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Home   News   Tebbutt: Game changers?

Tebbutt: Game changers?

Dec 05, 2017
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Last month at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan several were introduced and given an opportunity for a test run.

Two weeks ago the Grand Slam Board, comprised of representatives of the four Grand Slam tournaments, announced proposed changes, some of which will be introduced at the Australian Open next month.

Here are some of the changes and potential changes:

Photo courtesy: TennisTV.com

Time between points: Few people would disagree with attempts to speed up matches, and more rigorously enforcing the time between points is an obvious way to do that. Only the ATP has had a 25 seconds rule between points. All other professional events had a 20-second rule that was virtually never enforced – effectively making 25 seconds the actual limit. Finally the Grand Slams are on board with 25 seconds and that will be the rule for the 2018 Australian Open.

Also at Melbourne Park next month players will risk a fine of up to $20,000 if they don’t adhere to being ready for the coin toss within one minute of arriving pre-match at their courtside chairs, having a 5-minute warm-up and then being ready to commence play one minute later.

There will be a time clock on the courts during the Aussie Open qualifying. A time clock could be helpful but when to start the clock will remain at the discretion of the umpire which is sensible – meaning he or she can delay starting the time clock if there has been a particularly exhausting point or some kind of crowd interruption. That will help prevent any arbitrarily strict enforcement.

Comfort Breaks: For all the talk of time between points, probably just as much time could be saved if players didn’t take comfort/bathroom breaks at the end of sets. Increasingly these are simply attempts to alter the momentum of the match or get a bit of rest. They usually add at least two or three minutes on top of the two-minute break at the end of sets.

Sometimes the comfort break is used to change clothing. In the case of women, that’s reasonable, especially in conditions where heat and humidity are factors. Still most comfort/bathroom breaks are unnecessary and basically just a gamesmanship ploy.

Here’s a way to discourage them and save time – the player who does not take a comfort break and remains on the court has the right to a visit from his or her coach. Knowing opponents could gain an advantage by talking to their coaches might make players think twice about leaving the court.

Photo courtesy: TennisTV.com

Reducing the seeds: The Grand Slam Board has announced it intends to halve the number of seeds from 32 to 16 at the Slams starting in 2019.

The principal reason is to increase the odds of more competitive matches in the first week of the Slams. While it may well do that it will also increase the chances of top players losing in the first week. Tennis, like most sports, is largely based on stars and superstars and any move that makes them less likely to be around for the final rounds of a tournament has to be viewed as counter-productive.

Roger Federer, mainly because he was injured for most of the second half of 2016, was the No. 17 seed at this year’s Australian Open. While he ended up winning it, if he had been unseeded he could have played any of the top players in the early rounds and who knows what would have happened to him or potentially to another marquee name.

Similarly, Pete Sampras was the No. 17 seed when he won the 2002 US Open.

There are 16 seeds in men’s and women’s 64-player format draws. It only seems logical that with double that amount of players, 128, at a Grand Slam, there should be twice as many seeds.

Withdrawals: This change makes sense, especially because some unfit players would play the first round of a Grand Slam event simply to get the prize money. At the 2017 US Open, first-round losers received $50,000. Beginning in 2018 players who withdraw after noon on the Thursday before the tournament will receive 50 per cent of that money with the other 50 per cent going to the lucky loser who takes his or her place. But maybe 75 per cent to the player withdrawing might be better in terms of achieving the desired result.

There will also be fines of up to the equivalent of first-round prize money for any player who “retires or performs below professional standards” in the first round.

Photo courtesy: TennisTV.com

Coaching: This one is getting a little tiresome. Like a lot of politics in the USA – either you’re on one side or the other. Tebbutt Tuesday is against coaching for lots of reasons but mainly because tennis is an individual sport and players have to work things out by themselves. Also, there would be too many possibilities for abuses and distractions and, if it’s for television, how often are players really going to reveal their vulnerabilities, in a language everyone understands, for all the world to hear?

Maybe allowing signals – with no audible component – by coaches from courtside positions would be a compromise that would also help by basically legalizing something that’s already going on and is difficult to control.

Scoring: The sets of four games and matches of three-out-of-five sets didn’t quite cut it at the Next Gen Finals. Plain and simple, a four-game set doesn’t get a chance to build, especially if serve is a significant factor and one player is broken in the first two games. As for No-Ad point scoring, a lot of players and fans could easily adapt to it. But deuce-advantage scoring has been around so long it will be a tough habit to break.

Electronic Line-calling: Hawk-Eye, with no linespersons, was used at the Next Gen Finals and did seem to make things operate more smoothly. But there were times when the players wanted to ‘challenge’ but realized Hawk-Eye had already made a definitive call. Historically much of the theatrical side of tennis has come from line calls and the people making them. Not having humans on the lines might make the whole scene a little too antiseptic.

Davis Cup Format: Tebbutt Tuesday is a reformer on this one. The best-of-five format for matches in Davis Cup has reached its sell-by date.

That realization hit home while watching the Laver Cup last September. In that event, a variation on country vs. country competition, two-out-of-three sets seemed to work fine – even with a match tiebreak instead of a third set.

Over the last several years, Davis Cup’s biggest problem has been the reluctance of the sport’s best players to participate. By making the matches two-out-of-three – doubles on the middle Saturday would remain three-out-of-five – it would reduce the chances of a player wearing himself out and possibly compromising his fitness for post-Davis Cup events.

Finally, while the Brits and maybe some others still use the term ‘rubbers’ for matches – please let’s get rid of it. It has another colloquial meaning for many and just confuses most people. It’s tough enough trying to explain to non-hardcore fans that a best-of-five Davis Cup series is called a ‘tie’ without having to throw in ‘rubbers’ – especially ‘dead rubbers’ – as well.

 

DANCEVIC CAPTAINS CANADA

Frank Dancevic is the new Canadian Davis Cup captain – taking over from Martin Laurendeau who will now concentrate on his position as coach of Denis Shapovalov.

Laurendeau, 53, has been captain for 15 years and has a 17-13 record over 30 ties.

Maybe his greatest achievement was successfully guiding a young Canadian team through three away ties in 2011 – Mexico City, Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Ramat Hasharon (Israel) – to reach the World Group where Canada has remained for what has now reached seven years.

“I’m very confident about Frank,” Laurendeau said. “He’s a veteran who has played a lot of Davis Cup. He was a practice partner when he was 16 or 17 and he’s been through different stages in his career as a player. He’s our most experienced player after Daniel (Nestor). Daniel will still be there so we have a lot of seniority in our leadership. With our young guys coming up, the situation is very promising.”

Dancevic has played Davis Cup in 14 different years dating back to 2002, compiling an overall match record of 18-22. In 2003 in Calgary, he famously won the fifth and deciding match over Flavio Saretta of Brazil to give Canada its second presence in the elite 16-nation World Group.

Currently ranked No. 364 in singles, he plans to continue his playing career.

“I know all the players well, which is an asset for me moving forward,” Dancevic said. “It is certainly a great challenge but I have tremendous confidence in this team and I am looking forward to our next tie in February.”

That tie will be in Osijek, Croatia, from February 2-4, and the 33-year-old Dancevic should feel at home because he’s fluent in the language.

He and his wife Nikolina, who is from Serbia, became the proud parents of a baby boy Alexander born less than two weeks ago.

Upon the announcement of the new captain, Louis Borfiga, the man in charge of the National Training Centre in Montreal, praised Dancevic’s tennis smarts and ability to analyze matches.

 

MAHUT’S SHRINE

Nicolas Mahut was a member of the Davis Cup-winning French team two weekends ago.

The picture above is from the Broadcast Centre at Wimbledon in 2011 where sculptures of Mahut and John Isner – commemorating their epic ‘70-68’ five-set marathon match in 2010 – were exhibited.

In the tweet here – which translates as “back home and immensely proud” with “#decima” indicating France’s 10th overall Davis Cup title – Mahut has either the original or a replica of his sculpture from Wimbledon along with a miniature Davis Cup trophy.

 

SLIGHT OF RACQUET

This cool racquet trick was on the Twitter account of Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion. The guy performing it is named Stefan Bojic.