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 terrible line call in a match between Capriati and S. Williams.

Williams was robbed. But there was nothing she could do since the USTA does not allow for challenges, something some of the television announcers, most of whom are former pros, have been pushing 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, the officiating organization’s credibility 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 lousy 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 – whose name is now linked to last year’s scandal — announce that the USTA will 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. Why make substantive changes since they already gave Serena a half-baked public apology? They opt for a new coat of paint instead and decide to change the color of the court to blue.

These guys could use a good PR firm. Their 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 will it take for the USTA to realize it needs to figure out how to keep up?

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