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Volume 20 No. 45
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ATP event will use electronic line calls

The ATP will electronically call lines for its new year-end tournament in November, removing the eight lines officials for each match and potentially laying the groundwork to radically change how tennis looks on television.

The ATP is experimenting in other ways for its Next Gen ATP Finals, designed for top players who are 21 and younger. But in removing lines officials, a step the ATP plans to announce today, the sport is signaling that it does not like the look of a cluttered court that’s long been the standard in tennis and certainly since television first started airing it.

“This could be a landmark moment for officiating in our sport,” said Gayle Bradshaw, the ATP’s executive vice president of rules and competition. “Our athletes work incredibly hard, and they deserve the very best and most accurate officiating we can offer.”

It’s more than just getting the calls right, though, since players can already call for an electronic replay review at many events. Lines officials are often seen in TV close-ups of the players, and sometimes standing in front of sponsor logos. A senior broadcast executive at one of the Grand Slams, discussing the subject, noted delicately that the lines officials are often out of shape, a sometimes jarring contrast to the elite athletes on the tours.

The electronic system is provided by Hawk-Eye, the Sony-owned replay outlet that provides reviews for most of tennis. The new system beeps when the ball lands out. The event will have a chair umpire, and an official in a remote location will call foot faults.

Brad Gilbert, a former top player and coach and now a commentator for ESPN, has long been an advocate for change in tennis, but cautioned that changing something as ingrained as lines officials is tough. He also worried about the cost of the new system and whether it would be used on every court.

The cost of electronic line review costs about $80,000 a court for three weeks, which has kept tournaments from adopting the technology on every court. Only one, the BNP Paribas Open, has it for all matches. Presumably a system that also calls the ball out could be even more expensive.

However, a source close to the ATP wrote in an email that most tournaments are already spending money on electronic review, so “it’s a question of how much the system would be in addition to that.” The source noted that the tournaments could also save money on line umpire fees, food, housing and transportation.

The Next Gen Finals is designed to showcase the top emerging talent on the ATP and tinker with the presentation and rules of the game. Other experiments include best-of-five-set matches that have four-game sets and no tiebreaks, and no lets on serves. The ATP is still negotiating to air the event in the U.S.

Tennis, like many sports, is concerned about keeping up the pace to appeal to attention-starved millennials, and is looking for ways to quicken the game’s cadence. The U.S. Open recently tried serve clocks during its qualifying tournament.

The Next Gen ATP Finals is scheduled for Nov. 7-11 in Milan. It will feature the top-seven players 21 and younger on the ATP Tour plus a wild card. The winner earns $390,000.