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Hawkeye on Clay — The Debate Rages On

The missed call that played a huge part in Nadal’s Monte Carlo win.

Umpire Cedric Mourier should probably cite Stevie Wonder as his idol. The umpire faced flak during the Goffin-Nadal Semi Final in Monte Carlo for calling a ball in when it was clearly out. An enraged Goffin proceeded to lose the game, and later, the match, refusing to shake the umpire’s hand afterwards.

This begs the question: Why do clay court tournaments not have Hawkeye? The justification so far has been that the ball leaves a mark on the court, and hence the Hawkeye system is not necessary. That’s just not true. Sure, the human eye may be incredibly accurate, but we just can’t expect the players or the umpire to differentiate between the several marks you can find on the court. As you saw in the Nadal v Goffin match, humans do make mistakes, and Mourier pointed to a mark several inches away from where the actual mark lay.

To uninformed tennis fans; Hawkeye is a system used to track the trajectory of the ball. Its used in several sports, and was commissioned in 2006 after the Williams-Capriati debacle in 2004. It’s been a crucial part of the game ever since, and it was even used on match point of the 2017 Australian Open final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

We’ve seem some extremely close calls and even some obvious calls called erroneously, only to be rectified by Hawkeye. With the advancement of technology and the accuracy of the system, it only makes sense that Hawkeye should also be used on clay courts. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. After the controversial call by Mourier in Monte Carlo, ITF officials were asked for comments, and an official remarked that the reason behind not using Hawkeye (even though it’s available for use in clay court tournaments) is that the surface of the court changes too often, which means that they’d have to calibrate the system every half an hour, while only doing it in the beginning of the tournament in hard court tournaments and after every match in grass.

But I don’t agree. It doesn’t make any sense especially when the call was proven wrong by Hawkeye during the match and is shown in television fairly often to show viewers whether the call is right or wrong. It’s obvious that Hawkeye is still functional, even on clay, so if you have it, why not use it? Sure, you might abandon tradition, but you make the game better, fairer. So what is the logic behind the explanation given by the ITF?
Even following the explanation given by the ITF and assuming that it’s too much of a hassle to use Hawkeye during matches, there has to be at least some provision to prevent such things from happening. And while such incidents don’t happen often, it isn’t too rare, with the Edmund-Del Potro match in Rome having a similar issue during the second set of the match (though not as dire and probably not holding merit).

What could the provisions be? A system that aids in pointing where the ball landed? If such a system was present during the Goffin-Nadal match, Mourier could’ve just used the system to see where the ball had landed, instead of relying on gut feeling. Perhaps pressure-sensitive lines? Maybe the technology isn’t there yet, but they seem to be an interesting solution to the problem.

It’s truly sad that such incidents are happening in a day and age when the technology is available to prevent it, only for it to not be used. I hope the ITF is actively trying to look for solutions to a problem that should’ve been solved years ago. I’m not asking for a video review system to be implemented or anything like that. All I want is to ensure that the game is played fairly and that when we have the opportunity to use technology to our own advantage, we take full use of that chance.

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