Wimbledon 2021: How does Hawk-Eye work? Is Hawk-Eye accurate?

How does the fancy technology actually judge when a ball is out?

Wimbledon 2019 Caroline Wozniacki

Hawk-Eye has become a bit of an institution at Wimbledon, as traditional as queuing for tickets or chomping on strawberries and cream.

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Your heart always beats that little bit faster, as the crowd claps ever quicker, awaiting a verdict on a close line call.

But have you ever wondered how this impressive technology actually works?

The decision about whether a ball is in or out comes down to the tiniest margins, yet the camera-led system offers precise judgements at great speed.

RadioTimes.com has done a bit of research, and here we give you everything we know about the impressive system of Hawk-Eye for Wimbledon 2021. (For more details on how to watch the upcoming games, see our Wimbledon 2021 TV schedule.)

How does Hawk-Eye work?

Despite its name, this piece of umpiring sadly doesn’t have anything to do with actual hawks (although the All England Club does rely on Rufus the Harris hawk to deter pigeons!).

Hawk-Eye is built from a network of 10 cameras around the court that capture 60 high-resolution images per second. At least five cameras cover every bounce of the ball.

A centralised computer system rapidly processes the images, triangulates the position of the ball and calculates a flight path – the yellow streak you see behind the ball in the Hawk-eye graphics.

Hawk-Eye collects data for every shot taken in the match, not just the close calls.

This is to make sure all 10 cameras are doing their job, as well as providing plenty of talking points for analysts and pundits.

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 18: Hawk-Eye technicians check their ball detection systems on Courts No.3 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club ahead of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on June 18, 2011 in London, England. The Championships which are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year begin on June 20, 2011. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images) TL

The 26-strong Hawk-Eye team ensures the cameras are calibrated to the court lines, and must do this again when faded lines are repainted throughout the tournament.

During games, a team of four work from a commentary booth: two Hawk-Eye team members, one big-screen operator and one review official (a certified umpire).

How many times can players use Hawk-Eye?

Players are given unlimited opportunities to challenge a call in each set at Wimbledon.

However, once three incorrect challenges are made, that player can’t challenge again until the next set.

If the set goes to a tiebreak, an extra challenge is awarded to each player.

It rarely happens, but the umpire can reject a challenge if it is an “unreasonable request or… not made in a timely manner”, according to the International Tennis Federation rules.

When was Hawk-Eye introduced to Wimbledon?

After it was first tested in 2004, the system was implemented on Centre Court and Court 1 in 2007.

It is now used across Centre Court plus courts 1, 2, 3, 12 and 18.

Players on courts without Hawk-eye must solely rely on line umpires to make the right calls.

How accurate is Hawk-Eye?

The Hawk-Eye system has a 2.2mm margin of error, with some research claiming the system can be as much as 10mm off.

Why? The ball may move too quickly to be properly captured on camera as all cameras have a finite frame-speed.

As one University of Cardiff paper says, “If the frame-speed is, say, 100 frames per second, and the ball is moving at about 100 mph it will travel about 1.5 feet between frames”.

This margin of error can cause controversy during big points.

During the 2007 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, a ball that appeared to be out was called in by 1mm.

There are other occasional problems with the system. During a 2017 match between Rafael Nadal and Borna Coric, the Hawk-Eye graphic failed to show on screen, with Nadal seeming sceptical about the final call.

But despite the problems with Hawk-Eye, it’s a lot more reliable than human line judges.

Studies have suggested 8.2% of all line calls involving balls within 100mm of a court line will be called incorrectly by line judges.

This means you can expect line judges to make four errors per set, and Hawk-Eye will happily mop up the mistakes as long as the technology is present on court.

Caroline Wozniacki’s third round defeat to Zhang Shuai in 2019 was shrouded in controversy after three calls went against the Danish player due to Hawk-Eye, though she insisted the system was inaccurate in furious outbursts at the umpire.

Want more Wimbledon content? We’ve got you covered – read on to find out what the Wimbledon weather forecast is looking like, who is predicted to become the Wimbledon 2021 winner, and who has won Wimbledon the most times. We also have selected our top Wimbledon facts and figures, and can answer questions like will Andy Murray play at Wimbledon in 2021 or will Roger Federer retire after Wimbledon 2021?

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Wimbledon coverage airs daily across BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Red Button, starting on Monday 28th June at 10:30am. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide. Visit our Sport hub for all the latest news.