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Can We Count?

Jani Macari Pallis, 
Ph.D. Photo
Jani Macari Pallis, Ph.D.

Normally, each month in this Tennis SET column we explore the science, engineering and technology of tennis - from aerodynamics to biomechanics, footwork and footwear and even advanced mathematics. By now you probably know that during the final tie-breaker of the Venus Williams versus Karolina Sprem match in the second-round of Wimbledon, the chair umpire mistakenly gave Sprem a point she had not earned. Williams, unfortunately, did not question the situation. (Of course, neither did Sprem.)

I'm not "blaming" the chair or line umpire or claiming that the outcome of the match would have been different. (Williams lost three set points.) However simply put, counting in a tie-break should not be considered "advanced math" nor should it warrant a complex high tech solution to guarantee a correct score.

Nevertheless, should there be a rule system or technology with more checks and balances to prevent such an unfortunate mistake from happening again, especially in a Grand Slam?

Since the controversy, I reviewed the International Tennis Federation's Rules of Tennis, to determine if anyone besides the player (Williams) could have protested the score? What recourse, if any, did the line umpire have? Unlike other sports where a coach, manager or teammates might have been able to bring up the error, in singles tennis that is not an option.

Yes, Williams could have questioned the score. I appreciate that it is important to maintain the nature of the game and in tennis it is the player's responsibility to protest/appeal the score. However, in thinking about it, we do expect a great deal from the players. They play intensely, lose pounds of sweat in the heat, practice and condition for years, travel to different time zones, deal with cameras, the media and the crowds. They need to stay focused on their performance. Don't they deserve an accurate score or deserve to have someone in their "court" to validate the score.

Clearly the "no coaching" aspect of tennis perplexes many people, including legendary NFL sports broadcaster and coach, John Madden. With 13 outstanding sports personality/analyst Emmy awards as well as leading the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl victory, the "no coaching" aspect of tennis mystifies him. I heard him comment once several years ago that he could not understand this aspect of tennis. Why wasn't coaching allowed? What other sports don't allow coaching during a game? I believe Madden's extra words were, "What's up with this "no coaching" in tennis? What other sport does this?" (Of course, in the same broadcast, Madden also delved into the mystery of why hotels only provide small complementary toothbrushes. Okay, I'm sure his humor is part of his broadcast charm. However, he was very serious about his bewilderment regarding no coaching in tennis.)

Could you imagine baseball's late great manager Billy Martin remaining on the bench while an official added a run to the other team's score, especially if the opponent's player didn't cross home base? Martin would have been on his feet and out of the dugout kickin' dirt!

I personally feel that the game demands so much of the player now that accurate scoring at a Grand Slam tournament should be a non-issue.

We're all human. We make mistakes. In elite sports, where a point or a fraction of a second decides a win or a loss, those mistakes can be costly. These days hundreds of thousand, even a million dollars can be at stake.

If anyone has any thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing them. Do you think the rules of tennis and code of conduct are just fine regarding scoring questions? Do you think that other officials should be able to question the chair umpire regarding the score? Should more technology be integrated to ensure an accurate score?

You can send me your thoughts using this form.

Until Next Month ... Jani

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This column is copyrighted by Jani Macari Pallis, Ph.D., all rights reserved.

Dr. Jani Macari Pallis is the founder and CEO of Cislunar Aerospace, Inc., an engineering and research firm in San Francisco. In addition to her engineering practice, she has led two collaborations between NASA and Cislunar, creating educational materials on the aerodynamics of sports for pre-college students and educators. As the head of NASA's "Aerodynamics in Sports" project, she has led a team of researchers investigating the aerodynamics, physics and biomechanics of tennis. The group has conducted high speed video data capture at the US Open and research of ball/court interaction, footwork, serve speeds, trajectories and ball aerodynamics. Pallis received a BS and MS from the Georgia Institute of Technology, an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in mechanical and aeronautical engineering from the University of California, Davis. She is a member of the Executive Committee of The International Sports Engineering Association.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Jani by using this form.


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