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AO Draw postponed as electronic line-calling confirmed

The draw for the 2021 Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, due to take place on Thursday, has been pushed back by 24 hours, with Friday now set to be a busy day as the 6 warm-up events catch up on their match schedules, delayed because of the need for some 600 players, coaches and staff to be isolated as they await COVID testing release.

The Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam tournament to introduce live electronic line calling on all courts, including the major stadiums. The system will automatically show ‘close calls’ on the big screen on point-ending shots. Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament Director

“The draw was set for 6pm tonight [Thursday] but we’ve postponed it until tomorrow afternoon,” Craig Tiley, AO Tournament Director, said.

“It will be a smaller version to what we’ve done before because the focus is to get the draw done and get it out there so everyone can start planning what they are doing Monday, and who they are watching.

“We will make the decisions on which halves play where by Saturday as we’ve got to get through quite a few matches on Friday.”

It has since come to light that the hotel quarantine worker who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday night worked with people who attended a staff party put on by COVID Quarantine Victoria (CQV).

Around 60 team leaders, site and general managers gathered to celebrate the end of the Australian Open quarantine at the View Hotel on St Kilda Road on Sunday at a party organised by CQV as a ‘thank you’ to staff for their work.

The 26-year-old, who was most likely infected at the Grand Hyatt and last worked at the hotel on 29 January, did not attend the outdoor function but people he worked with did.

While no rules were broken, it gave cause for concern, resulting in a scramble to get everyone in the hotel, including AO participants and those at the party, to be tested again to prevent any possibility of community transmission.

As a result, all matches in the 6 warm-up events were postponed on Thursday and will be played on Friday.

Australian Open signage at Melbourne Park where electronic line calling will replace lines people on all match courts

© Mike Owen/Getty Images

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Tennis Australia announced the introduction of live electronic line calls delivered via remote tracking cameras around the court that automatically send audio line calls in real time.

Movement-activated and pre-recorded voices will be used for ‘Out’, ‘Foot Fault’ and ‘Fault’ calls in matches during the 8-21 February tournament.

“The Australian Open will be the first Grand Slam tournament to introduce live electronic line calling on all courts, including the major stadiums,” Tiley said.

“The system will automatically show ‘close calls’ on the big screen on point-ending shots,” the tournament said in a separate emailed statement to The Associated Press.

“This by default will be 150 millimetres [just under 6 inches] or less for a rally shot or 50 mm [2 inches] or less for a service.

“If a player is requesting that they would like to see a point-ending shot that has not animated automatically, then play can be stopped if the chair umpire is of the opinion that the request is reasonable, and the chair umpire should announce the replay.

“Play should not continue until the shot is shown on the big screen.”

The new system should mean fewer challenges of line calls by players, and less time spent reviewing replays on the big stadium screens.

Effectively, there will be no on-court line judges involved in matches in an effort to reduce the number of staff on-site during the COVID-19 pandemic and only players, chair umpires and ball kids will be allowed on the court.

At last year’s US Open, electronic line calls were used on outside courts but line judges were still calling on the main show courts.

Novak Djokovic, who accidentally struck a lines-woman in the throat with a ball and was disqualified from the tournament, later called for tennis to permanently make a move to electronic line calling, although he said it was unrelated to his New York ejection.

“I have received a lot of criticism because I have said that we should take into consideration excluding the line umpires,” Djokovic said last year. “That is an opinion I have had for several years now, it did not have anything to do with me being disqualified at the US Open.

“I am not a person who adores technology and cannot live without it, in some regards technocratic society has gone too far in my opinion, but if we, in tennis, can be more efficient and precise, why not?”

This week at Melbourne Park, the same system is being used for 6 tune-up tournaments and next week at the Australian Open, there will be an added touch, with the pre-recorded voices being those of Australia’s front-line workers in the country’s pandemic response, firefighters, surf lifesavers and other emergency services personnel.

“A ‘Behind the Line” tribute will introduce community heroes, who will be featured as the official line-calling voice in each match,” Tennis Australia said.

Even without lines-people, 250 officials are still required to service matches at AO21, including referees, chair umpires, match assistants and review officials.



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