Out: Have The ATP Crossed A Line With New Judge Rules?

You can hardly let a day pass by in the current climate without seeing a news piece on rising unemployment figures. What at one time was quite an unsexy subject is now tossed back and forth as students challenge the government to create more roles while even football fans have taken on these percentages for top class banter.

Now, a set of experimental rules are set to be trialled at the Milan Next Gen ATP Finals in November will see line judges searching for new jobs of their own.

This is because tennis is joining the rest of the world in replacing humans with machines, akin to when Mary from your local Morrisons was replaced by a frustrating machine telling you there is an unexpected item in the bagging area at the rate of five times per minute.

And while ‘Hawk-Eye Live’ is no doubt going to be much farther technically advanced than the incompetent weight-guessing technology, it does raise serious questions about how much longer human beings can play a role in officiating the sporting world.

In football, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system is slowly being crept in by FIFA, while tennis already uses Hawk-Eye for close calls and many cricketing decisions are now reviewed with exceptional robotic analytics. The rules for this tournament, being played from November 7-11 and featuring some of the world’s top young talent, will see the chair umpire as the only on-court official.

It is just one of a handful of changes being made by the ATP but this is the most noticeable with the challenge system being ruled void, such is the confidence in the technology being used. So yes, we get fewer mistakes and fewer stoppages for challenging potentially incorrect decisions, but is that the sport we love? Is it not one of the crowds’ favourite moments when a ball on the periphery of the white line is called out only for the shout to go from the aggrieved player?

Unfortunately, for tennis fans who do feel this way, it appears these changes will be here to stay with Gayle Dennis Bradshaw, the ATP’s Executive Vice President said:

“This could be a landmark moment for officiating in our sport. We look forward to monitoring the results and assessing the merits of this new system.”

No guarantees just yet, but when such positivity before even the trial of the new system is being uttered by one of the game’s bigwigs, it seems just a matter of when, not if, the scrapping of line judges will come into effect across the entire game, including at Wimbledon where, more than any other tournament, the officials are seen as part of the event and treated as such in the ceremony post-tournament.

Ultimately, the ATP appears to be edging towards efficiency over tradition and there is a lot of sense in advancing the game technologically. Not only will there be an increased interest in this year’s Next Gen tournament, there will be huge media focus if the technology is indeed carried out, just as there was with goal-line technology in football.

The question you have to ask is, have they crossed a line in discarding the judges?