Passing Shots

Serena hails plan 

SERENA Williams has joined the debate over calls for electronic assistance for umpires during matches. 

“I've had a lot of bad luck,'' Williams said yesterday after her semi-final win over Russia's Maria Sharapova. “So now I am definitely in favour of it. 

“But I think it should be to a point where you can only challenge like two or three calls in a match. A player can't challenge every call.'' 

The US Open is investigating using some form of electronic line-calling aid for officials at this year's tournament, with the American major already testing a system before the 2004 quarter-final between Williams and Jennifer Capriati was marred by missed calls. 

Video replay options include those used on TV, such as “Hawkeye.'' Many tournaments use the “Cyclops'' system on the service lines. 

On Wednesday, Davenport said she had “always been against electronic line calling,'' pointing to the cost and difficulty using it on all courts. But obviously technology is evolving. If we can figure out a way where it worked for everybody ... but for now, I kind of stick to the linesmen,'' she said. 

Help from Martina 

AN animal rights group said yesterday it has enlisted the help of Martina Navratilova in its campaign against an Australian sheep farming practice that activists say is cruel. 

The United States-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released the contents of a letter that it said Navratilova wrote to Prime Minister John Howard over the practice of mulesing. 

The procedure – named for the Australian rancher, J.H. Mules, who invented it – involves slicing flesh and wool away from the sheep's rump to prevent blowflies from laying their eggs in the warm, damp skin. 

The animals are strapped on their backs to metal bars while the skin is cut away, usually without anaesthetic. 

The Australian wool industry has agreed to phase out mulesing by 2010 and is continuing research into alternatives. But the activists' group said the policy should end now, and the group is trying to rally major clothing retailers into a global boycott of Australian wool. 

Fever hits TV ratings 

TENNIS is topping the ratings during the Australian Open with the Seven network rolling in massive viewership figures. 

Lleyton Hewitt's run into the semi-finals and the heroic showing of Alicia Molik against Lindsay Davenport in the women's quarters have boosted the profile of the sport during the height of the tennis summer Down Under. 

One Hewitt matches this week, a five-set victory over Spain's Rafael Nadal, hit 1.62 million viewers, peaking at 2.98 million as excitement built. 

Molik did even better with her win over Venus Williams before falling to top seed Davenport, averaging 2.42 million viewers with an off-the-chart peak of 3.31 million. 

Tennis taxis 

THE first taxi off the rank at Melbourne Park this week might just feature live updates of tennis at the Australian Open. 

IBM and the local Silvertop service launched an initiative that has put 50 cabs on the road with “Touch Taxi” screen consoles, which are wirelessly updated on the move with results from the Grand Slam. 

The project allows rear-seat passengers - but not the driver - to keep visual track of the action on court. Also offered: statistics including serve speed, number of aces and other details, all updated every three minutes. 

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