterwards, he led his country to the Davis Cup title which was celebrated by a visit to the Quirinale Palace (residence of the Italian president) where he and his team mates were greeted by President Sergio Mattarella. 

However, his popularity has surged following his Australian Open win with his Instagram following reportedly increasing by around 800,000 to a total of 2.4M. To put that into context, the only active ATP players to have a larger following than him are Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Nick Kyrgios. 

He has held a one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy, received congratulations from the Pope and visited the historic Rome Colosseum alongside two government ministers (Gennaro Sangiuliano and Daniela Santanché). 

It is fair to say that the tennis star’s profile is exploding which itself could pose a new challenge. Fortunately, Ivanovic has some advice for Sinner to follow in the coming months.  

“Now it is a different time with much more assent on social media vs in 2008 (when Ivanovic won the French Open),” she said. 
“I think the most important is to follow his path and his training, but I am sure he is doing that. He has a good team and support system behind him, so he can focus on his goals and rhythm.”

Should he stay on his path, the question remains how good could he become in the future? He is only the fifth Italian player to win a major singles title and the first man to do so since 1976. He also has 10 other ATP titles to his name and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year. 

“He has a really good overall game style. He is mentally and physically super strong,” Ivanovic commented.
“If he just keeps doing what he is doing there are many more Grand Slam titles for him. I really enjoy watching him. He seems like a very nice person, which is very beautiful to see.”

Ivanovic, who married former football player Bastian Schweinsteiger and has three children, attended the Linz Open in Austria last week as a guest of honor. She recently announced a partnership with haircare company Schwarzkopf and has served as a National Ambassador for UNICEF Serbia since 2007. 

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EXCLUSIVE: The ATP, Tennis Data And It’s Growing Demand

Ubitennis speaks to the Head of Product at TDI. An independent joint venture between ATP and ATP Media that was formed in 2020 to manage and commercialise data across a variety of global markets

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By Federico Bertelli

Another Grand Slam is over. As customary, the days following the event is a good time to catch our breath. 

Ubitennis brings to our readers an interview with Anthony Taylor, Head of Product at Tennis Data Innovation (TDI). TDI is a branch of the ATP Tour. In our exclusive Q&A we discuss what Tennis Data Innovation is and why it is becoming a key component for every player. 

UBITENNIS: First of all, thank you for your time, Anthony. Let’s start with a brief overview about TDI and your role there. 

AT: It’s a pleasure to discuss TDI’s role in the tennis world with Ubitennis. I am the head of product at TDI, a role that encompasses promotion and development of initiatives by TDI. TDI, a joint venture between the ATP Tour and ATP Media created in 2020, is responsible for collecting, managing & commercialising data & streaming across all ATP events from Challengers to Masters 1000s.  As for data, we collect it from various sources, including chair umpire data and optical tracking (like Hawk-Eye data). We aggregate all available ATP-level data points and derive informative products for the market from them, operating in the realms of betting, media, and player performance.

UBITENNIS: You’ve given us a great overview of your operations. Speaking of data analysis, just to be clear: Can we say TDI is now the sole official entry point for ATP level data point registration? 

AT: Yes, TDI is the single source of truth for ATP event data. We collect data point by point from the chair umpire, what we call “level 1” data. But we don’t stop there. We collect deeper data to create advanced, easily understandable metrics that can enhance fan engagement and be used for player analysis. This approach is already established in other sports, like the NBA or Premier League football. We use various data sources beyond chair umpire data, including optical detections like Hawkeye and other providers. These provide spatial tracking of ball movement, player positioning, and shot physics (speed, spin, net height, etc.). With this comprehensive data, we fuel a range of metrics like winners, unforced errors, shot distribution (forehand/backhand, rally length, net points won), and even game pattern analysis (offensive and defensive shots, counterattack exchanges). 

We also focus on synthesizing these metrics into significant, easily interpreted numbers that reflect shot quality. We’re showcasing infographics on our X and Instagram accounts that do just this: offering comparative indices and ratings for shots on a scale of 0 to 10. The aim? To quantify how well a player is performing in a match compared to themselves, their opponent, and the tour average. 

Another interesting metric is on-court attitude: is a player predominantly offensive or defensive? Here too, we offer a condensed representation based on speed, spin, and shot depth. And we assess how well a player exploits offensive situations or manages defense. These insights are distributed through ATP media, enabling ATP TV commentators to provide advanced insights during broadcasts. We also make these metrics available to players via ATP TennisIQ, our player performance portal. 

UBITENNIS: You mentioned an analytics platform available to players, Tennis IQ. I’m curious to know more about what it offers to players and how they’re using it. 

AT: We have staff at tournaments providing support and guidance on using the platform, and the feedback has been positive. For instance, data expert Mike James, who works with Holger Rune, has utilized it. The idea is to democratize data analysis access, which often involves high costs. Now, players can download raw Hawkeye data for their data analysis teams or directly use the metrics and insights we provide on Tennis IQ. This opens access to certain types of information for everyone. There are service providers who continue to offer more refined analyses, but in any case, we’ve freed access to ATP data for player performance purposes. Our next step is to link game footage tags to shots, allowing coaches to recall video of each shot type.

UBITENNIS: Speaking of data’s role in engaging the public, what do you think is in store for the media? Do you have a strategy to standardize the use of new metrics, like expected goals in football? 

AT: Certainly, this is something we’re very aware of. Looking at American professional sports (like the NBA, NFL, MLB) and European football, statistics flow through media and betting spaces and are easily consumed by the public. It’s part of the storytelling. You can’t flood people with statistics, but a few targeted metrics can lay the foundation for a narrative that highlights new aspects or objectively explains trends. After all, our name signifies our ambition; we’re TENNIS Data Innovation, not just ATP Innovation. 

We want to help elevate the use of data & analytics across the sport. ATP Media commentators can also request on-demand statistics on dimensions they deem relevant; for example, analyzing Djokovic’s return performance across sets. We think it’s important to make these tools available to other broadcasters to elevate the entire experience. From an editorial perspective, it’s useful to provide these insights for constructing stories across the media ecosystem. Here too, we’re thinking not just about making tools available, but also about their ease of use and flexibility, possibly allowing for ad-hoc information requests through parametric query interfaces. The idea is to enable journalists to validate their story about a particular match and add depth to the narrative by highlighting and quantifying game patterns that are difficult to discern and quantify by eye. For example, we’ve presented analyses on social media about Sinner’s serve improvement in the second half of 2023 through succinct infographics.

Immagine

Source: X account ATP_insights

The goal is to move beyond elementary statistics like break points and first serves. We want to show the real reasons why a player performs a certain way or why a match has gone in a particular direction.

UBITENNIS: The objectives are clear, but what would you say is the strategy for implementing this ambitious plan? 

AT: At TDI, as you mentioned, we have social media accounts where we develop our analyses, which serve as laboratories to experiment with new ideas and gauge reactions to new metrics we propose. This testing ground helps us introduce these new ideas to ATP media, incorporating these nuances and perspectives into the content of ATP and ATP TV accounts. These aren’t for everyone; the idea is that we reach the public through commentaries, regardless of the platform (pay TV, free-to-air TV, OTT, etc.). The goal is to work closely with ATP media, where we have a significant fan base. It’s an organic strategy that touches on all points of contact, aiming to incorporate our insights into the narrative.

UBITENNIS: Moving to the betting space, what developments do you foresee and what metrics might bettors be looking at in the coming years? What could be the killer analytic in tennis? 

AT: We work closely with our partner in this space, Sportradar, to surface additional statistics for betting clients. We’re developing new products to provide more in-depth insights. In my opinion, performance rating, which synthesizes overall player performance into a single number, could stand out. For instance, in the Turin final between Sinner and Djokovic, Djokovic played an outstanding match: according to our performance rating, which ranges from 0 to 10, he recorded the highest value ever in an ATP match since we began our measurements. 

This validates the quality of the match and demonstrates that Djokovic’s victory was more due to his own merits than his opponent’s underperformance. Another example: Rune versus Djokovic in Turin. Rune played a high-level first set, and Djokovic was slightly below his level. However, when Djokovic raised the bar, Rune’s level began to drop, indicating his level was dropping. Finally, “momentum” could be another valuable metric for betting, as it provides immediate trend indicators for live betting.

UBITENNIS: Lastly, I’ve noticed that for some tournaments, ATP live scores provide richer statistics than others, particularly for ATP 250 and 500 clay tournaments where Hawkeye might not always be implemented. Can you confirm this? 

AT: We work closely with ATP tournaments. Historically, ATP data was presented by Infosys, and where Hawkeye was present, the statistics are complete. Any event where Hawkeye wasn’t present, Infosys were unable to present full statistics. However, I can say that we are now collecting richer data across all ATP tournaments.  In 2024, we aim to achieve uniformity in data collection and analysis for all ATP events.

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EXCLUSIVE: Ukrainian Tennis Chief On Historic Australian Open Run, Russian Flag Incident And Exhibition Controversy

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Marta Kostyuk - Roland Garros 2023 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

The performances by a group of Ukrainian players at this year’s Australian Open have been hailed as a ‘fantastic example’ for future generations but a senior tennis official from the country. 

The executive director of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF), Evgeniy Zukin, has praised the historic breakthrough at Melbourne Park where three female players from his country have reached the fourth round of the same major for the first time in history. Marta Kostyuk, Elina Svitolina and Dayana Yastremska have all made it through to the last 16 of the tournament. Lesia Tsurenko also made it through to the third round before losing 6-0, 6-0, to Aryna Sabalenka. 

“We are incredibly happy and proud as this is an example of the fighting spirit and a fantastic example for future generations of Ukrainian players,” Zukin told Ubitennis.

The triumphs come during what is a difficult period in Ukraine’s history due to their ongoing war with Russia which has resulted in the deaths of at least 10,191 civilians, according to figures provided by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). As the Russian invasion approaches its second anniversary next month, Kostyuk and her peers continue to use their platform to ensure that the world is not forgetting what is happening in their homeland. 

“If there was never a war in my life, I don’t think I would be able to grow this much as I grew in the last two years.” the world No.35 said after beating Maria Timofeeva on Sunday.

“I think it’s about the perspective, how you take it, because there are different things that are happening. But I think if you take them as a burden or, like, ‘Oh, why is it happening to me and it’s not happening to other people,’ or if you victimise yourself, which I think is normal. I think every person goes through this kind of feeling from time to time… I think the more you can minimise this feeling of being a victim, I think the easier it is to get through life.”

It isn’t just Kostyuk who has spoken out. Svitolina serves as an ambassador for the United24 campaign that aims to continue to bring awareness—and donations—to Ukraine’s ongoing war. Meanwhile, Yastremska spoke about the conflict during her on-court interview after beating Marketa Vondrousova. She revealed that earlier this year a rocket hit her grandmother’s house but she wasn’t hurt in the incident. They all also continue the practice of not shaking hands with Russian or Belarussian players following their match as a sign of respect to their army. 

Like his players, Zukin hopes the conversation around tennis and the war will continue to happen in the coming weeks. 

“Our girls try hard not only to win their matches but to send the World a message regarding the continuous war in Ukraine,” he said. “The UTF appreciates these efforts by the professional players a lot.”

The US Open flag argument

After her latest win, Kostyuk hit out at the US Open after its social media account published a post featuring her and the Russian flag of her opponent. Under current rules set out by the governing bodies, Russian and Belarussian payers are allowed to compete on the Tour but only under a neutral status. The tennis star accused the US Open of promoting ‘a murderous country and a country that uses its athletes as part of its propaganda.’ In a lengthy statement, she urged her sport to stop ‘promoting Russian peace.’ 

The United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, has not publically commented on the incident but the post has since been removed. Furthermore, in other posts featuring Russian and Belarusian players, they have not used their flags. Suggesting that human error could have been a reason behind the presence of the Russian flag. 

“I believe it is a human factor or the social media manager wanted to show that Ukraine beat Russia in particular,” Zukin commented.

“All Grand Slams, pro tours and the ITF continue no flag policy and no official teams policy.” He added.

Criticism should be towards those who play in Russia

Embed from Getty Images

Zukin is less understanding when it comes to a controversial event that was held last month during the off-season. In St Petersburg, the Northern Palmyra Trophies exhibition was held which features two teams facing each other. The event was sponsored by Gazprom which is an energy giant that is majority-owned by the Russian government. 

Among the participants was a group of non-Russian players which included Adrian Mannarino who has since defended his decision to play in the event. Other players included Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Serbia’s Laslo Djere. Whilst Tour events are suspended in Russia, players are allowed to play exhibition events there if they wish to as they are independent contractors. 

“I’m a professional tennis player. I’m not into politics or anything. I just went there. I did my job. That’s what I did.” Mannarino recently stated. 

“I’m not supporting anything. That was a private event. That was not anything about political support. There’s nothing to talk about.”

However, Zukin believes players such as Mannarino have ‘something wrong with their ethics and morals‘ for choosing to play there. 

“When pro players are coming to play an exhibition event in a country which started an absolutely unnecessary war that lightened up into the biggest war in Europe since WWII, there is something wrong with their ethics and morals,” he said.

“This country (Russia) is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people* and wiped out cities from the face of the Earth. And these guys are running after the big buck. They are putting a big stain on their reputation and show disrespect to all that has been affected by this terrible war.”

*NOTE: The exact death toll for the ongoing war is unclear. Besides the UN records of civilian casualties, reports claim that over 40,000 Russian soldiers and almost 9000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed. Although these numbers have not been officially verified.  

Ukraine’s journey at the Australian Open continues on Monday with Svitolina taking on Linda Noskova and Yastremska playing two-time champion Victoria Azarenka. 

Meanwhile, Kostyuk has already booked her place in the quarter-finals and will play fourth seed Coco Gauff.

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