Tennis lines-people are not to blame

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While watching the BNP Paribas Open in the US on TV (the third pro tournament I’ve watched either in person or on telly), I’m struck by the coverage of the lines-people — the men and women who watch the lines eagerly and call it out when it is.

In recent years, the larger tournaments use the electronic Hawk-Eye system, where a player can challenge a call from a lines-person if they believe a wrong call was made. I’m generally in favour of Hawk-Eye because the ball moves so quickly nowadays that wrong calls are going to happen. A blink at the wrong moment is enough to skew one’s view of the ball’s bounce.

What I’m not in favour of is the camera operator’s focusing on the lines-man or -woman during the few seconds tense seconds of animation which shows whether the ball was actually in or out. I feel this selective camera focusing is unfair to the lines-person. There’s no need to embarrass them by placing them on the big screen, especially when the ball clips the outside of the line by a millimetre or less. In important points, I feel even worse for them. I haven’t heard boos from the crowd yet, but I can sense them around the corner.

(Image by James Mellor)

The lines-people are providing an essential service of the modern tennis tournament. They work together with the rest of the volunteers, ball bays/girls, umpires etc. They should be anonymous. The lines-people aren’t to blame, the system is. They do a hell of a job to keep focused for so long on the fleeting-est of moments, on a line a couple inches wide. I try to watch the ball when I play; sometimes I’m a mere few feet away from where the ball bounces and I still can’t call it, and my opponents and I are hardly at a level resembling professional.


As an aside, the BNP Paribas Open is the only tournament I’ve watched where they have audio advertising — and presumably video ads via the big screens — in between end changes. The Malaysian Open just had music, and I think the Aussie Open did as well (although I’m not 100% sure about the Aussie Open).

The BNP Paribas Open is in the US. Is this a coincidence? It’s a smaller tournament than the Aussie Open, so they might need the advertising revenue, but it’s one of the larger smaller tournaments. The Malaysian Open certainly ain’t big…