Automated Line Calls Will Replace Human Judges at U.S. Open

“Every functional area of the tournament has been asked to limit the number of people who physically need to be on-site,” said Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director.

That includes officials, and by using Hawk-Eye Live on 15 of the 17 match courts, the U.S. Open can drastically reduce the number of line judges on site: from approximately 350 to well under 100. Only Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium will still feature full, officiating crews of nine line judges who work rotating one-hour shifts. The other courts will have only a chair umpire, who will call the score after Hawk-Eye Live makes the call and who will focus more on monitoring player behavior and the pace of play. The umpires will not be allowed to overrule the machines on line calls, only taking over if the system breaks down during a point and fails to make a call. If the audio system were to fail, a light attached to the umpire’s chair would still indicate when Hawk-Eye has determined a shot is out.

The system is not entirely glitch-free. During this World TeamTennis season, Jessica Pegula of the Orlando Storm and Bernarda Pera of the Washington Kastles were playing a tiebreaker in a women’s singles match. With Pera leading 2-1, she hit a ball that was not called out but that Pegula and her teammates were convinced had landed wide.

They asked to see a replay, and it suspiciously said the ball had landed well within the court.

“We were like, this obviously isn’t right,” Pegula said. “Hawk-Eye clearly messed up. If you saw the ball land, that’s not where the mark was at all. We switched sides and were arguing with them and the umpire got a call from whoever works the Hawk-Eye and said, ‘Actually you are correct, Hawk-Eye was wrong. The ball was out.’”

She continued: “If we wouldn’t have fought about it, it probably wouldn’t have happened because the umpire just goes with what Hawk-Eye says. So there have been some discrepancies here.”

Japhet said Hawk-Eye officials monitoring the system also have access to a broadcast feed as an additional tool for such rare occasions. But he said the automated system had been tested and shown to be accurate within two millimeters.

Donald Young, a veteran American who first played in World TeamTennis in 2016, remains a convert.

“Obviously with the Covid situation, it’s particularly useful, but apart from that, it’s just great,” he said. “The ball is coming fast, so you can see it sometimes faster with Hawk-Eye than with a lot of eyes. Sometimes it can be a little off. A couple calls have been inside the box, and the guys had to correct it, but it’s definitely gotten a lot better over the years for sure. I think it’s more accurate now than ever.”

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