Wimbledon replaces line referees with artificial intelligence. “I would feel lonely without them.”

Sorana Cirstea gets her pleasure from tennis from more than just competing at the highest level. The world number 37 from Romania and quarter-finalist at Roland Garros is also about the people who have accompanied her on court for more than a thousand matches: the line referees. “I would feel lonely without them.”

But if it were up to Wimbledon, nine line umpires per match would soon be a thing of the past. The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament announced during this year’s tournament that it wants to replace it with artificial intelligence (AI), meaning cameras can instantly determine if a ball is out or not. Then the computer indicates this, after which only one judge remains ‘Outside!’ Call next.

Job loss for the majority of linear judges

Now tennis still uses the hook cam system. By simulating a hooked ball, players can re-evaluate the decision three times per set. So AI can professionalize the game, Wimbledon tennis players say, but the technology also raises questions.

If many of the more than three hundred referees at Wimbledon are made redundant by artificial intelligence, that’s sad, Kirst says. She fears tennis is losing its “human side”. “I know referees from Romania who are incredibly passionate and proud of their work. For me, sport is about human interaction, from players to linemen and ball boys or girls.”

We cherish it as a valuable tradition

Artificial intelligence will also make it more difficult for line judges to retain their professional license. To do this, they must be active at least thirty days a year. The Australian Open and US Open have been using AI since 2021, and only the ATP men’s tennis tournament will do so from 2025. If Wimbledon also joins in, line referees will only be needed on the women’s WTA tour and in Roland Garros.

The Championships, Wimbledon continues to cherish referee lines as a valuable tradition this spring. They change shifts every hour, wearing white and blue striped shirts, navy blue blazers with sandy pants and sunglasses, all designed by clothing sponsor Ralph Lauren.

However, Wimbledon is slowly changing its traditions. This year, the already obligatory white garments were softened by allowing colored undergarments for women.

Head rest

Wimbledon expert Magda Linnet says AI also has sporting advantages. The Pole reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in 2021, the year of the introduction of artificial intelligence. The fact that she did not have to doubt decisions gave peace to the head of the world’s number 24. “You have to use these three hawkeye apps wisely.”

And Wimbledon showed that unnoticed mistakes can be fatal. Two games from the win featured fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, a consumptive ball from Andy Murray. Not seen by the two-time Wimbledon champion, he missed two break points and lost. The Brit only found out afterwards and it stirred passions. “I wish the AI ​​would do the evaluation.”

Shows how the use of artificial intelligence in law enforcement can dispel emotion. This makes it very likely that the technology could also be used in other sports in the future. Whether the ball went over the touchline or the defensive line, which sometimes leads to heated debates in soccer, could soon be a matter for artificial intelligence.

Eight times right from the hook

Tennis player Holger Rohn often discusses with referees. At Wimbledon, the world number six could no longer make a falcon request in the tie-break that would decide the match. When asked, the twenty-year-old Dane thinks the AI ​​system is “cool”. The development of tennis goes beyond tradition for him. “Discussions are no longer necessary.”

Czech No. 36 Jiri Leczka has asked the Falcon eight times in three matches at Wimbledon. He was right eight times, he says with an exasperated tone. This is significantly more. “I love Wimbledon traditions, but I also struggle with them.”

Artificial intelligence provides game analysis

In terms of perception, artificial intelligence is superior to humans, according to Eric Postma, professor of artificial intelligence at Tilburg University. Tracking the ball is a limited task, the bots don’t get tired hence their judgment is impeccable. “And if a particular light on the track causes errors, the AI ​​can be trained accordingly.”

Wimbledon is already using artificial intelligence from software company IBM this year, which generates tennis feedback on the tournament website and in-depth analysis of the game. According to Postma, it shows how artificial intelligence can also professionalize sports beyond the lines. It considers AI-generated deep analyzes of a team’s strengths and weaknesses based on stats, or AI-designed tactics tailored to each opponent.

Coaches can do that too, but according to Postma, they have blind spots that the AI ​​fills. “This application will be standard within ten years.” In basketball and cricket, AI is already being used for tactics and scouting.

Magda Lynette worries about how quickly the AI ​​will learn. “This can do a lot of good, but it can also do a lot of harm.” She leaves the press room, thinking out loud. She will rethink her view of AI next month. At the end of August, the Polish woman will be at the US Open, where AI will track her strokes.

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Amber Webster

 "Freelance zombie fanatic. Devoted web advocate. Analyst. Writer. Coffee fanatic. Travelaholic. Proud food aficionado."

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