Andy Murray was a victim.
Bianca Andreescu was too.
Jiri Lechka had to play the fifth set and basically win his third round match twice.
Hawk-Eye Live, an electronic communication system, could have saved players’ pool, even their match, but Wimbledon isn’t using it to its fullest, preferring a more traditional approach. The rest of the year on the professional tours, many leagues rely exclusively on technology, allowing players to know with near certainty whether their ball lands in or out because the computer is always making the call.
But when the players come to the All England Club for what is widely regarded as the most important tournament of the year, their fate is largely decided by line umpires who rely on their eyesight. Even more frustrating, because Wimbledon and its TV partners have access to technology, which players can use to challenge a limited number of calls per match, everyone watching the broadcast sees in real time if the ball is in or out. The people for whom the information is most important – the players and the chief referee, who supervises the match – should rely on the direct referee.
When the human eye judges, moving at 120mph and forehands rallying faster than 80mph, mistakes are bound to happen.
“When you make mistakes at key moments, obviously as a player you don’t want that,” said Murray, who could have won his second-round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth set. calls. Murray’s backhand was called, although replays showed the ball was in. He ended up losing in five sets.
No tennis tournament clings to its traditions as much as Wimbledon does. Grass tennis court. Matches on Center Court start later than elsewhere, and after those in the Royal Box have had their lunch. There are no outdoor tennis lights. Queue with an hour wait for last minute tickets.
These traditions have no effect on the outcome of point-to-point matches. But keeping judges on court, now that technology has proven more reliable, has been affecting — perhaps even — key matches seemingly every day.
To understand why this happened, it’s important to understand how tennis ended up with different refereeing rules across its tournaments.
Prior to the early 2000s, tennis—like baseball, basketball, hockey, and other sports—relied on human officials to make calls, many of which were false, according to John McEnroe (and pretty much every other tennis player). McEnroe’s most famous meltdown occurred at Wimbledon in 1981, prompted by an incorrect line call.
“I wish it was Hawkeye,” said Mats Wilander, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and star of the 1980s.
But then tennis started experimenting with the Hawk-Eye Live refereeing system. Cameras capture each ball’s bounce from multiple angles and computers analyze the images to depict the ball’s trajectory and points of impact with a microscopic margin of error. The line judges remained as backup, but the players were given three opportunities per set for a line call challenge, and an additional challenge when the set went to a tiebreaker.
This forced players to try to figure out when to risk using a Challenge that they might need at a more important point later in the deck.
“It’s quite a lot,” Wilander said. “I can’t imagine doing that calculation, standing there, thinking if the shot looks good, how many challenges I have left, and how late I am in the group.”
Even Roger Federer, who was good at almost every aspect of tennis, was terrible at creating successful challenges.
Before long, tennis officials began considering an entirely electronic line communication system. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, tournaments were looking for ways to limit the number of people on the tennis court.
The adoption of electronic connectivity in 2021 was also part of the “culture of innovation” at the Australian Open, said Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia. The players loved it. So did the fans, Tilley said, because the matches were moving more quickly.
Last year, the US Open switched to fully electronic line communication. There is an ongoing debate as to whether higher lines on clay will prevent the technology from providing the same accuracy it does on grass and hard ground. In the French Open and other clay court tournaments, the ball leaves a mark that referees inspect often.
In 2022, the men’s ATP Tour featured 21 tournaments with all-electronic calls, including stops in Indian Wells, California; Miami Gardens, Florida; Canada; and Washington, DC. All of these locations have WTA Women’s Championships as well. Every ATP tournament will use it starting in 2025.
“The question is not whether it is 100 percent true, but whether it is better than human, and it is certainly better than human,” said Mark Ayne, owner of Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
A spokesperson for the All England Club said on Sunday that Wimbledon had no plans to sack its line referees.
“After the tournament we look at everything we do, but at the moment, we don’t have any plans to change the system,” said Dominic Foster.
On Saturday, Andreescu became the victim of human error. Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion from Canada, is deepening into Grand Slam tournaments after years of injuries.
As her match against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia drew to a close, Andreescu resisted a request for electronic interference on a decisive shot called by the line referee. From the other side of the net, Jabeur, who was close to the ball as it went down, advised Andreescu not to miss one of her three challenges for the set, saying the ball was already out. The game continued, but not before television viewers saw a computer replay that showed the ball landing on the line.
“I trust Ons,” Andreescu said after Jabeur came back to defeat her in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Andreescu explained that she was reflecting on her previous match, a three-set marathon decided by a final-set tiebreak, during which she said she “wasted” several challenges.
Against Jabir, I thought, “I’ll save him, just in case.”
bad idea. Jaber won that match, the set, and then the match.
In Court No. 12, the appeal system has caused another kind of confusion. Lehecka had a match point against Tommy Poole when he raised his hand to challenge a call after returning a shot from Poole that fell on the line. His request for a challenge came when Paul next volleyed into the net.
The point has been returned. Paul won it, then moments later, forcing the deciding set. Lehecka won, but had to run for another half hour. Venus Williams lost a match point in her first round match in another complex sequence involving a challenge.
Two-time Grand Slam finalist from Canada, Leila Fernandez, said she loves the tradition of line judges at Wimbledon as the world concedes more to technology.
Then she added again, “If it cost me a match, I would probably have a different answer.”
This is where Murray, the two-time Wimbledon champion, found himself after losing on Friday afternoon. By the time he got to his press conference, he had known that his slow, sharply angled backhand serve that landed just a few yards from the referee had hit the line.
This point would have given him two break points to serve Tsitsipas and serve the match. When he was told the bullet was inside, his eyes opened in astonishment, then fell toward the ground.
Murray now knows what the others saw.
Murray said the ball fell under the nose of the referee, who confirmed the call. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could miss her. He added that he actually likes to have line umpires. Perhaps it was his fault for not using the challenge.
“In the end, the referee made a bad call right in front of her,” he said.