Daniil Medvedev’s latest rant shows how final days of line judges will be increasingly fraught

Daniil Medvedev – Daniil Medvedev's latest rant shows how final days of line judges will be increasingly fraught
Daniil Medvedev lost his temper while protesting a call with the officials - Getty Images/Julian Finney

Daniil Medvedev erupted over a Monte Carlo line-call for the second time in as many days, thus highlighting the danger of employing human officials in this technological era.

“Open your freaking eyes,” Medvedev told umpire Carlos Bernardes and supervisor Cedric Mourier, before being docked a point for his outburst.

Medvedev’s latest tantrum supports the theory that 2024 is likely to be a bumpy final season for human line-judges on the clay.

Next year, the robots take over, on the ATP Tour, at least, but there are another three elite clay-court events to negotiate before then (Barcelona, Madrid and Rome), as well as the French Open and the Olympic tennis event, which will both be staged at Roland Garros.

On Thursday, Medvedev called Mourier to the main court to argue that a shot from Karen Khachanov – the Russian compatriot who eventually beat him by a 6-3, 7-5 scoreline – had flown wide.

‌On Wednesday, Medvedev had complained that one of Gael Monfils’s strokes should have been called long, and had to be mollified by chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani. “Daniil, please don’t shout at him,” said Lahyani, who is known as a skilled player-whisperer at such moments of high tension. “He [the line judge] can make a mistake as well.”

‌These sorts of arguments should become rarer next year, when ELC – or electronic line-calling – becomes universally available throughout the clay season. Both the Hawk-Eye and Foxtenn systems have successfully navigated a clay-court testing process, which took some time, because this is not a completely flat or rigid surface, and have thus been approved by the ATP.

‌For now, though, players and officials are relying on the marks left in the clay dust by the bouncing ball. This is a notoriously subjective process, ideally requiring a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass. Differences of opinion often grow into finger-pointing rows in which an increasingly angry player tries to convince the umpire that a ball didn’t actually touch the line.

‌Disputes are becoming all the more feisty because ELC is now universal in top-level hard-court events. The leading players have increasingly grown acclimatised to its clinical, friction-free ways, and are thus all the more likely to boil over when confronted with what they perceive as human error.

‌There are grounds for concern here for Wimbledon, as well. The All England Club, a great lover of tradition, still uses human line judges backed up by the challenge system (in which a player can appeal to Hawk-Eye for an over-rule, but only three times per set).

‌In an era when most line-calls are made by robots, the AELTC is in danger of looking anachronistic. Last year, Andy Murray’s chances of scoring a third-round win over Denis Shapovalov took a sharp downturn when a crucial return of serve was incorrectly called out. Murray could have challenged but declined to do so because, in his words, “it was right underneath the umpire’s nose”.

‌When asked whether the mistake had changed his views on robot umpires, Murray replied “Right now I obviously would rather it was done automatically. It’s a hard one because I probably prefer having the lines judges on the court. It feels nicer to me. The challenges – I think the crowd, the TV, they probably quite like it. But when mistakes are getting made in important moments, you don’t want that.”

‌Since ELC became the norm at hard-court events, the umpires’ skills have grown rusty and their ability to spot bad calls is declining. One official told Telegraph Sport that “It can be very difficult to maintain concentration when your role doesn’t extend much beyond keeping an eye on the players’ behaviour and asking the crowd not to shout out during rallies.”

‌To return to Thursday’s play in Monte Carlo, Medvedev set about Mourier with an impassioned argument that he knew was being captured on the courtside cameras.

‌“Cedric, the mark is freaking out,” Medvedev said. “They don’t know how to referee any more. Who will take action? Yesterday, the ball is out. Called in. Who will take action? This ball is out there. Who will take responsibility? It’s not my responsibility to referee the matches.

‌“It’s the guy in the glasses,” added Medvedev in his relentless way. “He doesn’t need glasses because he doesn’t see anything. He should not be a referee. It’s in front of him. It’s a slow ball. It’s 15-30 at 5-5. He should not be a referee. He should be out of the referee’s circle. Who will take responsibility? Answer this. Camera is looking. You are the supervisor.”