As football debates VAR, tennis celebrates 12 years of the challenge system

Video technology in sport is a hot topic, but tennis has been utilising the electronic line calling system and player challenges successfully for more than a decade.

Throughout the history of tennis, there have always been bad calls from line judges and poor overrules. It was considered part and parcel of the game and, in fact, many believed it “added” to the spectacle.

Think John McEnroe and his ‘You cannot be serious’ rant or other players going off at the umpire over a perceived bad call. It certainly did add a bit of excitement.

However, players and officials generally started to accept from the 90s onwards that it was time to embrace technology and television stations adopted Hawk-Eye in the early 2000s.

However, it took until the 2004 US Open for officials to finally see the light when Serena Williams was on the receiving end of some bad calls during her quarter-final clash against Jennifer Capriati.

Williams lost the match, but the calls were so poor that officials from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) telephoned her after the match to apologise.

But Serena’s tournament was over, as was the chair umpire’s as she didn’t feature in the rest of the campaign.

“It’s unfortunate, and as we’ve said to Serena, these aren’t the circumstances under which we like to see Serena bow out of the US Open,” Jim Curley, the tournament director, told the New York Times before adding with regards to video technology: “I think down the road we’re heading in that direction.”

After extensive testing, the International Tennis Federation gave its seal of approval at the back end of 2005 and tennis took a step into a brave new world.

On March 06, 2006, US Tennis Association and the ATP and WTA Tours ratified the system for use in North America, with the NASDAQ-100 Open becoming the first tournament to adopt it.

American Jamea Jackson was the first player to make use of Hawk-Eye technology when she challenged a line call against Ashley Harkleroad during the Florida event

Even though she lost her challenge as the initial call was correct, Jackson said afterwards: “I loved it, I thought it was great. It takes a lot of pressure off.”

However, someone like Roger Federer was not a fan of the system when it was introduced, saying: “What is happening is madness. A pure waste of money.”

Rafael Nadal also felt that “I think the Hawk-Eye has mistakes sometimes”.

A year or so later, Federer was again asked about it and said: “I still don’t trust it 100 per cent, I probably will never do.”

During the teething years, the Swiss player would often make ridiculous challenges, but he was far from the only one.

However, over the years the system has improved and players are now more at ease with it as it is simply part and parcel of the game.

The rules remain the same:
– Each player receives two challenges per set
– If the player is correct with a challenge, then he/she retains the challenge
– If the player is incorrect with a challenge, then he/she loses the challenges
– Players receive an additional challenge during a tie-breaker
– You cannot carry challenges over to a new set.