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February 25, 2021

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Heather Watson backs electronic line calling at Wimbledon 2021 despite mixed Aus Open reaction

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Watson thinks electronic line calling should be introduced at Wimbledon (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Heather Watson has backed electronic line calling to be introduced at this year’s Wimbledon, despite some of her peers complaining over its use during the Australian Open.

This year’s first Grand Slam has been the first major to replace line judges with electronic line calling – a decision that materialised as a measure to reduce the number of people required on site amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Watson, the British No. 2 who lost in the second round, thinks it would be a sensible move for Wimbledon to follow suit.

‘If the world is in the situation that it is, it would be a smart thing to do for everyone’s safety,’ said Watson.

‘For me personally I do love the HawkEye system because I know there is no arguing with the technology. I personally trust it.

‘I think it’s great and if they do have it, it should be on every court so it is fair for all players.’

Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open for hitting a line judge with a ball (Picture: Getty)

Line judges are viewed as part of the ‘fabric’ of Wimbledon by All England Club chiefs but there was a degree of wiggle room in a statement given to the i earlier this week when discussing the merits of new technology.

‘Our strategic vision is to ensure that Wimbledon maintains its position at the pinnacle of the sport, and as such, we will always review any innovations with interest, while taking care to maintain the unique quality, character and image of The Championships and ensure we have consulted fully on any change or introduction to understand the implications for all our stakeholders,’ a spokesperson said.

‘The highly skilled individuals who make up the officiating community are not only vital to the delivery of The Championships, they play a key role in the fabric of the sport.’

Wimbledon’s hand may prove to be forced if there is a need to keep numbers of operating staff on site to a minimum and they can rely on support from the likes of Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

‘It takes away a lot of the human error, which clearly I definitely don’t need,’ said Williams, who threatened to shove a ball down a line judge’s throat at the 2009 US Open. ‘I should be the biggest fan of that.’

Djokovic, who was disqualified from last year’s US Open after hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball, also expressed his support.

Williams famously clashed with a line judge (Picture: Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)

‘I understand that there is a tradition and history and the way we kind of got used to the line umpires being there,’ said the world No. 1. ‘But when you draw a line, I actually am in favour of technology. I don’t see a reason why we need the line umpires.’

But it hasn’t been universally popular.

Watson’s compatriot Francesca Jones suffered a questionable call as a result of the technology in her first-round defeat to Shelby Rogers.

‘I don’t know who is in charge of the refereeing system that’s here, but certainly questionable, extremely questionable,’ said Jones. ‘I have seen the replay that was shown on Eurosport… and it’s clearly out. Massive, massive, massive momentum change at that point, but I’m not going to sit here and say one point was an excuse of the whole match.

‘I much prefer human error than systematic error. Look, it’s a new system and I understand why it’s being used but I think that definitely needs to be revised.’

Jones wasn’t the lone voice of dissent Frenchman Gilles Simon expressed his concerns over the accuracy of the technology.

‘The main problem is that it’s not at all accurate,’ Simon told the French press after his first-round defeat to Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tstisipas. ‘That’s the big, big problem.

‘Surprisingly the players prefer a machine error to a chair umpire error, otherwise we always have the idea that it’s personal – we’re paranoid and we always have the idea that the umpire is blaming us personally, and that’s why he’s making a mistake.

Jones is not a fan of the technology (Picture: Getty Images)

‘But with the machine, you can’t push your paranoia quite that far. It’s a problem because there are big differences – especially here where you can see the marks really, really well. You can see that the call that’s been made is not where the mark is. So it’s a problem.’

Questions are also raised about whether electronic line calling detracts from the viewing experience. Simon added: ‘And surprisingly, I think we miss the challenges.

‘I think people and the players actually like the challenges – it was a nice mix to be able to resort to the video three times – something happened. Obviously now you can’t challenge a ball that’s been called out by the machine.’

The USA’s Frances Tiafoe agreed, adding: ‘I’m just not a fan for it. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan It is what it is. I think there will be misses. Things are happening so fast. I get technology is at a crazy high level. I’m just not a believer in it. That’s just kind of what it is.

‘They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. It doesn’t matter what I say. They’re not gonna change anything because Frances Tiafoe said it. I’m never gonna be for it.’

Ultimately the decision lies in the hands of tournament officials rather than players but it was telling that Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley claimed he felt that line judges will no longer work at the top end of the sport.

Tiley warned change is coming (Picture: Getty)

‘I was actually talking to a friend yesterday who’s a line judge, and he asked me, “Do you think my career is over?” And I said, “As a line judge, yes, at the professional levels”,’ Tiley told Reuters.

‘That’s going to no longer be a pathway … because the electronic line calling is here to stay.’

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