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Tennis Goes to the Tape

Times Staff Writer

For about an hour, it seemed as though tennis’ new toy was dressed up with nowhere to go.

Ignored, sitting there, waiting for some attention.

Finally, Jamea Jackson challenged a line call in the first game of the second set Wednesday at the Nasdaq-100 Open. And so, officially, tennis entered a new world as instant replay was used for the first time at a regular tour stop.

The electronic line-calling system, Hawk-Eye, upheld the out call, that Jackson’s forehand down the line was wide.

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“Just to be first,” Jackson said. “Nothing better than that. I was first, and I was wrong.”

Two recently installed video scoreboards at the Stadium Court -- the only court on site using the system -- showed replays within seconds, displaying the trajectory of the shot and where it landed, saying “in” or “out.”

Jackson lost both her challenges. The first player to make a successful one was Jackson’s opponent, Ashley Harkleroad.

“I could tell,” Harkleroad said of her baseline shot. “It skidded off the line. I can pretty much tell if I miss the ball or make the ball, so I knew for sure I wanted to question that.”

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In the six matches on the Stadium Court, there were seven successful challenges and seven unsuccessful ones.

Jackson, the daughter of former NFL cornerback Ernest Jackson, said the new system relieved some pressure.

“You don’t get so angry if you think a call is incorrect, and if you were wrong then you don’t spend those points or matches or extra games really thinking about it,” said Jackson, who saved a match point in the third set, beating Harkleroad, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5, in a first-round match that lasted 3 hours 9 minutes.

Harkleroad noted it could help her husband, pro Alex Bogomolov Jr., who on an outside court without Hawk-Eye, won his first-round match against Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks.

“It’s less arguing,” Harkleroad said. “I really don’t argue too much, but my husband can go on and on all day. Sometimes, I just want to be like, ‘Look, the ball was in, move on.’ ”

Challenges were rare in the two matches after Jackson-Harkleroad. Nicolas Massu of Chile, who defeated Raemon Sluiter of the Netherlands, made one unsuccessful challenge. Carlos Moya of Spain challenged two calls in his match against Victor Hanescu of Romania.

“Yeah, I won one and I lost the other one,” Moya said. “But I think it is great for the crowd.”

In the night match, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador was successful on all four of his challenges in a three-set loss to Xavier Malisse, who won his only challenge.

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The father of Hawk-Eye, Paul Hawkins, a 31-year-old Brit with a doctorate in artificial intelligence, told reporters after the Jackson match that he had felt a little “like a player playing in their first professional event.”

“You’re always going to be a little bit nervous,” he said, “but if you’ve done the work.... “

It was crowded in the review booth during the first match with Hawkins and his colleagues and ATP supervisor Gayle Bradshaw and Angie Cunningham, a representative from the WTA.

Hawkins said they had 10 cameras here, compared to six at Indian Wells, which were used for TV broadcasts. The technology, which he first developed for cricket, was used for tennis broadcasts starting in 2002.

Arlen Kantarian of the U.S. Tennis Assn. said it is “probable” that electronic line calling will be used in the summer’s U.S. Open Series. Plans are to have the system on the two main show courts at the U.S. Open. “One match doesn’t make or break the success of this new initiative,” he said.

As Hawkins noted, no one ever won a Grand Slam title on the opening day of a tournament -- but it could be lost. Establishing credibility was important on such a big occasion.

Harkleroad, who lost her second challenge, predicted Hawk-Eye could bring out the best from officials calling lines.

“I think they’re probably going to be on their best behavior with that going on,” Harkleroad said. “I think maybe sometimes, maybe, they get a little lazy.”

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Venus Williams has withdrawn from the Nasdaq-100 Open, citing a ligament strain in her right elbow.

Williams’ last match was a first-round loss at the Australian Open in January. Her sister, Serena, hasn’t played since Australia, either. She pulled out of a Nasdaq event last week, citing an injured knee and lack of preparation.

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Gene Scott, a former U.S. Davis Cup player who was ranked as high as No. 11 in the world, died Monday of heart disease. He was 68. Scott was publisher of Tennis Week, which he founded in 1974.


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