Generation Next: Innovations In Tennis

By The Way - Weekly Columns


Over the past couple of years, there have been a few innovations put forward by those in the know, with the aim of making tennis more 'exciting,' and maybe more contentiously, speeding it up. These may have been developed by *experts,* but how many of them will actually have a positive impact on tennis? I don't know about you, but I find tennis perfectly exciting at the moment, and that's obviously why I watch it, as well as a lot of other fans. As for making matches quicker, for whose benefit would it be? Is it so the organisers can squeeze more sessions in per day, or is this something the players have requested? I have seen the discussion that fans don't like to sit through long matches, but is that representative of all fans? Surely people love the ups and downs of a 5-set match, not knowing who will come out on top. There are pros and cons to everything, but the old saying 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' could easily be applied here.

The first innovation that was introduced was the 'Fast4 format,' which has been used in exhibition competitions for the past couple of years. Advocates of the format argue that it brings an 'every point counts' mentality, making the match more exciting, but would it leave fans, and perhaps even players, feeling shortchanged? Rules include; - First to 4 games wins the set; no needing to win 6 games to win the set, as soon as someone gets to 4, that's it. It can go FAST, so players do need to be on the ball from the very first point. - Tie-breaks are played at 3 games each, rather than 6, which rather handily chops off 6 games, hmmm. Tie-breaks are first to 5, rather than 7, which cuts out another 2 points. Are you seeing a pattern here? - No-ad scoring. This is something which has been used in doubles matches for a while, but players who stick to singles may find it a bit harder to get used to. Once the game gets to deuce, the winner of the next point, wins the game. Basically, the deuce point acts as both a game point and an ad point depending on who wins it. - Lastly, the rule that players may find it hardest to get used to, the no let rule. Every let serve will be played, no matter if it just dances on top of the net and dribbles over, or if it may as well be an ace, every one counts. Servers may feel a bit lucky if their serve just about makes it over, but contrastingly, it could give returners a bit more time on the return.

The Fast4 format has been in action in the mixed-doubles tie of the Hopman cup matches this week, and David Goffin got caught out with the no-let rule at the start of the week!

The advantage I can see of this Fast4 system is for children who are just thinking of taking up tennis, but who get easily bored and may benefit from a faster game. It may act as a way of introducing tennis in schools or sports clubs, as a stepping stone for those looking to get involved. For those who have been used to the old system of scoring and playing, a lot of us are happy with things as-is.

A further advantage put forward for Fast4 is that it allows a greater parity between players, but that could also be looked at as allowing a greater number of fluke wins, or wins where the 'more-deserving' or 'better' player loses. It has also been argued that it could reduce the number of injuries due to less pressure being put on the players' bodies. Whilst I accept that this is a valid reason, and that there is definitely an injury problem within tennis right now, this could also be remedied with better scheduling and allowing a longer off-season for players.

Hopman Cup also had a rule where players had 2 challenges per set, rather than the usual 3, which I assume is intended to reduce the number of terrible challenges. This is an idea I can get on board with, but I'm still not sure if it'll work!

Not content with the Fast4 rules, the ATP Next Gen Finals, held for the first time last November, introduced a few new rules of their own. People looked at them with raised eyebrows from the get-go, in part thanks to a terribly distasteful fashion show opening party, but I'll leave you to make up your minds about the rules yourselves.

A total of 7 new rules were implemented at the Finals; - The use of the Fast4 format, as explained below; - Players were given a shorter time to warm up, as matches were starting 5 minutes from the time they walked on. I can understand where this has come from, in the hope of toning down the amount of faffing about done before matches, but 5 minutes might be a tiny bit strict to get the walk-on and the warm-up completed. - A shot clock was used! We all know how contentious the time violation rules are, and the shot clock aimed to reduce the time spent between points, whilst allowing players to see how long they were taking. I'm a fan, but who knows if it would catch on? - The no-let rule was used, as in Fast4 Tennis. - Medical time-outs were limited to one per player per match. At the moment, players are allowed another if there's more than one injury, but this cut that down further. - Coaches were allowed to give their players guidance from the stands. Unlike the WTA tour, coaches weren't able to come on court, but were provided with headsets to communicate with their players during sit downs. - NO LINE JUDGES! Calls were made electronically, with the umpire being the only official on court. I'm not sure how I feel about this one, being as even Hawkeye can be a bit dodgy at the best of times.

On the ITF website, I've found a new electronic line calling system has been approved, which is actually cheaper than Hawkeye, so will we be seeing this in the near future?

In terms of applying these rules outside of 'exhibition matches,' Grand Slams have agreed to implement a shot clock from next year onwards (2019), as well as some prize money rules for those withdrawing, which are being implemented this year; - Players not ready on time after the pre-match warm-up face a fine of up to $20,000; - Players withdrawing after 12.00 noon on the Thursday before play starts will receive 50% of the first-round prize money, with the other 50% going to the lucky loser who replaces them; - Players who 'tank' or who retire from their first round match may be subject to a fine of up to their first-round prize money value; - The slams intend to go forward with 16 seeds in 2019, rather than 32.