The `Beep!' Heard 'Round the Court

THE electronic beep heard at courtside during many matches at the United States Open is not "call waiting." It is the voice of a new kind of tennis umpire, an electronic "eye" keeping watch on a different kind of swiftly moving tennis ball.

When the beep sounds, the blur that the human eye has to judge as "in" or "out" of play when Boris Becker hits his 125 miles-per-hour serve, is no longer a blur. The beep means the ball is "out" because embedded in the yellow ball (manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods) are tiny metal shavings that activate thin coils buried beneath the lines on the tennis court.

Known as Tennis Electronic Lines, the lines detect the "footprint" of the ball as it hits the surface of the court. If the ball hits on the wrong side of the line, the beep sounds. The system is on trial at the US Open, the first time a Grand Slam event has used electronic calls.

Jay Snyder, director of officials for the United States Tennis Association, says, "We welcome the testing, because anything that will improve the game we support. But philosophically, we have to ask the question about taking the human element out of the game, and whether or not that's a good way to go."

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