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Tantrums vs. Science: Study shows that tennis judges have a 61% accuracy rating when challenged

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I could watch John McEnroe flip out all day long. Perhaps one of his most famous tantrums erupted during Wimbeldon in 1981 when a serve of his was called out. McEnroe argued that he saw a puff of chalk dust when the ball hit the ground, a sign that it hit the line.

While the world may never know whether it was truly in or out, a recent study in a British journal has shown that in 2006 and 2007, line judges had a 61% accuracy rating when it came to close calls — data corroborated by the Hawk-Eye.

According to an article by the Associated Foreign Press,

“A paper published on Wednesday in a British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has analysed 1,473 challenges to line calls by 246 professional tennis players in 2006 and 2007.

The study compares the line judge’s call and the player’s challenge with the final word from Hawk-Eye — a hi-tech ball-tracking system used by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) that can spot the position of a ball in play to within three millimetres (0.12 of an inch).

Professional players and line judges “are remarkably proficient” at judging ball bounce position, displaying an accuracy to within just a few centimetres (a couple of inches) when the ball is travelling at 50 metres per second (180 kilometers, 112 miles per hour), says author George Mather, a University of Sussex psychologist.

But the line judges were more reliable than the players. According to Mather’s calculations, the judge is right 61 percent of the time when challenged.”

To be honest, I’ll take tantrums over technology when it comes to tennis. Yelling at machines isn’t nearly as fun to watch.

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