Tennis great John McEnroe—known as “Superbrat” in the late 1970s and early 1980s for questioning every call under the sun—told SportTechie he wishes he’d had Hawk-Eye Innovation’s automated line judges 40 years ago.
Matter of fact, he claims it would have changed his career.
“Hawk-Eye is something where if you know you’ll get the right call even if it’s [against you], that to me is comforting for the players—that’s why I think it’s good,” McEnroe said after the Michelob ULTRA McEnroe vs. McEnroe exhibition, where he competed against past avatars of himself. “Honestly, if they’d had Hawk-Eye when I played, I think I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today doing a Michelob ULTRA [time-travel event] because I would’ve been more boring. But I would’ve won more titles. That’s what I think would’ve happened. I think that energy that I spent going and doing that [arguing with line judges and umpires], if 15 percent of that focus was in the proper place, I think my results would’ve been better. But, like I said, I would’ve been more boring.”
Hawk-Eye’s optical tracking cameras were first introduced on the ATP tour in 2006, but only when a player would request a challenge. In those early years, there were outspoken critics such as Roger Federer, who at Wimbledon in 2007 claimed the automated line judges were “killing” him.
In 2017, the Hawk-Eye Live System was first trialed full-time for every call at the Next Gen ATP Finals. Then, during the pandemic tennis season of 2020, its use was ramped up and implemented at the Masters, the US Open and the ATP Tour Finals.
To get the nod of approval from McEnroe—the ultimate authority on tennis temper tantrums who is known most infamously for his Wimbledon “You cannot be serious!” diatribe—is somewhat of a development. McEnroe firmly believes Hawk-Eye’s latest technology is beyond reproach.
“It doesn’t seem to have taken away anything from the interaction,” McEnroe told SportTechie. “The crowds seem to like it. They still groan at calls. They’ll still do that even though at certain tournaments now, you can’t even question the call. It’s either called in or out, and it’s completely cut [arguing] out. And then they show replays [to confirm it]. One hundred percent of the time, whatever was called, it will never be changed. Sort of like when I dealt with umpires.”
Hawk-Eye was clearly on McEnroe’s mind during his Michelob ULTRA event when he played five virtual matches against his own avatars from 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1992. When the 1992 McEnroe avatar actually questioned a call, the 2022 McEnroe chuckled and told his former self, “There weren’t challenges in 1992.””