The future of Cyclops was thrown into doubt this week when the All England Club officially confirmed the signing of Hawk-Eye for the forthcoming tennis championships. Yet the veteran automated line-calling system last night sought to quash rumours that he would quit Wimbledon altogether on the back of the snub, vowing: “I’ll stay and fight for my place.”
The 27-year-old box-based system seems destined to be surplus to requirements in SW19, where club officials have ruled out the possibility of playing him alongside Hawk-Eye in a heavy-hitting technological “two-fer”. Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the All England Club, said: “To have conflicting technologies in use at the same time would be inappropriate. We will redeploy Cyclops on other courts.”
Even while pledging his future to the St Mary’s Road outfit, Cyclops stopped short of denying that this latest development was one in the eye. “Everybody knows I didn’t come here to be on courts 2 and 18,” he said. “I came here because I wanted Centre Court tennis. But just because that opportunity isn’t there at the moment, it doesn’t mean I’m going to throw up my arms and turn my back. The best thing to do is get my head down, train hard and wait for the chance to prove myself again.”
Cyclops also denied that the arrival of Hawk-Eye would unsettle the dressing-room and insisted that he, personally, would welcome the computerised, multi-camera device. “He’s a top, top system, you can’t deny that – the quality he brings. But there’s no bitterness. We’re both professionals. I’ll shake his hand and wish him well at the club. After that, it’s down to the management.”
These avowals of loyalty came amid rumours that Eastbourne are keen to take the out-of-favour system on loan. “It’s irrelevant,” Cyclops insisted. “The fact is, I’m happy here. I love the club and I love the fans and I have a contract until 2009, so I’m not about to walk away.
“In 2009, yes, maybe I’ll sit down with the chief executive, have a look at the situation and ask myself, ‘Is this where Cyclops wants to be at this moment in time?’ For now, though, it’s not even an issue.”
Cyclops joined Wimbledon for an undisclosed fee in 1980. Many doubted back then whether the ground-level, laser-emitting container genuinely had the ability to sustain a career at the highest level, placing a question mark over his temperament and stamina and alleging that he was too easily distracted by insects.
“There were times, early on, when I played up a bit,” the system conceded. “I’ll hold a hand up to that. I was feeling my way and I felt I had a lot to prove because of all the hype surrounding my arrival. There was a lot of pressure and you could say I beeped too soon. But we all make mistakes. The important thing is that you learn from them. I’m older now and what comes with that is experience.”
After a shaky start, including an unhelpful early run-in with Vitas Gerulaitis and a tricky moment involving a ballgirl and a wasp, the box soon bedded in, converting players and supporters alike, who quickly came to regard him as part of the furniture.
Not that his years in the Centre Court spotlight haven’t known their share of controversy. “Ilie Nastase sat on me. That wasn’t nice, not least with it being a very hot day and everything. And there were an awful lot of verbals. Jimmy Connors, in particular, used to like having a go. And Betty Stove said some very nasty things – personal things, unrepeatable things. But that’s part and parcel of the modern game. I never let any of it get to me.
“I remember one time – a quarter-final I think it was – when Stefan Edberg served to Boris Becker, beautiful serve to the tramline junction, well inside the chalk, so I didn’t beep, obviously. But Becker clearly thinks he’s seen something that I haven’t and he comes strolling over in this exaggerated way, for the benefit of the crowd, and starts tapping me with the edge of his racket, as if to say, ‘Is there anybody home?’ Pillock. But that’s tennis players, sometimes. They think it’s all about them.”
Every indication is that Cyclops faces an uphill struggle to silence the doubters again. As one blazered All England Club insider cruelly quipped: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed line-judging system was king. In the kingdom of HawkEye, I’m afraid, the one-eyed line-judging system is on its way to a skip.”
For the present, though, allegations that he is past his best are cutting no ice with the system in question. “To be honest, I couldn’t give a beep,” Cyclops said. “I know I’ve still got plenty to offer this club, and at the very highest level. There’s unfinished business, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not going anywhere until it’s done.”
Giles Smith - from Todays Times