The U.S. Open Tennis Championships is adding instant replay to all of its courts this year, which will make it the first of tennis’ four Grand Slams to do so and only the second tournament with multiple courts to offer it for every match.
The Open, like many team-sport leagues have done, will centralize replay in a remote broadcast control center, rather than at the site of play (the four main show venues will continue to have officials in a booth). The other 12 courts will feed into a remote trailer complex housing more than five dozen technicians and replay officials. That complex is housed in a nonpublic area across from the two main stadiums in Flushing, N.Y.
“This is one more advancement, or one more innovation, that the U.S. Open is rolling out on behalf of players,” said Dave Brewer, the tournament director. “We have known for a number of years that if we wanted to provide a level playing field we needed to provide the same services to all players if at all possible. Until this year that simply wasn’t feasible from a logistics point of view. It is now, and that’s really why we are expanding to the degree that we are.”
The renovation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that took five years and more than $600 million will be finished this year, and while most attention has been focused on the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium that debuted in 2016 and the completely new Louis Armstrong Stadium that opens this year, the revamp also wired all side courts for replay. The on-site video simulation, depicting where the ball lands, will air on the digital scoreboards located at each court. The U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the Open, plans to have replay for all professional singles, doubles and mixed doubles matches. Because of cost and logistics, only one other tournament has replay on every court — the BNP Paribas Open, which is held each March in California and is owned by Larry Ellison, one of the wealthiest men in the world.
For all other events, however, that means some players get the advantage of challenges and others do not. At the U.S. Open, Courts 4, 5 and 6 are laid out in sequence, and only the middle one had replay in years past. Therefore, players competing on the other two could see what they did not have.
The U.S. Open was the first tournament to offer replay, in 2006, and many tournaments followed suit. But even at the main events it is on a minority of courts; for example, seven of Wimbledon’s 18 courts use replay. Last year, the U.S. Open had it on seven of its 16 courts, a jump of two courts from previous years.
By some estimates, the cost for having replay at one court for three weeks is $80,000. And other than the main courts, events did not have the space for the booths necessary to house the equipment and personnel. Running the replays remotely solves that issue.
“Any time you can level the playing field, it is important,” said Ilana Kloss, a former player and now the CEO of World TeamTennis. “You always want as much equity for the players, the same rules.”
The U.S. Open’s replay provider is Sony’s Hawk-Eye system. The company will have close to 50 employees on site in Queens this year, up from about 20 last year.
Hawk-Eye uses on-court cameras to re-create the shot, but it is not 100 percent accurate. A new competitor, Foxtenn, last year became the second replay company approved for use in tennis. Foxtenn contends its laser technology is far more accurate and does not rely on simulations.
Brewer said he had heard Foxtenn’s arguments but that the U.S. Open is satisfied with Hawk-Eye.