It’s been more than 35 years since Ronald Reagan stated, during his first inaugural address, “Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” We discovered heroes in every state, starting with the determined 69-year-old who won a match at an ITF Pro Circuit event earlier this year in the Alabama town of Pelham, and culminating with the coach who has overcome multiple sclerosis to build a winning program at the University of Wyoming. Their compelling stories of courage, perseverance and achievement demonstrate that the message delivered by our 40th President rings as true today as it did then.
Imagine a world where cheating no longer existed. There would be no more wasted time, dramatic fights, bouts of tears or ruined friendships. That utopia is something that PlaySight, a sports tech company based out of Tenafly, NJ, is trying to achieve with its cutting-edge technology.
Equipped with the ability to call lines, PlaySight has naturally ventured into the ethical realm of boosting fair play by allowing players to challenge calls at PlayFair tournaments.
Just as professionals use Hawk-Eye for challenges, now anyone can ask to see a replay of a shot during a match on a PlaySight-equipped court. With cameras placed around the court, the PlaySight system detects the ball’s pace, depth and spin, allowing it to determine where the shot landed. From that information, a call can be confirmed or the point can be replayed.
“PlayFair is just a good way for people to not have to worry about cheating,” says Jeff Angus, the marketing manager for PlaySight, “and not have to worry about calling lines because there’s a visual backup for it.”
The technology can make playing the game easier and more fun for everyone. PlaySight has tested out the PlayFair system at two non-sanctioned tournaments, with the hopes of bringing the system to sanctioned USTA events and college matches in the future.
The first-ever PlayFair junior tournament took place last October at the Scarborough East Tennis Club in Columbus, Ohio. Jacqueline Boggs, a tournament director at the club, raved about letting players resolve their line-calling issues using the technology.
“It’s something they can use to get themselves out of situations,” Boggs said. “And they didn’t abuse it. They watched the video together, they realized what was right and wrong, and went back to play.”
Boggs gave the junior players three challenges each. She said that none of the players used all of their challenges, but having the option gave the competitors some piece of mind more than anything else.
When a player did call for a challenge, both would meet at the PlaySight kiosk in the middle of the court, watch the replay of the point, see where the ball landed and then return to playing. The time it took to resolve a challenge was less than most arguments over line calls, said Boggs. Angus, who helped run the PlayFair events, said that the average challenge took less than 30 seconds.
Cheating in junior tennis is a deadly plague. If it gets bad enough, cheating can prevent players from wanting to keep playing the game. And on some occasions, furious parents have felt the need to step in, causing a scene.
“Cheating is turning kids away from tennis, and maybe they’re going into other sports,” Angus said. “…It is something in tennis that all angles want to curb. It’s not even just cheating, especially at the junior level. People aren’t as good at calling lines as they think, whether they’re cheating or they’re just wrong.”
Oftentimes, according to Boggs, the cheating is unintentional, with young players just making mistakes or not watching the lines closely enough.
“We expect these kids to be developmentally able to call their own balls, and that’s ridiculous,” Boggs, a mother of two junior players, said. “There is no way the kids can watch their own balls and be emotionally fair. It’s just too much for these kids. In some cases they physically aren’t able.
“It would be so easy to be able to use this technology to aid our children in a real positive way, and at the same time take a negative experience away from both parents and children.”
It could be some time before you see challenges become a part of mainstream tennis tournaments around the nation. According to Angus, the next step is moving into the college scene. A number of colleges—including Virginia, Baylor, Stanford, Duke, Oklahoma State and the University of Southern California—are already equipped with PlaySight SmartCourts, and USC recently used the PlayFair Challenge System.
“Watching a few dual matches live last year, there was so much cheating,” Angus says. “It blew my mind how much cheating there was, even with chair umpires there.”
As PlaySight grows bigger, it’s only a matter of time before PlayFair becomes standardized, and cheating becomes obliterated. The company’s new software release actually has the challenge system built into it, so anyone on a SmartCourt can challenge calls just like the pros do.
“It takes time to educate the market and to bring a change like this to the sport,” Angus says. “It’s having kids get more experience with it, and seeing that by challenging you’re not necessarily calling your opponent a liar. You’re just wanting to have a more level playing field.”