PARIS (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic’s relationship with line officials has been difficult of late and the Serbian risked their wrath again on Saturday when he suggested they were unnecessary.
The 33-year-old world number one was dramatically defaulted in the U.S. Open fourth round after inadvertently hitting a female line judge in the throat with a loose ball.
Now he believes their job should be done by Hawkeye technology.
“With all my respect for the tradition and the culture we have in this sport, when it comes to people present on the court during a match, including line (judges), I really don’t see a reason why every single tournament in this world, in this technological advanced era, would not have what we had during the Cincinnati/New York tournaments,” Djokovic said.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant the majority of courts at the U.S. Open, part from the main show courts, dispensed with line judges as a health precaution.
They are back at the French Open which, because it is on clay, does not use Hawkeye technology for close calls, relying instead on the umpire to examine a mark in the red dust.
While the issue of whether players should be able to challenge via a Hawkeye review at the French Open and other claycourt events, as they do on other surfaces, has been debated all week here, Djokovic appears to want to go further.
“The technology is so advanced right now, there is absolutely no reason why you should keep line umpires on the court. That’s my opinion,” he said.
“Of course, I understand technology is expensive, so it’s an economic issue and a question mark. But I feel like we are all moving towards that, and sooner or later there is no reason to keep line umpires.
“Yes, ball kids, of course, ball person, yes, but line umpires, I don’t see why anymore, to be honest,” he said before adding with a smile “I would also probably then have less chances to do what I did in New York.”
Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion, instead believes traditions should be respected.
“They can also have a HawkEye, you know, in clay court. That solves everything. But I feel it’s pretty traditional (now), and I’m a traditional person. I enjoy having, you know, line umpires and chair umpire. And I just like things the old way,” she said.
“You can put a HawkEye (in) and make it more modern, but I appreciate not being a machine on the court. (It would be) even more lonely out there just with us. A speaker that says in or out.”
The ATP’s Next Gen tournament has experimented with Hawkeye technology calling the lines using an automated voice rather than having officials on court.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, additional reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)