Hundreds of Line Judges Will Lose Their Jobs If Tennis Employs Hawk-Eye Technology Moving Forward

Hawk-Eye Technology uses high-resolution cameras to track the trajectory of a tennis ball. After capturing the ball’s movement, the system sends it to a machine that produces a 3D video representation of the ball’s path. The technology makes it easier to identify foot faults and line calls. Given Hawk-Eye’s recent success, many tennis pundits believe the technology might replace line judges. This would change a lot in the sports world.

The U.S. Open was among the first to adopt the technology

In 2006, the U.S. Open was the first to introduce Hawk-Eye Technology. In 2020, due to COVID-19, all calls in various courts have been made by the electronic line system. The U.S. Open decided to reduce the number of people participating in the competition. Adopting the augmented technology enables a reduction of line judges from 300 to less than 100. 

However, Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium will still use line judges in 2020. The chair umpire’s work is to call various scores immediately after the Hawk-Eye Technology has made the line call. Other sports leagues to adopt the technology include the Western and Southern Open, English Premier League, and Wimbledon.

Is Hawk-Eye Technology error-free?

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The technology is not immune to error, but the error margin is quite insignificant. It makes an error of fewer than five millimeters, especially when the ball is moving at a very high speed. During the first week of the U.S. Open tournament, the system made an average of 225,000 calls. However, 14 calls had errors, as reported by the New York Times.

In some instances, during the tournament, the official reviewing the foot faults did not trigger the system’s errors. Also, the operator situated in the control room did not select the correct service box. However, the errors are minimal to discredit the whole system.

Players react to bad calls

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The competition era is often heated after a call is made, whether good or bad. Most players accuse and stir an argument with the umpires after a call is made. For instance, in The U.S. Open held in 2009, a line judge made a foot-fault call on Serena Williams. Serena Williams responded angrily and even threatened to shove a ball on the line umpire’s throat.

Recently, Novak Djokovic hit a line-umpire with a ball on the throat. During the Grand Slam, the Hawk-Eye Live was absent in the show courts. Novak argued if the technology was present, the hit on the line-umpire could have been avoided.

Players and coaches who support Hawk-Eye Technology

Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Dominic Thiem are among the frontline players to support the use of Hawk-eye Technology in the French Open Tournament. Djokovic is also putting up a campaign to remove line judges and replace them with digital line technology.

Darren Cahill, a tennis coach from Australia, is against using the technology on Clay court and claims that the system is functional and efficient. In the clay-court, the balls leave significant marks that allow line calls making even without a video. The ball does not leave definitive marks; thus, Hawk-Eye Technology is necessary for correct calls.

Replacing the line judges

Line judge at Wimbledon
A line judge at Wimbledon | Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images

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In their line of duty, line judges and chief umpires are often at loggerheads with the players. Arguments erupt during the playing session, with players detesting the line judges and chief umpires’ decisions and calls. The working environment for the line judges and chief umpires is quite challenging and adventurous. All the stakeholders in a match travel together to the venue of the match.

Replacing line judges means that their livelihood will be affected negatively. Some line judges rely on that job to make ends meet, and being fired will have a disastrous effect on their lives and family. For a chief umpire to be appointed, they must have worked as a line judge. Removing the line judges means even the position of the chief umpire will be jeopardized.