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Instant Replay For Tennis?

September 2, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ ``There, you see, I was right all along,″ said John McEnroe, the glee showing in his voice. ``I’ve been right for 20 years.″

Much of the arguing and fussing that McEnroe did during his brilliant tennis career concerned line calls, deciding whether a ball had hit the line or landed out of bounds. The linesman would see it one way and McEnroe another, and the screaming would start.

Well, it turns out that McEnroe might have been right more times than he was wrong.

CBS has been using two high-speed, slow motion cameras at the U.S. Open, one at each baseline, to give viewers an enhanced replay of close calls. And most times the cameras, capable of shooting 1,000 frames a second compared to 90 frames for regular super slo-mo cameras, have supported player views on most of the controversial calls.

And that has left McEnroe, working as a TV analyst for the Open, cackling in the booth.

``Players see the ball quite well,″ he said. ``You’re hitting balls from the time you’re 8 years old. That’s millions of balls. Your eye is so used to seeing the ball. I’m not surprised the players have been right.″

So right, in fact, that there have been discussions of using replays for the WTA Championships at Madison Square Garden in November. Discussions are going on between sponsors and officials of the tournament.

They could be speeded along by a couple of calls in the fourth-round match between Martina Hingis and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Twice, chair umpire Jane Harvey overruled calls ruling shots out. Both times the camera showed the ball landing squarely on the line.

McEnroe is rooting for the technology. For evidence, he offers the challenge of line calls in Tuesday’s fourth round match between the booming serves of Pete Sampras and Mark Philippoussis.

``On services with Sampras-Philippoussis,″ McEnroe said, ``in all honesty, not too many humans can see that serve.″

Instant replay was used for six years in the NFL with varying degrees of success. It still has its supporters in that sport and made a trial return during the preseason. The NHL has had it on goal calls for three years. Tennis has never used it. Introducing it would mean a revolutionary change for a sport that suffers change ever so slowly.

McEnroe thinks it ought to be employed.

``With cameras like that, no doubt instant replay would work in tennis,″ he said. ``It’s a better idea. Two changes would be fine for tennis, timeouts for players to talk to their coaches and replays.″

Brian Earley, chief referee of the Open, said replays are not in tennis’ immediate future.

``It’s something we’ll discuss after the Open,″ he said. ``As a viewer, I love it. As a referee, it puts me in a difficult position.

``The fact that we can’t use it on every court is one aspect that would keep us from using it. It’s like playing with different rules. That’s a serious problem. It would have to be universal and I don’t see that happening.″

The question could be economics. The technology is expensive. Each camera costs less than $500,000, but that’s still about twice as much as an ordinary slow-mo camera.

For McEnroe, that is all secondary. Getting calls right is what counts.

``You don’t want a bad call deciding a match,″ he said. ``This technology works. It’s quick. It wouldn’t interfere. You just need a monitor. Give it to a net judge like they do in hockey. Make that his job.″

Any other ideas for improving the sport?

``No umpires,″ McEnroe said. ``You don’t need them when you have stuff like this.″

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