Fans at the NASDAQ-100 loved the new Hawk-Eye instant-replay system, which put
both players and linesmen to the test
Roger Federer and
Svetlana Kuznetsova took the his and hers singles titles at the NASDAQ-100 Open
last weekend in Key Biscayne, Fla. Kuznetsova won her biggest title since the
2004 U.S. Open by trouncing her Russian rival Maria Sharapova in the final.
Federer, meanwhile, played his ritually transcendent tennis to take his fourth
title of the year, defeating Ivan Ljubicic on Sunday and pushing his 2006
record to 28-1.
biggest winner, however, may have been a 31-year-old Brit who walked the
grounds unnoticed. A former competitive rower with a Ph.D. in artificial
intelligence, Paul Hawkins has spent much of the past five years developing an
electronic instant-replay mechanism that can determine, within millimeters,
whether balls alight outside, inside or on the lines. Making its debut at a
sanctioned pro event, the system, named Hawk-Eye, was an unqualified success in
unsuccessful challenges per set (three in the event of a tiebreaker) and
unlimited successful ones, players could appeal to technology if they took
issue with a line call. Justice was swift and decisive. Nestled in a courtside
booth with 10 computers--one for each camera--Hawkins would push a button and
within seconds the replay, which showed a black spot where the ball had fallen,
would be broadcast on his monitor and, simultaneously, on two video boards in
the main stadium. Fans cheered or booed. Officials were spared the players'
wrath. Faced with irrefutable evidence, the players retreated to the baseline
and began the next point. "It's great," says Andy Roddick, speaking for
the vast majority of the players. "It adds another element to the tennis.
The fans were going nuts."
If the technology
is essentially flawless, there are still glitches in its application. There's
something suspect about using replay only on the show courts, where the best
players perform. After questionable calls, players often looked to their
entourages for an indication of whether to use a challenge--a ploy that
violates rules against mid-match coaching. More important, if technology exists
to ensure 100% accuracy in line calls without breaking the rhythm of a match,
why not do away with the reality-show component of challenges and simply defer
to replay on each point?
There is also
concern that replay might bleach color from the sport, as McEnroesque tirades
will become obsolete and players will be disinclined to, well, rage against the
machine. Then again, perhaps the officials never deserved the fury in the first
place. At the NASDAQ-100, officials were correct on about two thirds of the
challenged calls. "Maybe we'll be humbled a little bit," says James
Blake, who continued his stellar 2006 run by advancing to the NASDAQ
quarterfinals before falling to Federer. "A lot of times people are just
arguing for the sake of arguing."
There's no need
for replay technology at clay-court events such as the French Open, where the
balls leave telltale marks. And the hidebound types at Wimbledon are, for the
moment, passing on replay. But Hawk-Eye--which, with the video boards, cost the
NASDAQ $100,000--will return for the North American summer hard-court events,
culminating in the U.S. Open. By then, Hawkins may rival Federer as the most
influential man in tennis.
She's from ... Everywhere
It was a sign of
things to come, given the impending retirement of Lindsay Davenport and either
the stunning indifference or the stunning physical fragility of the Williams
sisters. For the first time since 1990 no American woman reached the
quarterfinals in Key Biscayne. Nationality, though, is a fungible concept in
tennis, and no player exemplifies this more than Tatiana Golovin, a likable
18-year-old who was born in Russia, was raised in France and is based in
Florida. Last week she attributed her march to the NASDAQ-100 semis--enabling
her to reach a ranking of No. 21--to her comfort level. "It feels really
nice to be driving your car to the courts, sleeping in your own bed, knowing
everything around you," says Golovin, who lives in Miami. "I know the
courts so well."
After an erratic
2005 Golovin retained Tarik Benhabiles, Roddick's former coach, and has since
started to fulfill the promise she showed as a junior. Though a slender
5'9" and 132 pounds--most of which is on public view thanks to her
trademark tight tops and short shorts--Golovin has the requisite power to
succeed in today's women's game. She is also a deft volleyer and a smooth mover
who can play capably on any surface. Her game, in other words, travels