Hello and welcome to the sixteenth issue of Tennis inbox. This week we think about the implementation of Hawkeye Live, check out Andy Murray’s first top 10 win since 2017, and catch up on a few results from the Western & Southern Open.
As a general comment: we’re happy to see that tennis is back! Kudos to all organizers of the Western & Southern Open—the tournament seems to be taking place without a hitch. Though everything is operating smoothly on the surface, we’re sure that many people spent many a late night ensuring what we’re watching on TV could take place.
On to the issue:
Hawkeye Live replaces linespeople. But what does this mean going forward?
If you’ve been watching the Western & Southern Open, you might have noticed that other than the crowd, another essential part of tennis is missing: linespeople! From an entertainment perspective, player interactions with linespeople have always added an extra, intriguing layer to viewing tennis. Who can forget Serena Williams’ famous outburst against a linesperson in 2009 that led to her disqualification from the US Open final? Or what about all those clips of John McEnroe raging at linespeople that find second, third, and fourth lives in various advertising campaigns across the years? Linespeople—and the somewhat imperfect role that they play—have been a fundamental aspect of professional tennis.
But now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Western & Southern Open has elected to forego them and use Hawkeye Live. Instead of operating as a review system, the live version of Hawkeye is the final say on where each ball lands. No challenges. Nope. A robotized voice calls “Out” if the ball is out, and stays silent if the ball lands in bounds.
And it seems that this new system, which debuted at the Next Gen ATP Finals, is probably taking some getting used to. In his match against Kevin Anderson, Stefanos Tsitsipas had wanted to challenge a call, but was told by chair umpire Fergus Murphy that the system’s word was final. No challenges allowed!
This new Hawkeye Live system also raises some questions about the remainder of the year: Is its debut at the Western & Southern Open a trial run? Will we see it at the US Open as well—or will linespeople be brought in? How will it work once the tours transition to clay—where umpires are permitted to get out of their chairs and check ballmarks on the dirt? We have more questions than we have answers.
We must also consider tradition. Can you imagine Wimbledon without linespeople? Something about that just seems off. But maybe we’re stuffy traditionalists and need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a brave new tennis world.
Andy Murray scrapes a win against Alexander Zverev
On Monday evening, Andy Murray scored his first win against an opponent in the top 10 since he beat Kei Nishikori at Roland Garros in 2017. Murray’s scrappy win against #7 Alexander Zverev (6–3, 3–6, 7–5) showcased the Scotsman’s signature style of guile and retrieving ability.
But there were certainly nerves. Leading the third set 4–2, Murray played a service game filled with unforced errors. In perhaps characteristic fashion (he’s not known to hide his negative emotions), Murray also complained about an overgrip issue that he was having.
Kudos to Zverev for staying mentally strong during that period and clawing the match back to 5–5. The solid play was short lived, however, as Zverev’s serve soon abandoned him, allowing Murray to capitalize with a 7–5 victory.
Zverev has struggled with his second serve for a while now. We had thought that this was something he would have worked on during the pandemic, but if his performance against Murray is any indication, he still has more work to do on his second delivery.
Another perspective on that match:
As we’ve mentioned before, if Andy Murray can stay healthy heading into the US Open, he’ll be a darkhorse to watch for the title.
Another darkhorse: Milos Raonic. Raonic was the player who defeated Andy Murray in the next round of the Western & Southern Open, capitalizing on the Scot’s at-times sloppy play. Currently ranked #30, Raonic is always dangerous when his serve is firing. All he needs is a couple of breaks and the match is his. Raonic has a career-high ranking of #3 in the world.
A lot of ink has been spilled about Dominic Thiem and his chances for a US Open victory. But his performance against Filip Krajinovic was far from the kind of tennis required to win a Grand Slam. Thiem, who normally plays an aggressive, baseline-centered game, found himself rushing the net and taking a few too many risks. In the process, he lost to Krajinovic 6–2, 6–1. Thiem said of his loss:
“It was just a horrible game by myself. Didn’t play well at all. Didn’t get any rhythm. I felt like I didn’t win any points on his serve. I had [a lot of] trouble with returning. It’s tough to understand right now, but, I will think about it and hopefully I’ll find better answers in the next days.”
“I knew what I had to do. I had a good preparation with my coach. I knew that I have to play aggressive if I’d have any chance. I think everything went my way today.”
His win against Thiem was the second top 10 victory of Krajinovic’s career.
Serena Williams is out. She lost to #21 Maria Sakkari 7–5, 6–7 (5), 6–1. Williams was playing Sakkari on the back of a marathon victory against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. The 7-6 (6), 3–6, 7–6 (0) victory against Rus must have taken its toll on Williams; she started well against Sakkari but was unable to maintain her quality. Credit to Sakkari for staying tough and getting a big win, though she went on to lose to eighth-seed Johanna Konta in straight sets in the next round.
This performance, as well as her loss against Shelby Rogers in the Top Seed Open, puts a few doubts into our heads about Serena’s chances at winning her 24th Grand Slam at the US Open. But, of course, a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam. Meaning that superior players usually find a way to get wins when it matters most. It’ll be interesting to see if Williams is able to put a few average performances behind her and capitalize in the coming weeks. Fingers crossed!