Growing up with the dream of being a tennis champion is difficult. Having to beat your hero at the majors, is a major obstacle! For Naomi Osaka, it took several tries to produce her best tennis on that small stage against Serena Williams. But she did it.
At the 2021 Australian Open, it became clear that others would inherit WTA leadership. What was promoted as a huge, get your pop corn, semi final Serena/Osaka showdown, soon defused into a straight set “munching”. This was no longer Osaka’s, Everest sized, mental challenge.
But there were small, fascinating steps that lead to this moment. A match in which Serena still had the reins of her protege in hand. Those who tuned into the 2018 US Open Women’s Final saw Serena’s enormous stress erupt into a line call conflict with the chair umpire. The tournament referee was no help either.
Casual viewers knew it was a strange, controversial event, but insiders felt her tight grip at the top trembling. On the surface, the struggle for WTA leadership hinged on a line call and the rules at the time were important.
Here was the 2018 US Open Women’s Final situation: 1), the WTA/ATP tours were using a “first time warning, then point penalty, then a game penalty” for unsportsmanlike conduct, 2), the umpire has discretion in administering those rules, 3), Serena is right in that the rules are often administered more leniently for men than women, and 4), Serena had a previous history of high anxiety at the US Open with these rules dating back to a 2009 semi-final loss to Kim Clijsters, which cost her the match, sizeable fines, and her emotional balance.
Enter Tiley’s “Close Call” System
Fast forward to the 2021 Australian Open Women’s Semi’s where pundits predicted a close battle and rematch of the titans. They said it was a chance for Serena to reclaim her dominance over Osaka. Key to the tenor of that match was Craig Tiley, Director of the Australian Open, who introduced a history changing, “Challenge-less” line call system.
In part due to the necessities of the pandemic, he eliminated line judges, gave first responders and front line heroes line call voice overs, and fully automated line calling with his new “Close Call” system.
Refreshingly, every rally ending, ball footprint within 6 inches is automatically shown to the audience and players. No guessing, no calculating remaining challenges, no sneaking opinions from coaches. No fuss, no muss, no stress, and the players loved it without exception. Good on ya Craig!
High strung players like Serena Williams can better relax, trust the system, and play their best without that huge stress factor. Who knows, maybe with the spread of Tiley’s “Close Call” system, G.O.A.T. Serena can make one more comeback. Thank you Craig Tiley!