Players wanting to stare down or glare at a line judge at the Australian Open after a close or contentious call will have difficulty doing so this year. There won’t be any.
In a Grand Slam first, there will be no on-court line judges on any of the tournament courts in an effort to reduce the number of staff on-site during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only players, chair umpires and ball kids will be on the court.
Tennis Australia announced the introduction of live electronic line calls, saying movement-activated and pre-recorded voices will be used for the terms “Out,” “Foot Fault” and “Fault” in matches during the Feb. 8-21 tournament.
Live electronic line calling is delivered through remote tracking cameras around the court, automatically sending the audio line calls in real time.
“The Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam tournament to introduce live electronic line calling on all courts, including the major stadiums,” Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said.
The new system should mean fewer challenges of line calls by players, and less time spent reviewing replays on the big stadium screens.
“The system will automatically show `close calls’ on the big screen on point-ending shots,” the tournament said in a separate emailed statement to The Associated Press. “This by default will be 150 millimeters (just under six inches) or less for a rally shot or 50 mm (two inches) or less for a service.
“If a player is requesting that they would like to see a point-ending shot that has not animated automatically, then play can be stopped if the chair umpire is of the opinion that the request is reasonable, and the chair umpire should announce the replay. Play should not continue until the shot is shown on the big screen.”
Last year at the U.S. Open, No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic was disqualified during his fourth-round match for accidentally hitting a spare ball at a line judge. During that tournament, electronic line calls were used on outside courts but line judges were still used in the main show courts.
Djokovic later called for tennis to permanently make a move to electronic line calling, although he said it was unrelated to his New York ejection.
“I have received a lot of criticism because I have said that we should take into consideration excluding the line umpires,” Djokovic said last year. “That is an opinion I have had for several years now, it did not have anything to do with me being disqualified at the U.S. Open.
“I am not a person who adores technology and cannot live without it, in some regards technocratic society has gone too far in my opinion, but if we in tennis can be more efficient and precise, why not?”
This week at Melbourne Park, the same system is being used for six tune-up tournaments. Next week at the Australian Open, they’ll be an added touch.
The pre-recorded voices will be be those of Australia’s front-line workers in the country’s pandemic response, firefighters, surf lifesavers and other emergency services personnel.
“A `Behind the Line” tribute will introduce community heroes who will be featured as the official line-calling voice in each match,” Tennis Australia said.