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Hawk-Eye Technology: Big Brother is Watching

“If anyone's been listening to my commentary the past year then they know I'm in favor of using replay. I think it will make tennis more interesting.” -John McEnroe

I'm intrigued by the Hawk-Eye technology so I decided to do some research. Looks like in regard to the question I had about the point being replayed in the Ivanovic - Hantuchova match, it seems that instead of the point being replayed, Hantuchova probably won that point and advanced to 30 from 15, otherwise the game would have gone to deuce.

According to the hawk-eye rules: Each player receives three challenges per set. When the player challenges a point and loses, the player loses that point and one challenge. If the player wins a challenge, he wins the point and the number of challenges remains as it was. If a player has no challenges remaining and they go on a tie break, he gets one challenge.

It's a rather fair system; a player can stop play and challenge a call. And if he is wrong he loses that point anyway. What it does do is break up the pacing of the game -- a bonus for Nadal who prefers this tactic to shake his opponents. And if the replay is in the challenger's favor, then its a huge psychological boost. Yeah, in this way it is part of player strategy.

Personally, I think it's some of the most interest ruling technology to come out of professional sports. But how accurate is it?

Using multiple high-frame-rate cameras, Hawk-Eye finds the exact 3D position of the ball at a series of time intervals leading into a bounce. From these 3D positions, a trajectory of the ball is calculated. Hawk-Eye uses this trajectory to project where the ball will first make contact with the ground and then how much the ball will compress and skid once it has contacted the ground. From this, the “bounce mark” is determined up to 2-3mm.

2007 Wimbeldon: In the third game of the fourth set, with Roger Federer a break down and serving at 30-30, he did not play at a ball near the baseline. He thought that it was out, the line judge thought it was out, the umpire thought it was out and a BBC freeze frame seemed to confirm this, too.

However, after a challenge from Rafael Nadal, Hawk-Eye showed the shot in. Federer lost his temper, declaring that the machine was “killing him” and demanded that it be turned off.

One of the biggest problems with this situation was the skidding of the ball following first contact, and the use of television-quality replay affecting the decision of the audience.

Television replays look deceptive because the cameras are at the wrong angle looking down at the ball. The ball also has a lot of motion blur and the cameras do not work at a sufficiently high frame rate to capture the crucial part of when the ball first touches the ground.

What television cameras see as the ball's contact area is actually up to 10cm further than first contact when accounting for ball skid. These frame rates are more accurate when viewing at the 100 fps of Hawk-Eye cameras (as opposed to 150 fps of tv cameras).

If Hawk-Eye technology was around in the 70s would we have still been witness to the fabulous tirades of McEnroe?


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Comment by Mark / The Mayor on January 29, 2008 at 11:47am
Yeah Skeet, how much money could be saved if there no linespeople at all and there was just a computerized "out" call instead. That is the wave of the future in big stadiums of course. Smaller venues will not be able to buy all the equipement...
Comment by Skeet on January 28, 2008 at 10:53am
Mike, interesting stuff thanks for posting. A big problem with challenging is how it affects the final outcome of the point. Points get replayed that really shouldn't be. For instance, you may have had an ace, then you have to serve again and you end up losing the point. If we have the tecnology to determine if a ball is truly in or out, then we need to use it to provide immediate calls (say a beep or buzz noise) to indicate a ball being out. That way the point is over, no need to replay. All the challenging gets distracting now, especially when players are using it to try to break the momentum when they're losing and a ball is clearly in or out. I predict it won't last and we'll be all computers within a couple years.
Comment by Mike on January 27, 2008 at 12:37am
Go for it. From what I read, you can rent the system for $20-25K per event/per individual court...
Comment by marcoy on January 26, 2008 at 6:14pm
Thanks for the info. Cheers!
Comment by Nothing But on January 26, 2008 at 11:22am
Wow you are really have the details down for Hawk Eye. I know your not trying to sell it but I feel like I need to buy it after reading your post.

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