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This device measures net vibrations at the U.S. Open.
This device measures net vibrations at the U.S. Open.

There appeared to be a slight technology malfunction at the U.S. Open on Monday evening.

usopen111During a first round U.S. Open tennis match between No. 1-seed Novak Djokovic and Jerzy Janowicz, net sensors seemed to mistakenly call a “let” during the second set.

The two tennis pros were locked at 2-2 in the second set when Janowicz appeared to slam a serve past Djokovic.

But the chair umpire called a “let” violation on the shot, which surprised both Janowicz, who gave the judge a long stare-down, and the ESPN commentators.

“That’s a terrible call,” said Brad Gilbert.

ESPN analyst John McEnroe chimed in and noted the call was made “by a machine.” Indeed, there are small sensors attached to the net that replaced human net judges two decades ago. This New York Times piece from 1996 details the introduction of the devices, which are connected to a small box that alerts the chair umpire of any vibration on a serve.

“That machine is wrong,” Gilbert said on Monday, adding that Janowicz’s serve was “eight inches” over the net.

In most pro tennis tournaments, a “let” violation is called when the serve hits the net, but also lands in the cross-court service box. The player is required to re-do his or her serve.

Some say the rule should be abolished to speed up play, among other reasons. McEnroe said on Monday that the apparent machine malfunction was “all the more reason to not to play ‘let’s’.”

Gilbert also said that players should be able to challenge “let” calls, but the U.S. Open, one of four annual Grand Slam events, does not allow players to challenge them. That’s different than line violations determined by camera technology — players have an allotted number of times they can challenge those calls.

“When you challenge things, you go to a machine,” noted ESPN play-by-play commentator Chris Fowler. “When a machine calls calls ‘let,’ how are you going to challenge it? Go to another machine?”

Some think that the camera technology should also be used to determine “let” violations, instead of the sensors, which turn vibrations into electrical energy, according to this Telegraph story from 2011.

The apparent error on Monday by the sensors show that sometimes computer judges can make mistakes, too — just like the humans that they may one day replace. The idea of robotic referees and umpires is not new, but as technology becomes more advanced and less intrusive, it becomes more of a legitimate possibility. However, not everyone is excited the proposition, as GeekWire found out after speaking with the MLB’s Seattle Mariners last month.

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