The use of Hawk Eye in tennis has been very useful in determining the accuracy of a line call. But there has been some debate on whether players are misusing the technology. The phrase in the ITF rulebook, ‘a timely manner’1 has come under scrutiny due to a number of players taking a long time pondering whether to question the line call. The chair umpire can refuse the Electronic Review if the request has not been ‘made in a timely manner’1 but the time limit seems to change depending on the umpire.
‘A request for an Electronic Review of a line call or overrule shall be allowed only on either a point ending shot or when a player stops playing the point during the rally.’1 Some players are very decisive when asking for Hawk Eye, for instance Roger Federer throws his racket up with an abrupt “CHALLENGE” gruffly spoken to the umpire. Some spectators feel that the usually suave Federer is being unnecessarily rude, but it is well known that Federer is wary of the challenge system and uses it sparingly. In the 2007 Wimbledon Championships final, Nadal correctly challenged a call, Federer became so agitated by this that he requested, unsuccessfully, that Hawk Eye should be turned off for the remainder of the match.
However there are other players who do not stop play during the rally; they tend to wait till the point is finished usually because of their own error due to their uncertainty, and then they expect to be able to challenge the call. Thankfully there is more certainty with this rule as this is very rarely allowed to occur. But it is still annoying and aggravating for spectators who have to watch players stall and waste time.
Whereas some players are decisive there are others that are the direct opposite. Some players go to check if their ball was out by walking up to the net to get a better view of where their ball bounced. Then they decide if they want to make an official challenge. But all of this has taken a number of precious seconds, wasting time. You are only allowed 20 seconds between points. Players then try to challenge the call. However this is when the phrase ‘a timely manner’1 is due to interpretation. Some chair umpires still allow the player to challenge the call but there are others who do not. There should be a more definite rule that states whether a player can go and look at where the ball bounced before they can challenge. However I think that some players will take advantage of this and take too long to challenge and consequently players will persistently slow the game down.
Some players are so indecisive that they cannot even make the decision to challenge themselves. They have to look at their box and their coaches who then tell them to challenge or not. ‘Coaching is considered to be communication, advice, or instruction of any kind.’1 This is surely classed as coaching. In a first round match in Dubai this week Julia Goerges was about to challenge a shot of hers that was called out. She lifted her arm indicating that she wanted to challenge but after looking at her coach who told her not to challenge her arm hastily retreated. Players should not be able to consult with their coaches to see if a line call should be challenged just as they are not allowed to be coached during a match.
Sometimes it is the umpires who get it wrong. At the 2012 Australian Open John Isner and David Nalbandian were locked in an epic battle. At 8-8 in the fifth set Isner was serving 30-40 down when his serve was called long. The umpire Kader Nouni overcalled the call and so the serve was in. Nalbandian appeared confused by this and walked over to the chair to ask what was happening due to the noisy crowed. Then when the Argentine understood Nouni he immediately raised a finger and challenged the call. However at a crucial point in the match Nouni did not allow him to challenge saying it was not in ‘a timely manner’1. This confusing phrase ruined a brilliant match as the controversy was the media’s focus point rather than the brilliant shot making.
The serve was a fault. The umpire got it wrong.
Clearly the phrase ‘a timely manner’1 needs to be defined more clearly as players take advantage of this lack of clarification by walking up to the net to inspect the call and then plead to their coach for a decision. The chair umpires would also benefit as it would save them having to make their own decision which will always be disputed. If the rule was made clearer it would save a lot of time and arguments during the match.
1 ITF Rulebook