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The return of instant replay

Somewhat obscured by the red dust storm that is the French Open was the news that instant replay will be used in all 10 U.S. Open Series tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open itself, where the Hawk-Eye system will make its first in-stadium appearance in a Grand Slam event.

The USTA wanted all the events to get on board at the same time and has been negotiating with Hawk-Eye, tournament organizers, the ATP, WTA and ESPN television since the technology made a successful debut at the Nasdaq-100 Open in March.

Getting extensive experience with the technology and the challenge system prior to the USTA's flagship event, where instant replay will be available in both Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums, will be a huge plus, said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

"We don't want to experiment at the U.S. Open," he said. "This gives all our constituents -- players, officials, broadcasters, fans -- the best way to learn the system."

The series includes men's tournaments in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Toronto and Cincinnati and women's events in Stanford, Calif.; San Diego and Carson, Calif., along with the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Conn., where both men and women compete.

Nine of the 10 tournaments -- the women's Acura Classic in San Diego is the only exception -- either have or will install video boards so that fans can see the replay of the ball's virtual trajectory at the same time as the players and officials. In San Diego, the signal from the Hawk-Eye booth will be sent to a small monitor mounted on the chair umpire's seat, and the umpire will announce the result of the challenge after viewing the feed.

The system's British inventor, Paul Hawkins, said it will be implemented exactly as it was in Miami, with multiple cameras around the court feeding into a computer that generates an image of the ball's flight within seconds. Players get two challenges per set -- with another added for a tiebreak -- and preserve them if they get a call overruled. They can challenge only on serves and rally-ending points.

There was only one serious glitch at the Nasdaq when the system lost power temporarily during one of Roger Federer's matches -- a small bit of irony given that Federer is one of a handful of players who have said they're not crazy about the innovation.

Hawkins said he's taking the responsibility of making the technology error-free at the smaller tournaments just as seriously as he will in Flushing Meadows. "We're still in that credibility-gaining stage," he said. "I think if we make any mistakes they'll be just as hard on us as they would be at the U.S. Open."

"Viewers are already accustomed to it. It's been on TV so long that when I watch a tournament that doesn't have it, I want to know where it is."
Tracy Austin

Hawk-Eye has been used to generate replay images for television broadcasts since 2002, but was first used in pro tennis competition at the Hopman Cup, a co-ed national team tournament, in Perth, Australia late last year.

It was a hit with most players in Miami, where it was used only in the 59 matches played on stadium court. Players challenged 161 calls and had 53 overruled. Spectators at some matches made sure to let players know when they thought a call should be disputed, which is an entertaining side effect of the technology as long as it doesn't get too out of hand, said former pro and current commentator Tracy Austin.

"The fans are very vocal in New York," she said. "We all know that. The fan interaction at the night matches is what makes the U.S. Open special. But you don't want people screaming out, trying to change players' minds. The chair umpire is going to have to be involved."

Austin said she thinks the novelty of the challenge system will wear off quickly and become part of any player's strategy as they compete in successive tournaments in the hard court series.

"Viewers are already accustomed to it," she said. "It's been on TV so long that when I watch a tournament that doesn't have it, I want to know where it is."

While Austin said she would have loved "the luxury" of having instant replay during her career, when pressed, she couldn't single out a pivotal call she would have liked to put under Hawk-Eye scrutiny now. Those moments are best left behind, she said, although "[John] McEnroe could probably come up with a whole list of points and the times and the settings."

One part of the modern game Austin would love to challenge, however, is what she sees as abusive overuse of injury and bathroom breaks.

"Personally, I think they're allowing way too many," she said. "You see a player lose the first set and some of them -- and it always seems to be the same ones -- suddenly have to go to the bathroom. Are they drinking that much more than we did?"

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelance writer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.