Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Keeping it Fresh

We've come a long way from wooden racquets and ankle-length tennis dresses, but is it time for tennis to push the envelope even further?

There are always those who want to leave well enough alone. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, they'll say - and they are very often spot-on with their assessment when it comes to tennis. What we have in our sport is a rare and precious entity indeed. Mental and physical warfare that has evolved into a highly physical endeavor, while at the same time remaining traditional at it's very core. But in the new millennium — where our collective attention spans are getting shorter by the year — is it too outrageous to expect that some old traditions will have to give?

The sporting world is Darwinian by nature. All major sports have had to evolve to meet the demands of audiences that are difficult to satiate. Surely the executives at the top of the tennis food chain are thinking up ways to make the sport more appealing to a ravenous yet fickle viewing audience as we speak.

And if they aren't, they should be.

For there is nothing worse than an unsuspecting fat-cat form of leadership that rests on it's laurels. Like the tennis players we admire, who are tirelessly searching for ways to gain a competitive edge in the sport, tennis' leadership should seek to ensure that it remains on the cutting edge of the sporting world by examining the need for change and opening dialogues to gauge the public and player's sentiment.

Just for the fun of it, let's look at a few changes that could be employed to spice up the sport to keep it a step ahead of it's competition:

1. Eliminate the 2nd serve in the tiebreaker:

This idea was taken from (and today's post inspired by) Peter Bodo's Tennis World piece about Ion Tiriac today. In it Tiriac mentions that eliminating the 2nd serve would be a great way to diminish the advantage that the power servers have in tiebreakers, thus making the points longer and ultimately more captivating. It'd also do it's part to shorten matches by a fraction which would probably be a good thing for our beleaguered injury-lathered players.

My Vote: Yes, why the heck not? It's a relatively small change but it would be a thrill to see how each player handled this new challenge. We'd also see a lot more rallies and a lot less aces and service winners — things that tend to turn off a lot of people who don't watch the sport regularly.

2. Eliminate the service let:

The let is another call that slows down play. The rationale here is that the server has done what he's supposed to do by putting the ball in the box, so let's get on with it. Another advantage here is that we wouldn't have to rely on those unreliable microphones that are hastily taped to the top of the let chord. Of course many would have a hard time accepting that a serve that bounces off the chord and trickles just over the net would actually be scored as an ace, myself included.

My Vote: It'd be fun. I can already hear the roar of the crowd as a player scrambles up to the net to try and pick off a let before it bounces twice. It would test the players ability to improvise and, while it might be crazy, I can see it being wildly entertaining for spectators. What the heck, let's do it.

3. On-court coaching:

Martina Navratilova and Brad Gilbert are two of the biggest proponents for full-time on-court coaching on the tour. They argue, against many a purist I might add, that the coaching would make for better all around play, and what fan in their right mind doesn't want to see better play? Detractors argue that on-court coaching eliminates what many feel is the most alluring element of tennis — players are out there in a sink or swim environment, and that's what heightens the tension and drama of the affair.

My vote: I'm going to admit that I'm on the fence here. I'd love for more coaches to get more recognition and face time (they are an underrated group as a whole), but based on what I've seen to date it hasn't really heightened my experience as a viewer all that much. Often times it seems to distract the player more than help the player. I do, however, love the added perspective and insight that the words of certain stellar coaches bring the viewer who is looking to a) get closer to the sport and b) learn the game from watching it.

4. No-ad scoring for the first six games of every set:

Today's player are spending so much time on the court. Each season blends into the next, with little or no time off for the top players until a brief two week period in December. The game is facing an unprecedented wave of injuries and health issues that is a) bringing down the level of many tournaments and b) increasing the allure of performance enhancing drugs that might do their part in alleviating some of the symptoms of fatigue and injury.

Perhaps shortening some of the matches by eliminating some (not all, but some) of the long multiple deuce games might have a positive impact on the overall play?

My Vote: No, there is a place for no-ad scoring, and it's called World Team Tennis (and doubles, but I'm not in favor of that either).

5. Introduce the shot clock between points:

This one has been brought up so much, and so many people seem to be in favor of it, it makes me wonder what the powers that be must be doing up their in their ivory towers. A shot clock would eliminate doubt and frustration much in the same way that the Hawkeye has eliminated the ill will that can be caused by getting snubbed on a call. How can that be a bad thing?

My vote: Yes. 30 seconds seems fair to me.

6. Eliminate players catching their tosses before serving:

In a sport where the server has a distinct advantage over the returner, why make it even easier for them? Not only do players get a mulligan when they've inadvertently tossed the ball (or if it has been blown by wind) out of their strike zones, but they also force the returner to go through the ritual of preparing to return again. It's annoying, to say the least.

My vote: Yes. If you toss, then you must hit it. It's not fair to the returner — or the television viewer — to have to sit through multiple do-overs by a server who is not up to par in the first place.

Please, by all means, leave your ideas/ thoughts/ arguments in the comments section.


  1. all these should be implemented immediately!!!!!

  2. can't be serious, can you? I anticipated much more resistance...especially with on-court coaching and no-ad scoring.

  3. Unlike the targeted "new casual sports fans" with the attention span of a gnat, I simply love to watch all the fussing, tossing, heming and hawing of the serve procedure, as is. It all adds to psychological pressure and mind games that is tennis.

    No changes are needed whatsoever.

  4. No to no 1: The serve is a shot like any other shot. If you are good at it then that is in your favor just as if you had a better backhand than most players. So if a person is a good server and can win tie breakers off that shot then so be it.
    Yes to no 2: It would reward good serving and good returning. What is not to like.
    No on no 3: I don't like the on-court coaching. I especially don't like the women doing it but not the men. It makes women look weak. I don't think it will eliminate coaching from the stands and I think the lack of coaching makes tennis stand out.
    No on no 4 for your reasons, Chris.
    Yes on the shot clock. One way to get the game moving is right from the beginning-keeping the excessive bouncing of the balls before serving and any other long rituals. Also a clock for Hawk-eye. There should be a limited time enforced for challenging and NO looking in the stands for help.
    YES on no 6. Again, serving is a shot and tossing the ball is part of it.

  5. Sunny: I would say the shot clock might be the idea with the best chance of being implemented. It could be called the "Novak" clock, and it would be interesting to see how many bounces of the ball he could get in 30 seconds.

    As far as the "no catching your toss rule," I'd love to see that one implemented. I saw Federer catch his own toss today and I was wondering what he would have done if he had to hit it.

    On on-court coaching: Players seem really tight with their "teams" or "camps" these days, so I wonder if it'd be better to watch them play matches while having the ability to call them on-court for a pow-wow every now and then. For some players it would certainly help and for others it likely wouldn't make a difference.

    I still need time to ponder this one, but it's nice to get the dialogue going.


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