’30 for 30 Shorts: Subject to Review’ Highlights the Impact of Technology on Tennis

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

30 for 30 Shorts: Subject to Review airs December 22nd, 2019 on ESPN at 3PM ET.

Slow-motion. Instant replay. Photographic review. In sports today, these are all standard terms that allow players, fans, and referees to make up their minds and to make the right call. This happens with any sport, but it’s especially crucial for the ones that are fast-paced or involving a small object. That’s where tennis comes in, and this is the subject of 30 for 30 Shorts: Subject to Review on ESPN.

Instant replay, with the use of cameras to track where the ball lands, allows for viewers to be a part of the action. It also ensures that justice, as this presentation points out, is upheld in tennis by being able to document the play. In 2006, Hawk-Eye was approved for tournament use in tennis, and players were allowed three challenges to a ruling per set. Using Hawk-Eye creates a 3D rendering from several cameras and allows a more accurate decision to be made following the player’s appeal.

Interestingly, the technology is not used for appeals in every tournament. When it comes to playing on a clay court, Hawk-Eye is not used to appeal a ruling. As clay courts have impressions left in them as play continues, it is the physical mark of the ball that is used to make a ruling. Grass and hardcourts are the surfaces Hawk-Eye is used for in tennis.

An incredible amount of testing and measurement goes into ensuring the technology is as accurate as possible. The cameras triangulate the position of the ball and take into account its speed and course, and an image is taken every 1 1/2 feet as the ball travels.

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

Along with explaining the impressive technology, which has only been in use for the past fifteen years, and showing how it works, there’s an overall philosophy being espoused with Subject to Review. It is a philosophy of being.

As humans, we enjoy that which is definitive and sure. Having an increased accuracy is the sport is sought after, but it’s not always as accurate as it could be. Spaces in the 3D renderings show what the ball is and what it isn’t. There is a margin of error that illustrates where the ball is, and where it isn’t. In spite of this potential unreliability, the tech is still seen as more reliable than human checks. Hawk-Eye becomes the authority, especially when human judges get it wrong.

But is Hawk-Eye the best thing for tennis? While it’s good to have accurate results, so justice can be delivered, it removes some of the fallibility and inaccuracy that makes this sport contentious and enjoyable. Eliminating error and imperfection in tennis makes the game reliant on computers and cameras. It removes the honesty of getting something wrong and being able to accept that some things will be gotten wrong.

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