TENNIS'S AVERSION to change is almost pathological. While other sports have readily introduced three-point lines and two-point conversions, tennis has implemented, count it, one innovation over the past century: the tiebreaker, unveiled in 1965 to settle sets tied at 6--all. Against that relief, the introduction of replay technology in 2006 is a radical move--and it will be a wild success. Oh, there will be some technical glitches. And no one will grasp the challenge system, which bears similarities to the NFL's model of contesting officials' calls, for the first few months. But it sure beats the alternative.
In today's power game the ball simply rockets too quickly for even the keenest eyes--often stationed 10 yards from the spot--to make split-second, in-or-out judgments. Too many high-stakes matches in recent years have been marred by line calls that replays revealed to be inaccurate, sometimes appallingly so. Letting machines make the tough calls will not only improve accuracy, but it will also eliminate suspicions about chair umpires' biases or whether top players have intimidated linespeople.
The days of McEnroevian outbursts will be rendered obsolete. But replay technology will not, contrary to some critics' assertions, excise color from the sport. If anything, it will illuminate personalities. Which players will try to abuse the system? Which will make judicious use of their challenges? Which chair umpires will most often be vindicated by replay? Ultimately, the legacy of replay technology could be even greater: that it fostered a change-is-good climate and encouraged more thinking outside the service box. Will on-court coaching be next?
DRE'S LAST DAYS The U.S.S. Agassi will finally come into port: The 35-year-old is doubtful for the '06 Australian Open.
UNHAPPY RETURNS Martina Hingis will bear little resemblance to the player she was in the '90s, when she won five majors.
AMERICA'S CUP? Bowing to public and economic pressure, the ITF will make the Davis Cup a once-a-year event.
YVES LOGGHE/AP (TENNIS PLAYER)
BOTTOM LINE Replay is the best call tennis has made in decades.