Host since 1877 to one of the most tradition-laden of sporting events, from the grass courts to the all-white attire, the All England Lawn Tennis Club has been doing its best lately to keep up with the changing times.
Obligatory curtsies are gone, a retractable roof is on its way, and men and women will earn equal prize money this year. Another update really could affect the outcome of matches: Yes, it's true, instant replay is coming to Wimbledon, video screens and all.
When action begins June 25 at the Grand Slam tournament, Centre Court and Court — will be equipped with technology for the "Hawk-Eye" challenge system, allowing for electronic reviews of close calls.
It could make official-baiting, McEnroe-esque cries of "You can't be serious!" a thing of the past. To some, such as 2003 U.S. Open champion and two-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick, that's quite all right.
"Everybody's kind of making a big deal over Wimbledon. Well, I hate to tell you: Wimbledon's getting a roof, Wimbledon's getting 'Hawk-Eye,'" Roddick said. "The tradition's always going to be there, with the whites and with kind of the old school feel around and stuff, but at the same time, if you feel you can improve your event, I think you have to do it."
The "Hawk-Eye" system made its Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open last year, and the Australian Open followed suit in January. It's not likely to be tried at the other major, the French Open, because balls leave marks in the red clay that can be checked.
When a player questions a call, screens show a graphic rendering of the ball's flight, in slow motion, with a black spot indicating where the ball landed. That spot either touches a white line (the ball was in) or it doesn't (the ball was out).
At the U.S. Open and Australian Open, players were allowed two incorrect challenges per set &
if a call is overturned, the player keeps that challenge &
plus an extra one if a there's a tiebreaker. At Wimbledon, players will be given three per set, plus an extra one for a tiebreaker; in a fifth set for men or a third set for women, where there is no tiebreaker, the number of challenges will be reset if the game score reaches 6-6.
Part of the reason for the extra challenge at Wimbledon is that on the two courts that will have "Hawk-Eye," they're removing the Cyclops system that monitored the service lines and let out a "Beep!" on faults.
It might be odd not to hear those beeps. Even odder: Seeing replays on 161/2-by-10-foot screens at Wimbledon, where some courts still use hand-operated scoreboards.
"We're all very keen on keeping tradition," All England Club Chief Executive Ian Ritchie said, "but we've always got to look to move forward."
That's part of a recent pattern at Wimbledon, where modernity has managed to creep in more and more during this millennium.
In 2003, it was decided players no longer would need to bow or curtsy to the Royal Box behind one of the Centre Court baselines. Instead, players only are required to pay homage if Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles is present &
and neither has stopped by to watch tennis at Wimbledon since the 1970s.
Also, construction has started on a roof for Centre Court, expected to be fully operational in 2009. That will consign to history, at least on Wimbledon's most hallowed court, one of the tournament's grandest traditions: rain delays.
And then there's the prize money. The All England Club announced in February it would give men and women the same amounts from the first round to the final for the first time since players began getting paid in 1968.
So replay fits in with a growing sense that this is no longer your grandfather's Wimbledon.
"I don't think tradition means you can't change anything, ever," Roddick said. "They renovate Fenway, they renovate Wrigley. They're moving Yankee Stadium. It can be done."
Long a proponent of electronic line-calling, Roddick used the system to his advantage Thursday at a Wimbledon warmup at Queen's Club in London. He lost the first set to Alex Bogdanovic and was tied 5-5 in a second-set tiebreaker when a call went against Roddick, setting up match point.
Roddick challenged, got the call overturned and was on his way to a three-set victory.
Even players once vocal in their criticism of the system have been coming around.
That includes Roger Federer, who will be seeking his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title this year. The world's No. — player still is not a big fan of the technology, and he maintains it probably won't alter a match's result.
Yet asked recently about replays at Wimbledon, Federer said, "I'm quite OK with it. It doesn't disturb me anymore."
Not quite a ringing endorsement, maybe, but it counts as progress.
Another past Wimbledon champion, Lleyton Hewitt, noted, "I'm not the biggest fan of it," before adding, "It does bring the public and the fans into it" &
pointing to a big reason why major tournaments went this route.
At events large and small, spectators clap or shout when players challenge calls, then become even more enthusiastic when replays are shown, getting as animated about the video as any volley.
Through the first three days of the Queen's Club tournament, there were 25 challenges, and eight calls were overturned, a 32 percent success rate. That's similar to last year's U.S. Open, where 72 of 226 challenges were successful, 31.8 percent.
"When we discussed the introduction of Hawk-Eye, everybody was very enthusiastic. It's a helpful addition to the game," Ritchie said. "The players felt it was a step forward."
So what's next? Rip up the turf and play on hard courts? Allow &
Too much? Well, how about showing replays of fantastic points on those snazzy new video screens at Centre Court?
"We're not ready to go full blast this year," Ritchie said. "We need to look at how we use that screen technology for 2008."
One step at a time.
Fendrich reported from Paris, Rudzki reported from London.
Wimbledon goes to the videotape