Friday, August 11, 2006

An Educational Day at the Rogers Cup

This is really a post commenting on the previous post!
I learned some fascinating things today at the Rogers Cup. The moment my friend and I got seated, a man seated behind us asked me (at that point spouting off as if I knew what I was talking about) what the very strange scores he was seeing in his program for earlier rounds in this tournament in the doubles. I looked at what he indicated and was equally baffled - there were scores like 6-4,2-6,10-4 and 3-6,6-2,11-9. What was going on in the third sets? I had no idea. In any case, he went off and did some research and let us know that these scores reflected a new rule for running doubles matches, effective this week, whereby the third set, if needed, is replaced by a "10-point tiebreaker" (i.e. the first team to ten or more points leading by at least 2 wins). Wow - tennis can innovate for the market.
Even better, there is now a new 'challenge' rule. It seems in each set a player is entitled to two challenges to line judge rulings. Actually - that is not quite true - they start with a number 2 assigned to them, and they lose 1 each time they make a challenge that the technology in place denies (i.e. the line judge was right, despite what the player thought). When they get to 0, they can no longer challenge. If the player's challenge is upheld, the quota is not decremented. I guess the summary is they get the right in each set to challenge until they have submitted two losing challenges. This creates soem lovely strategic questions for players (I was amazed today when one of them challenged in the first game of a match). It can also get the audience involved, as we all have passionate views about the correctness of line judge calls, and are willing to share those.
I have no idea what the underlying technology is behind the decisions of whether the line judges were right. What happens in the stadium is that we all look at the TV screens, and a simulation is shown of the flight of the ball, ending with exactly how it landed compared to the line. My guess is most of this simulation is fluff, and there is some good fundamental technology which gets the key point right - where the ball landed. But I do not know. And I do wonder, if this is so reliable, is it really still so slow that we even need line judges?
Many sports now allow review of judgments using various kinds of technology. During the 'football' (in the rest of the world sense) World Cup, I ached for such a thing. For it to work, though, it seems to me each team would need about 15 challenges, and they should be encouraged to ask referees to evaluate possible 'diving'. Maybe FIFA will figure something sensible out; I hope so.
But back to tennis.
I sort of complained about not having three singles matches this afternoon. But while watching the TSN coverage this evening, I realize now, listening carefully to some very intelligent comments from Peter Burwash, that there is a difficult fairness issue with the old pattern of having three singles matches. This meant there was a significant gap in the recovery time for one of the semi-finalists, as opposed the the one who played in the afternoon. Now this problem does not simply go away; one semi-final is played tomorrow afternoon, another in the evening - so the two finalists will have had different recovery times.
The afternoon matches were very entertaining for just the reasons I thought; these players will be the stars of tomorrow (is my memory right that Pete Sampras impressed me no end on the Friday of this tournament in 1990, just before beginning his years of dominance? - mind you, he stood out completely back then, as nobody I have seen since did in this tournament).
Peter Burwash also commented on tonight's TSN show about the changing audience relationship to the match here. Apparently one of the players (Malisse) had asked the umpire to request that the audience be more quiet. That used to be my wish - a reverential hush. But my French Open experience this year suggests otherwise. The Gasquet-Nalbandian match there featured an hilarious and very enjoyable audience engagement (nobody was shoulting "Allez, Richard", or sighing "ahh, Richard" today). For anyone but the players, this is surely more fun, and it seems to me the players can learn as well. We shall see.


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