When electronic line judging was introduced at the United States Open in 2006, the golden age of the tennis tirade appeared to be doomed.
A higher digital authority was now available to trump human error and address the nagging doubts and piqued sense of justice that had once fueled the rants of players like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
But although Hawk-Eye, the judging system introduced in New York and elsewhere, did cover the bouncing ball, there was still a loophole. Humans, not machines, remained the ultimate arbiters of the foot fault.
It was not a technical problem. “We didn’t do it only because it wasn’t requested,” Paul Hawkins, one of the inventors of the Hawk-Eye system, said in a telephone interview from France on Thursday. “It would be simple to do it if tennis’s governing bodies wanted to do it.”
But those who approved and put Hawk-Eye in place, like the former United States Tennis Association executive Arlen Kantarian, did not consider the foot fault worth the trouble.
“We approved Hawk-Eye because there were 130-mile-per-hour serves that line judges just didn’t pick up,” Kantarian said Thursday. “When it came to foot faults, we figured that feet didn’t move that quickly so that line judges could pick those up.”
But where there is doubt, there is room for debate, and that breach in the safety net, however small, has left enough space for two extended tantrums over foot-fault calls in the last two years in Arthur Ashe Stadium: the first by Serena Williams last year and the second by Andy Roddick on Wednesday night.