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The Transformation of Tennis: From Human Linesmen to AI Systems

What does digital transformation mean in practice?


The tennis turf season has started. Let’s put on the white clothes, adjust the hat and get started. Only slowly regaining momentum, we think back and forth. What is actually happening here?

The chair referee climbs up the chair. Good, at least one more flesh-and-blood person on board. How much longer, actually? What do we really need it for? To count? The machine can map all that well. Oh yes, to calm the emotions. The so-called soft skills – currently in high demand. Yes, when it comes to a competition, this can already be helpful to know such a calming force on the sidelines. Okay, fine.

But what about the line judges? I bet they’re all gone by now? Especially on grass, the balls fly so fast. The machine eye is significantly more attentive and accurate than the human eye. Even though it was always funny how the linesmen:inside bent forward, then pointed with their arm in one direction or the other and called “Out” or “Fault”. Eight of them were on the court per game at least.

It has now been decided that from 2025 onwards the ATP Men’s Tour will exclusively use the so-called “Electronic Line Calling Live”. Final tests on clay court are advanced to use an AI-based system at least at professional level in the future. Not quite cheap to buy, but it allows you to create more versatile statistics about running activities and ball movements on the court. And that may hold further marketing potential, the International Tennis Federation hopes.

And how quickly everything went. With Corona, the beginning of the end took place here. First the Australian Open, then the US Open switched to electronic monitoring in 2021, replacing the line judges:in. And Wimbledon followed … oh, not until 2025, if they have to? One is struggling, keeping the tradition up, but will probably have to comply. At least for the men. We’ll see how it looks with the ladies. It is rather unlikely that they will then call in the linesmen again for their games.

By the way, did you know that linesman:in was the entry into a professional, on-court judgeship? Yes, that’s right, even professional line judges earn an income.

Professional linesmen, who are employed at major tournaments such as Wimbledon, the US Open or the Australian Open, can earn up to 25,000.00 euros per year. This, of course, is always related to the number of deployments. With the chair umpires or head umpires, however, the situation is quite different. Professional head referees who officiate matches at the aforementioned top tournaments earn up to 75,000.00 euros annually. However, this only applies to top referees who work for the ITF (International Tennis Federation), for example. The average annual income of professional referees is around 40,000.00 euros per year.

Team Sports Supplies

Okay, so no comparison to the professional tennis players, but still. The usual daily fee for a referee at the US Open is 450 dollars, even if it is a final match and the competition for millions of dollars in winnings for the players:inside.

Interesting, I think to myself. So what about the jobs that are now being replaced by AI? There are those who predict that tennis will have problems with young talent in the future, since the line judgeship was their first job and they gained their first experience of professional refereeing from the sidelines. But if no linemen:inside can practice as such anymore, what then?

Well, it will come about as it has in other areas: People watch tennis out of interest, try to learn informally how chair umpires:inside react and attend empathy workshops if necessary. They will gain experience themselves in the amateur field until, yes, until perhaps soon the chair referees will be replaced by “the machine”. Then all that is needed as a substitute are individual assistants on the sidelines who can intervene professionally if necessary.

Ultimately, therefore, another round of professionalization takes place: more accuracy, better statistics, more professional care of social-emotional tense situations, a faster game. This is also what people are advocating in this tennis news about the introduction of the AI system at the Australian Open in 2021.

Report on the introduction of electronic line calling in 2021

Yes, but the poor sports judges, what do they do now? For example, you could move over to the new trend sport of pickleball. Clear certification routines already exist there in Amiland. And the game starts all over again. That’s how it is – in this case at least … 😉

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