Tennis-Reducing human element is turning tennis into esport: Wilander

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·2-min read
French Open - Roland Garros
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By Sudipto Ganguly

(Reuters) - As more tournaments around the world opt for electronic line calling systems instead of human line judges, seven-times Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander says tennis is losing its intrigue and personality and is in danger of becoming an esport.

The Australian Open replaced on-court officials with the electronic system at the year's first Grand Slam and U.S. Open organisers said they would use the technology on all courts during the final major in 2021.

"I like line umpires and I liked the challenge system where we had three challenges," Wilander told Reuters.

"I thought that added something in tennis that we have lost.

"We have so many unbelievable rallies among the best players in the world at times.

"(Alexander) Zverev and (Matteo) Berrettini in Madrid - I mean the points that they played sometimes were just insane. But probably more than 50% of the points were not more than two shots."

Line calls are being delivered real time through remote tracking cameras, removing the challenge system that allowed players to contest calls made by the judges.

"I think it was some kind of intrigue where the player had to choose," said Wilander, who helped design the NeuroTennis smart wristband which helps players track statistics and also provides coaching instructions.

"'Okay, is this a big enough point where I need to challenge?' I thought that was an interesting twist. It made the player think even more. Now we have no line calling. I think it just takes away some of the personality that's on the court."

The French Open remains the only major that does not use the ball-tracking system, instead leaving the umpires to make final decisions based on marks left by the ball on the red clay.

Wilander said he thought the worst officiating in any sport was soccer but that was one of the reasons the game was so popular.

"I think it's because of the outright passion of people, human element and human error that causes certain losses and intrigues fans," he added.

"There's an intrigue in soccer because they're not perfect, life is not perfect and soccer is not perfect.

"I think we're making tennis esports. We're not esports, we're a sport where you move around and you have human contact."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; editing by Peter Rutherford)