In a setting where the unfamiliar is welcomed, evolution is prominent, and different is expected, Milan is the perfect city for change.
The participants compete for the title as in any other tournament, but something is noticeably different at this week's ATP Next Gen Finals. And it’s not just the unusual visuals such as no linesman, players wearing headsets on changeovers, and omitted doubles alleys. Hawk-Eye gets a twist, too: every on-court call—not just challenges—can be scrutinized. In addition, Hawk-Eye Live, as it’s called, eliminates all human judgment by having just the chair umpire monitoring the action.
Hawk-Eye is an electronic line-calling system that aims to remove any doubt surrounding tight line calls and decisions. The system uses highly distinguished millimeter cameras that track ball movement and placement around the court. In addition, the system uses “Smart Replay,” a technology that delivers instant video replays of where balls land. All in all, Hawk-Eye aims to relieve pressure from linesmen while reassuring players with its accuracy.
The “Live” aspect essentially takes the core elements from Hawk-Eye but adds more, such as mounted cameras behind the court, and looking across the baseline to catch foot faults. And, of course, those additional calls will be replayed on big screens to the crowd for additional entertainment activation.
The live line-calling system appears to be a hit with ATP players. Daniil Medvedev, who competed in the inaugural Next Gen Finals in 2017, expressed his excitement about the innovation.
"It was very fast, it doesn’t make mistakes. I really liked it,” he said. “In every other sport there are innovations, and this thing without line judges makes it more fair, I would say.”
Tennis tantrums could be wearing thin as we move into a new decade, especially if Hawk-Eye Live expands. Just imagine: no more threats of shoving a ball down a line judge’s throat, head shakes about a foot fault, or minutes of screaming at a chair umpire after a perceived wrongdoing. In tennis, change moves slowly, but Hawk-Eye Live is establishing itself, and events like the Next Gen Finals are allowing fans and players to see what the sport's future could potentially look like.
The Milan event captured the most innovative tournament at the 2018 Yahoo Sports Technology Awards, and will look to improve the future of the sport even more in its third edition.
“As far as the players, they no longer have to worry about bad calls; they can just play the game,” Gayle David Bradshaw, the ATP’s executive Vice President, Rules & Regulations told the New York Times. “And if we have a system out there that’s better, don’t we owe it to our athletes to have access to it?"
It's true, innovative technology can break the foundation of tradition. But it can also unveil a better tomorrow for players, fans and, most importantly, the sport.