Innovative Line-Calling System Takes Center Stage at Wimbledon
11 Jul, 2018By: Michael Popke
New Electronic Line-Calling System Leads to Both On-Court Player Outbursts and High Praise
Could tennis be one of the most tech-friendly sports? Considering its long and storied tradition (all-white attire used to be the strict rule), the sport hardly seems like it would be amenable to advances that dramatically alter how players experience the game.
But as gadgetsandwearables.com, which covers the world of fitness trackers, recently pointed out, “tennis was actually one of the first sports to embrace technology.” The long list of tennis tech includes data collecting sensors for rackets, video analysis systems, and tennis apps and online tools to help recreational players find opponents and book courts.
The technology generating the most attention these days, though, might be the Hawk-eye electronic line judge, which is in place at this year’s Wimbledon Championships (continuing through July 15).
According to RadioTimes.com, a British website covering TV, entertainment and film, “ a network of 10 cameras spread around the court … capture 60 high-resolution images per second. At least five cameras cover every ball bounce. A centralized computer system rapidly processes the images, triangulates the position of the ball and calculates a flight path (that’s the yellow streak you see behind the ball in the Hawk-eye graphics) with many mathematical calculations. Hawk-eye collects data for every shot taken in the match, not just the close calls. This is to make sure all 10 cameras are doing their job — as well as providing plenty of talking points for analysts and pundits.”
The system completely replaces line umpires but is only in place this year at Wimbledon on Centre Court plus five other courts. Hawk-eye was implemented at Wimbledon back in 2007, but it’s still is not 100 percent accurate.
“The Hawk-eye system has a 2.2 mm margin of error, with some research claiming the system can be as much as 10mm off,” reports RadioTimes.com “Why? The ball may move too quickly to be properly captured on camera, as all camera as have a finite frame-speed.”
“It’s clearly not working,” announced American John Isner, when two key calls went against him in a second-round Wimbledon match earlier this month against Belgian Ruben Bemelmans.
At 1-0 up on break point in the fourth set, Bemelmans hit a shot that flew seemingly long. The Belgian challenged the call and Hawk-eye claimed it dropped onto the line.
Holding his hands on his hips in disbelief, Isner questioned umpire Mohamed Lahyani, who agreed that the ball looked out, too, but admitted he couldn’t do anything.
“There’s nothing we can do, we have to go with this.”
Isner retorted: “Can you recheck the thing? That’s insane. You knew it was long. Of course it was long. If that hit the line, chalk would have flown everywhere. Can you rerun the thing? That’s insane. The ball is long.”
The pair went on to hold serve until a fourth-set tiebreak and a second incident prompted an angry response.
Again, a ball was called out for Bemelmans and Hawk-eye overturned the decision.
“I’ve never seen that before, that’s incredible. This is ridiculous,” he screamed. “This is ridiculous! Why do I have to accept that?”
Watch a video of the exchange here.
Isner later went on to win in five sets, and even praised the technology later, saying “Hawk-eye is awesome for our sport.”
No wonder tennis industry insiders say Wimbledon is one of the most technologically aggressive sporting events in the world. In addition to deferring to Hawk-eye, the Wimbledon Championships are allowing a team from NextVR — the world’s largest virtual reality broadcast platform — to film the tennis action in ultra-high resolution stereoscopic 3D for the first time ever,” according to SI.com.
Matches are streamed over free Wi-Fi to fans waiting in line to get onto the grounds, and spectators can point their phones at stadium plaques to trigger augmented-reality experiences.
“Our grander ambition is to make sure we are keeping Wimbledon relevant through the use of technology,” said Alexandra Willis, the event’s digital director. “In the last few years, we’ve been trying to generate the confidence that it’s better to try these things and accept some won’t work out perfectly — at least you tried.”