TIME … PLAY!
by World Tennis Day Contributor Craig Gabriel (@crosscourt1)
Every so often there is talk that tennis needs to quicken things up. Usually it is television that might tend to bang the drum, and at times they are not wrong. Let me say from the outset I am not in favor of any changes to the scoring system or anything that might go with that and, yes, I do like a good five-setter.
In the majority of cases the gripping nature of such matches can’t be beat in my view. Last year in this column I gave my opinion on five-set matches. Love ‘em! Love ‘em! Love ‘em!
So as you can tell, that’s not where my direction on quickening things will sit. Two areas I feel where there is potential to move things along are on certain end changes and the warmup.
Firstly to do with end changes. Did you know that originally when a player changed ends they did not sit down? They walked to the other side of the court and maybe picked up a towel and a quick drink on the way. Play was continuous. But then with tennis going professional there were dollars to be made with sponsorship of courtside player benches. TV cameras would zoom in on the player sitting there, allowing them to take a proper break between end changes.
The ridiculous issue was seeing players sitting down after the first game of a set. They’d only been going for about five minutes! The rule was eventually changed and players were supposed to just walk to the other side after the first game of a set.
The players have developed a penchant for stopping, taking drinks, towelling off, etc., and as a result that “continuous” point has fallen by the way. One problem is that chair umpires are not reminding players of the rule. Why is it necessary to stop after the first game? It’s not, but players do it and get away with it. I think the only two players I’ve seen just walk to the other side of the court almost every time are Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
The same goes for the change of ends after six points in a tiebreaker. There should be no stopping at all. The tiebreaker is essentially one game. You don’t stop in the middle of any other game so the same should be applied to the tiebreaker which ends the set.
There is one other aspect that would definitely speed things up with a match and that is no-ad scoring; commonly known as “receiver’s choice.” It was used at the recent BNP Paribas Showdown on World Tennis Day and on the men’s tour it is used in doubles. Adding to that in doubles a match tiebreaker is played at one set all, but I can’t say that I am in favor of that in singles on the regular tour. For that matter, we might as well play pro-sets which should never happen - I don’t want to see the fundamentals of the game altered.
However another legitimate way to get things moving is for players to walk on court and be ready to play at the scheduled time and not five minutes later, or mess around with their bags. As the players of a previous match walk off, the next lot are walking on court. It’s that cliché once again: play is continuous.
Then, regarding the warmup hit -- is it really necessary to have that hit and have it last five minutes to boot? Heck no. On World Tennis Day there were no warmups before some of the matches. A shortened two-minute warmup was only allowed was when each of the two players had not played before that evening or had not played in a long while. A variation of that shortened warmup could be adopted at regular tournaments.
However, as another possible exception, I can understand to some degree having a warm up during a grass court tournament because grass is so unique and at places like Wimbledon the Center Court is not used for practice so it would allow a player to acclimatise with the conditions and surroundings.
Players should walk on court and fans should hear the umpire say “PLAY” and not, as they do, “TIME,” after the five minute warmup. But, if there is a desperate need for the warm up then two minutes needs to suffice, that was how it was done at The Showdown.
Don’t you think the players have had enough time hitting up before the match as they prepare? There is a counter-argument that says it allows a player to also ascertain how an opponent is striking the ball during the warm-up. Err, I somehow don’t believe a player is going to give anything away during a warm-up.
I love what Jimmy Connors used to say: “Hey let’s put up the net and hit some balls.” In other words -- let’s get on with it.