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USTA Manages Reputation with New Coat of Paint

On television, conflict equals ratings. One of the most exciting moments at last year’s US Open was created by a ridiculously bad line call in a match between Capriati and S. Williams.

Williams was totally robbed. But there was nothing she could do, since the USTA does not allow for challenges, something some of the television announcers, most of who are former pros, have been pushing for for some time now.

When a professional athlete works as hard as they do to make it into the US Open, and a negligent line call affects their chance of winning in any way at all, the credibility of the officiating organization comes into play, and everyone takes the sport less seriously. Why not allow a limited number of challenges per player? It would certainly amplify the conflict level of the matches and make for more exciting, and probably even higher rated, matches on TV.

The bad line calls at last year’s US Open were reprehensible. Cliff Drysdale knew it. Shotspot knew it. The fans in the Stadium knew it. The television audience knew it. Even the USTA knew it. Unfortunately, the only person who didn’t was in the chair. The poor line call was answered with a flurry of negative press coverage in the mainstream news media, leading to a genuine public relations crisis.

How does the USTA respond? Does Arlen Kantarian – who’s name is know linked to last year’s scandal — announce that the USTA is going to adapt and improve how they officiate the game of tennis? Do they seize the moment and introduce line challenges, or let the umpire review close line call themselves with Shotspot? No. Since they already gave Serena a half-baked public apology, why make any substantative changes? They opt for a new coat of paint instead, and decide to change the color of the court to blue.

This superficial announcement does nothing to reinvigorate the sport, nothing to reinstate confidence in the game from viewers and nothing to protect the athletes, who dedicate their lives to the sport. The players are getting better, serving faster and hitting harder. What is it going to take for the USTA to realize it needs to figure out a way to keep up?

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