July 11, 2024

Open Court


Milan Next-Gens will be linesperson-free

Get ready for the “future” in Milan.

Because it’s coming.

The only on-court official for the Next-Gen finals in Milan in November will be the chair umpire.

The tournament will have electronic line-calling on all the lines during the tournament, the ATP Tour announced Monday.

It’s not the only new wrinkle for the exhibition event. But it’s a pretty huge one.

Here’s how it will work, per the ATP.

“When triggered, the new system will make an instant automated “OUT” call. By default, given that each call will be final, the Electronic Review ‘Challenge’ system will not feature, however, all close calls will be accompanied with visualization of the “OUT” call on video screens around the stadium. Foot-faults will be determined by a Review Official who will be monitoring via cameras placed on the base and centre lines.”

Tennis court a lonely place

In other words, the players will just be pawns in a video game, as the fans spend more time watching the video screens than the actual tennis. The players might spend a whole lot of time watching the screens as well, every time the ball comes close to the line, hoping for an “out” call.

But … where are the players going to sit when they need a quick break, or lay their towels so they don’t leave wet spots on the court itself?

Gayle Bradshaw, who holds the lengthy title (the Tours likes titles of all descriptions in their employee hierarchy) of Executive Vice President, Rules and Competition, said this:

“Our athletes work incredibly hard and they deserve the very best and most accurate officiating we can offer. The technology is now in a place where we feel comfortable trialling this new system in a real tournament environment. The Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan is the perfect place to do this, and we look forward to monitoring the results and assessing the merits of this new system.”

Fan experience will be jarring

The ATP says the system has been “comprehensively tested and developed by Hawk-Eye Innovations over the past 18 months.” The director of tennis at Hawk-Eye feels that the refined system not only improves the quality of line calling, “but the overall fan experience.”

The reality may prove different. But it’s starting to feel as though the ATP is just piling too many innovations into this event. Putting aside the adjustments for the players, it also will be a startling experience for the fans as well. 

Tennis remains a fairly traditional sport. And being bombarded with all this, all at once, is going to be a major shock to the system. 

It also will be much harder to tell what works, what doesn’t work, and why. Because the whole “fan experience” will be jarring, and it might be difficult for people filling out the feedback forms to really tell what they liked and didn’t like. They’ll likely forget half the new innovations.

A Next-Gen Finals summary

The line-calling isn’t the only new wrinkle being tested out in Milan. 

*Scoring format change: first to four, tiebreak at 3-3, best of five sets, no-ad scoring. They’ve used this is some exhibitions. 

*Shorter warmup: Five minutes from the time the second player walks on, so more endless futzing about at the chair before the coin toss and after time is called. This is the great innovation ever.

*Shot clock: Used at the US Open in qualifying, and for the juniors, the clock will time the 25 seconds between points. But it will be expanded to the two-minute set breaks, medical timeouts, and that five-minute warmup.

*No-Let rule: used in World Team Tennis and the IPTL, players will have to play let serves.  

And … more!

*Player coaching: this still seems to not quite be worked out yet. But players and their coaches will be allowed to communicate. The ATP is trying to use the “additional content and entertainment value for broadcast” element the WTA has claimed for years. They seem to forget that most of the players are not communicating in English, which is the tennis language that reaches the most people. And they rarely have someone speaking a particular language avilable to translate. But since the coaches won’t be allowed on court, how they do this will be interesting.

*Free (almost) fan movement: Not behind the court, of course But the fans on the sides will be able to move in and out of the stadium at any time during the matches. This will no doubt lead to multiple pauses in play as the players wait for people to come in or leave their seats. Because you know the people behind the court are not going to remember they’re not allowed to.

*Singles-only court: The WTA used this a few years at a second-tier year-end in Bali. It takes some getting used to, visually. And if you’ve ever played on one of those courts, you know it takes some getting used to to play on. 

*Third-place playoff: Just like in your own tournament, the losing semifinalists will play off for third place, before the final. It also gives the fans a second match for their money, as it happens, because there’s no doubles.

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