End of Wimbledon line judges? Heather Watson endorses Hawk-Eye replacement

Simon BriggsSat, 13 February 2021, 5:47 pm GMT

Tennis - Shutterstock
Tennis – Shutterstock

British No 2 Heather Watson has called for Wimbledon to go without its usual line judges this summer, in keeping with the trend for grand slam events to switch to the digital line-calling system Hawk-Eye Live.

Speaking in Melbourne this week, Watson suggested: “If the world is in the situation that it is, it would be a smart thing to do for everyone’s safety. For me personally, I do love the Hawk-Eye system because I know there is no arguing with the technology.”

As the most traditional of the four slams, Wimbledon might be expected to have reservations about removing its smartly outfitted officials.

But the All England Club are already considering a tournament with reduced attendances – or even no fans at all, depending on the pandemic situation. In a statement last week, a spokesperson said that the club “will always review any innovations with interest”.

Normally, courts would have either nine or seven line judges – depending on the size of the arena – plus a chair umpire to oversee the whole process. At this week’s Australian Open, though, biosecurity protocols have left the umpire as the only official on court.

August’s US Open used a mixed system, with human officials still working the lines on the show courts – mainly so that they could show off their Polo Ralph Lauren uniforms, as per the terms of a sponsorship deal – but robots on the outside courts.

One disadvantage of the automated system is that it might interrupt the evolution of officials. Take James Keothavong, the experienced British umpire – and brother of former British No 1 Anne – who has officiated numerous grand slam finals.

It was Keothavong’s experiences as a line-judge at Wimbledon in 1999, when he was 16, which made him consider umpiring as a career. Some players have expressed concerns over accuracy. On Tuesday, British qualifier Fran Jones was incensed when Hawk-Eye missed a clearly wayward return from her first-round opponent. But Watson was enthusiastic.

“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,” she added.