Fans at the NASDAQ-100 loved the new Hawk-Eye instant-replay system, which putboth players and linesmen to the test
Roger Federer andSvetlana Kuznetsova took the his and hers singles titles at the NASDAQ-100 Openlast weekend in Key Biscayne, Fla. Kuznetsova won her biggest title since the2004 U.S. Open by trouncing her Russian rival Maria Sharapova in the final.Federer, meanwhile, played his ritually transcendent tennis to take his fourthtitle of the year, defeating Ivan Ljubicic on Sunday and pushing his 2006record to 28-1.
The event'sbiggest winner, however, may have been a 31-year-old Brit who walked thegrounds unnoticed. A former competitive rower with a Ph.D. in artificialintelligence, Paul Hawkins has spent much of the past five years developing anelectronic instant-replay mechanism that can determine, within millimeters,whether balls alight outside, inside or on the lines. Making its debut at asanctioned pro event, the system, named Hawk-Eye, was an unqualified success inKey Biscayne.
Allotted twounsuccessful challenges per set (three in the event of a tiebreaker) andunlimited successful ones, players could appeal to technology if they tookissue with a line call. Justice was swift and decisive. Nestled in a courtsidebooth with 10 computers--one for each camera--Hawkins would push a button andwithin 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 inthe main stadium. Fans cheered or booed. Officials were spared the players'wrath. Faced with irrefutable evidence, the players retreated to the baselineand began the next point. "It's great," says Andy Roddick, speaking forthe vast majority of the players. "It adds another element to the tennis.The fans were going nuts."
If the technologyis essentially flawless, there are still glitches in its application. There'ssomething suspect about using replay only on the show courts, where the bestplayers perform. After questionable calls, players often looked to theirentourages for an indication of whether to use a challenge--a ploy thatviolates rules against mid-match coaching. More important, if technology existsto 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 deferto replay on each point?
There is alsoconcern that replay might bleach color from the sport, as McEnroesque tiradeswill become obsolete and players will be disinclined to, well, rage against themachine. Then again, perhaps the officials never deserved the fury in the firstplace. At the NASDAQ-100, officials were correct on about two thirds of thechallenged calls. "Maybe we'll be humbled a little bit," says JamesBlake, who continued his stellar 2006 run by advancing to the NASDAQquarterfinals before falling to Federer. "A lot of times people are justarguing for the sake of arguing."
There's no needfor replay technology at clay-court events such as the French Open, where theballs leave telltale marks. And the hidebound types at Wimbledon are, for themoment, passing on replay. But Hawk-Eye--which, with the video boards, cost theNASDAQ $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 mostinfluential man in tennis.
She's from ... Everywhere
It was a sign ofthings to come, given the impending retirement of Lindsay Davenport and eitherthe stunning indifference or the stunning physical fragility of the Williamssisters. For the first time since 1990 no American woman reached thequarterfinals in Key Biscayne. Nationality, though, is a fungible concept intennis, and no player exemplifies this more than Tatiana Golovin, a likable18-year-old who was born in Russia, was raised in France and is based inFlorida. Last week she attributed her march to the NASDAQ-100 semis--enablingher to reach a ranking of No. 21--to her comfort level. "It feels reallynice to be driving your car to the courts, sleeping in your own bed, knowingeverything around you," says Golovin, who lives in Miami. "I know thecourts so well."
After an erratic2005 Golovin retained Tarik Benhabiles, Roddick's former coach, and has sincestarted to fulfill the promise she showed as a junior. Though a slender5'9" and 132 pounds--most of which is on public view thanks to hertrademark tight tops and short shorts--Golovin has the requisite power tosucceed in today's women's game. She is also a deft volleyer and a smooth moverwho can play capably on any surface. Her game, in other words, travelswell.