Last month I wrote about the change to the rule regarding “off-court” coaching in professional tennis for the remainder of the 2022 season.
I maintain that there really hasn’t been much visible difference from a spectator’s perspective, and probably even less of a difference for the coaches and players.
One of the problems with that rule amendment though is that it’s a rule change that’s easy to implement in the pros, but a logistical nightmare at the junior level of the sport.
So, are there any rules of tennis that could be changed at the pro level that would not only have a positive impact on the top end of town, but filter through to junior tennis as well?
I can’t stand short (sudden death) deuce. There, I said it! I understand why it works at a college level due to time constraints, but it changes the whole complexion of tennis and the way it’s played.
I’ve never liked the short deuce rule in pro doubles. It turns deuce into something of a lottery and means either the servers or returners don’t have to work as hard to hold or break.
3 point deuce is better than short deuce, but it’s only the (slightly) lesser of two evils.
I’m not a fan of short sets or Fast 4 either. While the set tiebreaker was a great innovation in the early 70s, I’d be totally against any other changes to the scoring system.
“Winning by two” should be one of the tenets of tennis that remains sacrosanct at the pro and developmental level.
No change to scoring, please.
The biggest two changes to the Code Violation (or simply, code) rules over the last few years are A) time violations, whereby they’re not actually code violations any more. It just means a loss of first serve after a warning rather than point penalties etc.
B) The default after warning/point penalty/game penalty rule has gone except in the case of a ball or racquet hitting someone, a la Novak Djokovic at the 2020 US Open. Once a player has gone through warning, point and game penalties, each subsequent code is another game penalty, rather than a default.
The change that has been evolutionary, rather than a rule change, over the last 30 years or so has been what constitutes a ball or racquet abuse code. Go back to the 90s and a thrown racquet would mean a code violation. Nowadays players can throw their racquet from the baseline to the net without penalty, seemingly because you have to obliterate the racquet to incur a code, or smash the ball out of the stadium rather than at the back fence.
The system of code violations doesn’t need to change. Codes just need to be enforced! That goes for every level of the sport. There’s a reason throwing your racquet is against the rules – it’s a bad message and a bad look for the sport.
No change to code violations, just enforce them, please.
What should change then?
Here’s the rule that I would like to see brought into tennis: “Once the server releases the ball to serve, it’s in play”. That means two things.
The first is a no-brainer in my opinion: the server no longer has the ability to catch or leave their ball toss alone and “have another go” if they don’t like it. The server already has enough of an advantage in modern tennis. Do they really need another one?
The other issue behind leaving your ball toss is that, technically, a player has started their service motion and, therefore, has fulfilled their obligation to start the point in a timely manner. That’s open to abuse at the junior level.
I know it was amusing to hear Pat Rafter’s “sorry mate” every time he caught his ball toss, but the game should move on.
The second implication of the “release the ball and it’s in play” rule would be “no let scoring”. I know the purists among us are now throwing their arms up in horror.
It’s already happening in some ITF junior events. It’s already happening in college tennis. It’s even happening at some junior grand slams, including the Australian Open.
I can hear it now: “But what if, on match point, the server gets a dead let cord to win the match? That wouldn’t be fair!” Where that statement fails the pub test is if the returner hits a dead net cord with the return of serve to win the match. Apparently that one’s just plain lucky, but acceptable.
Sadly, at the junior level of the game, lets appear to be a method by which a returner can get a look at another serve by calling “let” after missing a return. Take the let rule away across all levels of the sport and you take away that option. It doesn’t solve the bad line calling problems, but one thing at a time!
The last issue where the “release the ball and it’s in play” rule would provide benefits is time saving at all levels. The server has a limited time to start the next point after the score is called for the previous point. If the first serve is a fault OR a let, there’s no time limit for the next serve. Extra recovery time! Let’s move on and keep the game flowing.
Should there be a time limit in between first and second serves? I think so, but one rule change at a time, please.
Author’s Bio: Nicholas Scott is the Co-founder of 135 Tennis Analytics, and co-developer of the 135 Tennis Analytics system. Nick works with Thanasi Kokkinakis and his coach, Todd Langman, as well as other ATP and WTA pros, college and high school tennis teams and coaches, and developing players of all ages. For more information, visit 135tennisanalytics.com