Tennis has begun its annual five-month crux of the year period – European clay followed by European grass followed by North (and South) American hard courts.
As the sport embarks on this busy time, here’s a look at some things that might be done to improve various aspects of the game.
Hawk-Eye on Clay: Is it time to finally use the electronic line-calling system on clay? The argument has always been that, since the ball leaves a mark, it’s possible to visually check whether it is in or out on clay. There’s no need for Hawk-Eye.
The new argument might be that if Hawk-Eye is accurate enough for all the other surfaces – hard courts, grass, indoor carpets etc. – why shouldn’t it be used for clay?
On its website, Hawk-Eye technology claims to have a “mean error rating” of 2.6 mm. If that’s good enough for hard courts and grass, to be consistent shouldn’t it be good enough for clay?
There can be mistakes made on clay because of multiple marks, because of interpretation about whether a mark actually did or didn’t touch the line or because a bad call was made by the linesperson or the umpire. There was one blatant error made by umpire Ali Nili during Milos Raonic’s second-round match against Pablo Cuevas on clay in Monte Carlo last week. A camera clearly showed that a Raonic serve had been wide of the centre line after Nili had insisted it was good. Cuevas protested but Nili stuck to his guns.
There are, of course, arguments to be made against using Hawk-Eye on clay. One is that it is likely impossible to use it on all courts at a large tournament or Grand Slam like Roland Garros, so why should it just be operational in one, two or three of the main stadiums when checking the mark is generally reliable?
The other, and this one is basically showbiz – it would ruin a well-established pantomime that many fans enjoy. The scenario of the umpire getting down from the chair to check a mark brings a little theatre to the whole process of trying to get the call right. For years at the French Open it has provided opportunities for spectator participation – they jeer when the umpire seems to be lording it over a player or messing up, and they whistle when an attractive or showman umpire gets down and walks out to verify a ball mark.
It’s kind of a cathartic exercise that would be lost if Hawk-Eye became the inanimate arbiter on big show-courts like Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris.
Maybe there could be some kind of compromise where players would be allowed one or two Hawk-Eye appeals per match, above and beyond whatever the ruling has been made by the umpires and linespersons looking at the marks.
Checking ball marks on clay is part of the lore of tennis, getting rid of the practice should only happen after thoughtful examination and research. But Hawk-Eye has gained a legitimacy in its 10 years of use on the pro tours and, if it can right an injustice regarding a line call especially at a critical time in an important match, shouldn’t it be an option?
Change-Over Split-Screen: The 90 seconds between games, when players sit in their courtside chairs, is often given over to commercials for those watching on television. But with more live streaming and some television coverage not having commercials all the time – the time between games on TV should always involve a split screen of both players. Fans watching at home like to be able to ‘take the pulse’ of how players are looking at the end changes, and especially partisans want to see their favourite player.
A split screen is easy to do technically and a no-brainer that would give viewers the opportunity to see everything that goes on with both players.
Camera on the net: One of the most tiresome things for fans watching tennis is the common complaint by players that a serve did not touch the net as it went over and should not be a ‘let.’
Positioning a camera so that it could detect even the slightest touch would provide interesting insight into the credibility of players who argue with the umpire about whether a serve really was a ‘let.’
Aces and service winners, winners and forced errors: This is a little arcane but why should there be a difference in the match statistics between an ace and a serve that is so good that a player cannot return it and is classified as a service winner. They both have the same result – the server wins the point without having to play another shot.
It’s similar with a winner and a forced error. Obviously in both cases a player wins the point if he or she hits a shot well enough that it cannot be hit back by the opponent. Why should aces and winners stand alone in a category when service winners and forced errors have the same result? What if a player hits only two aces but has 16 service winners – does a stat about two aces really tell the whole story. It’s the same with winners and forced errors.
Maybe the stat about “aces and services winners” could be recorded as follows – using the example mentioned above it would be like “18 (2)” – meaning 18 overall aces and services winners with the 2 in brackets referring to clean aces. Likewise with winners and forced errors. It could be “30 (15)” meaning 30 combined with 15 of them being winners.
Backwards scores: This has driven people crazy for years and still occurs on the ATP World Tour website. On the WTA website in a player’s “results” category, there is a ‘win’ or ‘loss’ to indicate whether a player won or lost a match. Then the score is listed in conventional fashion.
On the ATP site, there is simply a ‘W’ or a ‘L’ and then the score is written ‘backwards’ if the player ‘L’ (lost).
For example, this is what it looks like for Milos Raonic on the website when he lost (L) in five sets to Andy Murray in the Australian Open semifinals – 64 57 764 46 26. That’s bad enough, but throw in a couple of more tiebreak sets and it almost becomes gibberish.
If the result is that a player lost, then simply indicate it and write the score from the winner’s perspective. The Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t lose a hockey game 1-3 – so why make things confusing when there are even more numbers involved in tennis?
Any tennis writer will tell you what a pain it is to see a score listed from the loser’s viewpoint and then have to reverse it as they’re writing copy on deadline.
It’s okay to say a player was 2-5 down in a set, but not okay – or necessary – to note that he or she lost and then write the score in reverse.
Once Genie Bouchard pulled out of Canada’s World Group II Play-off against the Slovaks in Bratislava last weekend, hopes on the visitors’ side were slim.
With the Slovaks playing No. 34-ranked Anna-Karolina Schmiedlova and No. 38 Dominika Cibulkova in singles, Canada with No. 260 Francoise Abanda and No. 511 Aleksandra Wozniak were major underdogs, especially away from home and on an indoor clay court.
As it turned out, both Abanda and Wozniak, still on the comeback trail after serious right shoulder surgery in September 2014, played extremely well.
In the opener on Saturday against Cibulkova, a 2014 Australian Open finalist, Abanda challenged the diminutive Slovak – 5-foot-3 – from the outset in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 loss. Even the final set wasn’t as one-sided as it might appear as Abanda played aggressively and hung in despite having been ill in the days leading up to the tie.
She was even better on Sunday, taking out No. 124-ranked Jana Cepelova 7-5, 6-2. Abanda was a semifinalist (losing in three sets to Elina Svitolina) in the Wimbledon juniors at age 15 in 2012, the same year 18-year-old Genie Bouchard won the title.
Since that time, she has not lived up to expectations, partly because she has been bothered on and off by a shoulder issue. Her career-high ranking has been No. 175 in October 2014, but now she seems to have found new life. She won a $25,000 (US) Challenger event in Iraputo, Mexico last month and her ranking has improved from No. 346 to No. 263 in recent weeks. She played a lot better than that over the weekend in Bratislava – her serve has vastly improved and she hit her ground strokes with consistent heavy pace and accuracy.
At 5-foot-10 and just turned 19, Abanda may finally be putting it all together which would be great for Canadian tennis because she is an athletic and fun player to watch.
Wozniak, who turns 29 in September, has been through more than her share of injuries the past two or three years. She ranked as high as No. 21 in 2008 and has always been a fine ball-striker, especially off her potent two-handed backhand.
Her match with Schmiedlova was the most thrilling of the weekend. The 21-year-old Slovak prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a two-hour and 47-minute cliffhanger.
While there were a fair number of moonballs, generally the quality of the hitting was high. Both players had their chances and when Wozniak saved two match points trailing 5-4 in the final set, it looked like there might be one final plot twist. Unfortunately for her it didn’t happen, but her ability to compete toe-to-toe with Schmiedlova for such a long period was a positive sign.
Things were different on Sunday as she came out with a wrap on her right calf and kinesio tape on her shoulder and could not be competitive with a much fresher Cibulkova, who won 6-2, 6-0. Some cramping after Saturday’s match with Schmiedlova didn’t help her.
Wozniak is playing a few events in Europe over the next few weeks, leading up to the French Open where she will be in the qualifying.
Canada achieved a slight measure of satisfaction on Sunday when Sharon Fichman combined with 17-year-old Charlotte Robillard-Millette to defeat Cepelova and Tereza Mihalokova 6-3, 0-6, [10-8] in the doubles, the fifth and final match so that the final tie score was 3-2.
In 2017, Canada will be relegated to Americas Group I action and will likely have to travel to somewhere in Latin America to begin a climb back to World Group II participation for 2018.
Tommy Haas, just turned 38, still hopes to return to the tour after his most recent surgery.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) April 15, 2016
Nick Kyrgios has never been shy about showing his feelings for his girlfriend, fellow-Australian (and Croatian native) Ajla Tomljanovic. Currently ranked No. 107, the 22-year-old Tomljanovic underwent shoulder surgery in New York last month and is off the tour indefinitely.
— Tennis addict (@Fauustinou) April 17, 2016
Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert are the hottest team in doubles, having won the last three Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo.
On Sunday, following their victory at the Monte Carlo Country Club, Mahut’s four-year-old son Natanel scampered out to celebrate with his 34-year-old dad.
Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz