As a tennis fan for more than forty years I’ve seen technology change the game in many ways. From major changes in equipment (I think I still have an old Dunlop Maxpli somewhere in my house) to electronic scoreboards, and more recently video replays as part of a player line call ‘challenge’ system. In fact the camera for it is sometimes called a ‘Mac cam’ in honor of John McEnroe.
But there would not have been as notable a John McEnroe had he come around in 2010 instead of 1977. Almost certainly he would not have been remembered as the mercurial and volatile performer the world came to know. Several years ago pro tennis instituted a ‘challenge’ system whereby the player can challenge up to three line calls per set, (this is only available at tournaments that employ the technology, and at the U.S. Open it is limited to a few large courts). A video replay shows definitively if the ball is in or out. If the challenge is won by the player and the line call reversed, the player does not lose the challenge.
The players watch the replay just like the spectators and then based on the result they go back to the match. No replacing of lines-people (the ones that call the ball in or out) or yelling at the umpire or calling them names like ‘You are the pits of the world’.
Watching tennis today is very different than it was when McEnroe was playing. That is not to say it is better or worse – just different. The racquets have changed the way the game is played, as have size, strength, and player fitness. But while I support the challenge system since the idea is to get the calls right and I agree with that, some of the game’s personality has been lost in the process.
The bottom line here is that I miss the dynamics of player eruptions on the court during a match. Of course at times McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, and Ilie Nastase went too far with their antics and foul mouth tirades on the court. But it was SO unpredictable, exciting and interesting! Even Andre Agassi played in the era before the challenge system and at times would offer some colorful comments in the middle of a match. Those days are dwindling once the challenge system is in place for all matches – and that day appears to be coming all too soon.
I fear that tennis is losing some of its uniqueness and drama. For that reason I hope baseball does not go to electronic umpires as arguments like balls or strikes, safe vs. out are part of the game and if technology took the uncertainty away would that make it better?
I was at the U.S. Open Monday and a friend commented that tennis was the only sport he could think of in which you warm up your opponent prior to trying to defeat them in a one-to-one match. That has been the case as long as I have played or watched tennis. It is one of the interesting idiosyncrasies of the game. Is that tradition the next thing to change? I hope not.
I feel that tennis needs to hold on to its personality and should be careful not to give up any more of it.
One more thing – I wrote a post http://wp.me/pJX7l-66 last year about how much I liked the Tennis Channel. This year Tennis Channel was the sole provider of coverage at night from the U.S. Open on several occasions. Only as of September 2nd a dispute between Cablevision, Verizon and the Tennis Channel caused those two systems to no longer carry the Tennis Channel. While it’s good that people can watch the U.S. Open (for free) on their computer (www.usopen.org), without internet enabled television watching it on the small screen is not nearly as good as on a big HDTV screen. The Tennis Channel is really relevant for two weeks – the two weeks of the U.S. Open. The small amount of viewers that watch it the other times of year are a fraction of the potential audience. How could this happen?
Is technology taking away tennis’ personality and traditions?