Var has been the scourge of football fans for years. But on Tuesday it was tennis’s turn to get to grips with new technology, with decidedly mixed results.
The video review system (VR) – used at this year’s US Open – failed during Andy Murray’s first-round win over Corentin Moutet on Tuesday.
So what are video reviews in tennis and what happened?
VR in tennis: What’s that all about?
After May’s French Open featured a number of umpiring controversies, with players complaining about inaccurate or contentious calls, the US Open decided to create a video review feature.
It is not breaking entirely new ground here, as several ATP events – such as the ATP Finals, Next Gen Finals and ATP Cup – already use VR. But this is the first major to do so.
As with the HawkEye system employed for Wimbledon line calls, a player receives three challenges per set, and an extra one for a tie-break. However, these situations come around much more rarely than tight line calls. So it is hard to imagine anyone ever using their full allocation.
These are some of the rulings that can be referred to VR:
Ball bounced more than once prior to contact
Foul shot owing to double touch
Foul shot owing to ball not having crossed the net
Touching the net while the ball is in play
Hindrance (usually calling out inappropriately before your opponent plays a shot)
What happened in Murray’s match?
Moutet became the first player to invoke VR at a major, deploying his challenge in the final game of his straight-sets loss to Murray.
The challenge came after chair umpire Louise Engzell had made a “not up” call against Moutet, claiming that he had failed to dig his racket under a Murray drop shot before the ball had bounced twice.
VAR didn't quite go to plan at the US Open between Corentin Moutet and Andy Murray 📺 pic.twitter.com/oV4WOWnvIu
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) August 29, 2023
At this point, Engzell contacted the VR operators and asked for the video footage. Unfortunately, her tablet malfunctioned and refused to show it. During a frustrating five-minute delay – which occasioned a slow hand-clap from the crowd – the big screen displayed slow-motion replays, which suggested that the ball had indeed bounced twice.
But Engzell was not able to use that evidence, because it was being supplied by the US Open’s TV production staff rather than the verified VR officials. As a result, she announced that the technology had failed and her original call would stand.
Moutet, never the most philosophical of players, was distinctly unhappy. “They do not have the replay, it’s not working,” he yelled at his player box. “What’s the point?” shouted one disgruntled fan, while others booed.
What have the players said?
A confused Murray told reporters: “I don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to work and who’s supposed to make the decision because it was quite clear from the video that the ball had bounced twice.
“We watched it about 10 times. It obviously didn’t go to plan in a pretty important moment of the match. So, yeah, it would be good if they could get that fixed.”
Are the robots taking over?
Automated line judges are now standard at hard-court events around the tour, including the US Open and Australian Open, even if Wimbledon and the French Open are still holding out for humans.
As for video review, this was an inauspicious start, but it can probably be attributed to a shonky tablet rather than anything more significant. In all probability, the other slams will soon be following the US Open’s lead. Most players are keen on expanding the role of technology. Ultimately, they have the loudest voice.