Creative challenges to authority: ATP tennis at Miami

April 4, 2009
Hawkeye in tennis

Hawkeye in tennis

The Sony Ericsson ATP tennis tournament at Miami illustrated how players find creative and unexpected ways of coping with rule changes

From the UK, the Miami event plays out often into the early morning, GMT. This mini-post may thus have been influenced by sleep deprivation …

The Murray versus Del Potro semi-final furnished some nice examples of players cottoning on to creative use (and abuse) of newly introduced rule changes.

Non-tennis players begin here

Tennis has introduced a natty technology giving players the right to appeals line-calls. To avoid excessive appeals, there is a limit of three unsuccessful appeals every set. The ultimate authority resides in the technology which tracks ball-movements, now revealed on giant screens to ums and ohs from the fans. Despite reservations, the technology has been around for some while and seems mostly accepted by players and officials alike. It is also a crowd-pleaser.

The intention

The intention behind introducing the hawkeye system is to provide fairer decisions for the players, and perhaps reduce abuse of umpire and officials. Both seem to have been achieved to a degree.

Unintended consequences

In the course of the match, a commentator supplied some stats on how successful the top players had been in their challenges. Only one player had a better than 50% success rate. That was Novak Djokovic. Murray was down at the bottom of the list with less than 25% success rate. As it tuned out, Murray was to go on to contest the final at Miami with Djokovic [Sunday April 5th 2009].

Curious. This researcher’s interest was aroused (even at 2pm in the morning in the semi-final). Both players made unconvincing linecalls. But some unexpected explanations emerged from the SKY commentators. Del Potro, bothered by an injury, found various ways of grabbing a few extra seconds after toughly contested points. An appeal after one rather obviously correct call served the purpose very nicely. He had remained within the letter of the law, even if it had the unintended consequences as far as the legislators were concerned of giving a player a bit of breathing space (almost literally). .

Quickly after, Murray made an equally unconvincing challenge. Was he too grabbing a time-out from the battle? Possibly. But another explanation was suggested by the SKY commentator. It seems that Murray, nothing if not a strategic thinker, had been talking of using a line call appeal to figure out just how wayward his shot had been. The statistically minded might dig more deeply to see whether the stats for players may throw light on such cunning ruses.

Who cares?

Other tennis pros, maybe. Sporting innovators are destined to attract sporting imitators, and that’s how ‘progress’ (or at least change) occurs. Also, of interest to various anoraks who dream up theories of change leadership and innovation.


Hamilton’s wins take heat off Murray

June 12, 2007

Lewis Hamilton’s first Grand Prix wins make world-wide sporting news. Adulation reigns. In England, Hamilton’s triumphs have taken the publicity spotlight off injured Tennis star Andy Murray. Even David Beckham has been pushed into second place. But Wimbledon looms. If Murray wins, can the Great British public find the emotional wellsprings to embrace more than one super-hero at the same time?

England has another sporting idol. Front and back pages of the papers had been widely covered by the story of Lewis Hamilton and his astonishing first months as a Formula one driver.

His Grand Prix wins at Montreal and Indianapolis means that all bets are off for that indicator of popular sporting affectio , Sporting Personality of the Year. In December, Lewis will be up on yet another podium. Then he will in all probability be flanked by two other favorites for what used to be called the housewives’ votes.

In years of limited sporting triumphs on the international stage, voting tends to be a reflection of national affection. But gallant national near-misses will from time to time be thwarted by an international success. So, this year Lewis Hamilton will collect another first place. Frankie Dettori may not end the season as champion jockey, but memories of a great series of classic wins this summer may be enough to get him to second place.

There’s still time for a British golfer to beat Frankie into third place, but this will take a win in a major, maybe at Oakmont, starting this week (I’m hoping, but not betting on that one).

Andy’s still a possible winner

Or maybe Andy Murray will somehow sneak in ahead of Roger F. and Rafael N. at The American Open later this year. Injured at present, he promises a last-minute decision on playing the big one, Wimbledon, in a few weeks time.

Then there’s Monty

In years without significant international success, the continued progress of cricketer Monty Panasar, who is consolidating himself in the public’s affections, would have been enough. But not this year. Anyway, his iconic status may also just have wobbled a bit. That engaging enthusiasm may have been seen as bordering on the unsporting through excessive appeals to the Umpires, in this week’s the victory over the West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Yes, Monty, Great British sporting idols have to be like Caesar’s wife in that one respect. You have to be above suspicion of taint or of falling short of the highest standards of sportsmanship.

The poppy’s already too tall

Which is why Lewis Hamilton will be under the most intense scrutiny for several glittering years. The image of perfection will be tested unto destruction. And do you know what? A young man for whom fame and fortune is guaranteed, will one day show he is human. He will drift a few inches too far and too fast, maybe on the race track. Maybe in a dark place suddenly illuminated by the flash of light from a Paparazzi’s camera. The former will be more physically dangerous. The latter is likely to be temporary. Then the public will be on the emotional roller-coaster ride manufactured for us by those who help create the stories of our sporting heroes.

In a week of sporting dramas

Lewis Hamilton wins a second Grand Prix. Local acclaim becomes even higher. Memories of Frankie’s triumphs decline. Monty is not so much of a hero in the final Cricket test against The West Indies.

David Beckham manages the threat to his pole position in sporting celebrity as courageously as you would expect. He is helped by a football result. In an emotional night, playing in his last game for Real Midrid, Read win a thrilling game to grab their thirtieth Liga title, and twart rivals Barcelona. But even Beckham’s publicity machine can’t match Lewis in his flying machine. Would Andy, even with a dramatic final win over Reger Federer in a Winbledon final, be enough to surge to a top podium position?


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