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Crossing the line: Pressure builds for Hawk-Eye at Roland Garros

Roland Garros was the last of the four Grand Slams to build a roof on its showpiece court and install floodlights but when it comes to Hawk-Eye technology, it’s a resounding ‘non!’

Fourteen years after the system made its debut at the majors at the 2006 US Open, Paris still relies on the keen eyesight of line judges and chair umpires to spot marks left by balls in the often well-trampled red clay.

After his five-hour, five-set loss to Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round, ninth seed Denis Shapovalov tweeted: “When are we going to have Hawk-Eye on clay @rolandgarros @atptour?”

His plea was accompanied by a screenshot of a TV graphic which showed a ball landing well beyond the baseline being called in. Had it been correctly called, it would have taken the Canadian to match point in the fifth set.

Shapovalov has some powerful voices in his corner.

On Friday, US Open champion and world number three Dominic Thiem threw his weight behind calls for the available technology to be used in Paris.

“I would support 100% Hawk-Eye on clay,” said the Austrian after beating Casper Ruud to make the last 16.

Ruud had been left as frustrated as Shapovalov over what he believed was a poor call. The Norwegian even snapped the area of contention on his telephone.

“It’s not the umpire’s mistake, because sometimes you just cannot see the mark. It’s too difficult, especially after the set break, because they clean the court, they brush the lines, so it’s almost impossible to see where the mark starts,” said Thiem.

Thiem is one of the few players to have first-hand experience of electronic line-calling on clay after the ATP trialled it at Rio in February.

It was to be rolled out again in the European clay court season before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season.

“The FoxTenn system in Rio worked out very well. I played three matches and there were not any issues. 

‘That’s innovation’

“So I hope that next year we will have it in every clay court tournament,” added Thiem.

The FoxTenn system allowed players to ask for a review of a call as many times as they wanted while the umpires did not need to leave their chairs to verify the ball mark.

World number six Stefanos Tsitsipas also wants to see Roland Garros move with the times.

“If technology allows us to do far more things than current knowledge allows us, I do believe they should implement that into tennis,” said the Greek.

“Doesn’t really matter the surface. That’s innovation, and we have to keep growing and keep adding new things to the sport that will help make the sport better and more fair. 

“So I fully support that there should be Hawk-Eye in every surface on tennis, regardless of whether it’s clay or grass.”

French Open tournament director Guy Forget last year ruled out introducing electronic reviews, saying he saw “no added value”.

However, the tournament is in danger of being left behind — the Australian Open and Wimbledon having already introduced Hawk-Eye 13 years ago.

Aside from the Rio clay court tests, the US Open this year took another radical step by introducing Hawk-Eye Live on all courts except its two show courts.

The system replaced line judges and had already been used at the ATP NextGen Finals for three years as well as the US-based World Team Tennis.

Part of the reason for the New York move was to slash the number of people on site to reduce the risk of infection from the virus.

Had the system been in use on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, then there would have been no line judge for Novak Djokovic to accidentally hit with a ball. As it turned out, there was and the world number one was disqualified, representing his only defeat in 2020.

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