SHANGHAI - Line umpires are supposed to focus on where tennis balls drop - inside or outside the line. It sounds like a simple job, but all that assumed simplicity evaporates as soon as a player gets riled up over a questionable call.
But the arrival of Hawk-Eye into tennis has made life a little easier for umpires and players alike. Here at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, players routinely use the ball-tracking technology when they think an umpire has misjudged. When a player challenges (players are allowed two challenges per set, plus one in a tiebreak), within a few seconds a jumbo-sized computer screen in the stadium displays where the ball actually dropped.
In Shanghai so far, most players have taken advantage of the challenge system. Among line umpires, Hawk-Eye is a subject of debate, though they generally believe it's good for the game.
Yang Yong, 34, a Shanghai resident who is a line umpire here and previously served at both the Australian Open and at Wimbledon, said the new technology puts some umpires a little on edge.
"It really puts a lot of pressure on us, but on the other hand, I think Hawk-Eye is good," Yong said yesterday. "We are human beings, we will make mistakes and the Hawk-Eye can back us up, we will feel pressure but it makes us work harder."
Yang also feels that one of the good qualities of Hawk-Eye is that it's entertaining for tennis fans because it allows them to feel more involved in the game and bring a more "interactive feeling" to the sport.
He admitted, however, that when the computer shows the umpire made a mistake, it's not a pleasant feeling.
"It's very tough. It means it shows a difference, it means you made a mistake," he said. "Some calls are very, very close. The human eye can't see it, so we call what we see."
One of his colleagues, Matthias Giese, 37, of Germany, who has also served as an umpire at major tournaments around the world, said after years of umpiring, he's learned to deal with the pressure on the court and to focus on the game. As for Hawk-Eye, he said it's good for the game and makes his job easier to some degree.
"It's better now with Hawk-Eye. I think it's good for officiating and it's an aid for us. It's not putting us under pressure," Giese said.
Both umpires said Hawk-Eye could lead to trouble with players - or at least bring a little embarrassment - if the computer puts the ball several centimeters away from the line, as opposed to just one.
"If it's a millimeter or something, they don't get angry. But if you miss by 20 centimeters, they would be angry," he said. Most of the time, Giese said, umpires get it right.
"It's entertaining for the spectators and the players see we're not so bad," he said, adding that before Hawk-Eye's introduction, players were "more angry, yelling and stuff like that".