A Modern Mac Moment

Did anyone see American Jared Donaldson’s on-court meltdown today? It was an amazing display–a full-on John McEnroe. Seems to fit this week’s Borg/Mac theme, so let’s discuss…

Here’s the re-cap: Donaldson was returning serve at Monte Carlo, a clay court tournament. The serve hit the single’s line but past the service line. In other words, the ball was on the line but a couple of inches long.

The line judge watching the service line called the ball good, and the chair umpire agreed. Donaldson asked for the chair umpire to come find the mark. But there was no mark to be found because the ball hit the line. The chair umpire insisted the ball landed in the corner of the service box, right on the intersection of the two lines. (Wrong.) Donaldson indicated a mark outside the line (also wrong), which the umpire dismissed as having been made during a previous point.

Donaldson got up in the umpire’s face, much like you’d see in baseball, shouting and demanding to see the supervisor. In the end, Donaldson lost the point and the match.

But here’s the thing. Not only was Donaldson right, everyone watching on television could see he was right because we had the benefit of Hawk-Eye, a luxury unavailable to the players. Clay tournaments don’t use Hawk-Eye for a couple of reasons. The ball leaves a telltale mark on clay, clearer than the mark it leaves on hard courts, making the technology investment harder to justify. And because the clay can move around, forming ridges and obscuring parts of lines, it can reduce the reliability of Hawk-Eye.

On the other hand, disagreements can arise, as they did today, over which mark is the right one, or on how to interpret the mark in question.

It also seems crazy that someone sitting in her living room thousands of miles away knows exactly where the ball landed when the players and the officials don’t. Maybe if the tournaments don’t use Hawk-Eye, the broadcasters shouldn’t either.

I don’t play on clay very often and don’t fully trust my ability to interpret the ball marks. It feels a bit like reading tea leaves to me. This is especially true after an hour of play, when we’re no longer dealing with a pristine surface. I suspect that if I were a pro, I’d prefer the impersonal clarity of the Hawk-Eye system over arguing about a smudge in the dirt. Whatever you feel about his behavior, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Donaldson after such a blatantly bad call.

What do you think? Should clay courts use Hawk-Eye? Do you ever disagree over marks on clay?

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