The Rules Of Tennis: To scrap or to keep some of the archaic rules

General RSS / / 07 July 2010 / 5 Comments

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Farce. Niclas Mahut begrudgingly joins John Isner and umpire Mohamed Lahyani by the scoreboard at the end of the longest match in tennis history

Farce. Niclas Mahut begrudgingly joins John Isner and umpire Mohamed Lahyani by the scoreboard at the end of the longest match in tennis history

"Anyone that sat through the tedium of Isner v Mahut – and let's face it, it was extremely tedious – or Federer v Roddick in 2009, must have been begging for a breaker, such was the inevitability of the end result in each."

Drop the let chord rule? Scrap Hawkeye? Let a repeat of Isner v Mahut happen again? Sean Calvert tells us which of tennis' old rules should be changed and which should be kept as they are.

With the memories still fresh in the mind of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut stumbling exhaustedly through a total farce of a fifth set lasting 491 minutes, it's surely high time that Wimbledon and the ATP/ITF in general had a review of some of their more archaic rules and regulations.

Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Melbourne Park each cling on grimly to the idea that the fairest way to decide a fifth set is to play until someone is two clear games ahead and Wimbledon in particular has had more than its fair share of overly long matches - particularly in doubles - even prior to the 11 hours and five minutes of Isner v

Those fortunate enough to have been to these Slams or indeed any tennis match will realise that five hours is more than enough already. Let's have a final set breaker - it's exciting for the crowd and the TV audience and easier on the players.

The US Open uses a breaker in the final set and the prospect of that has been enough to give the players an incentive to break serve ahead of the tie break most of the time. In fact, there has never been so much as a sniff of it coming into play in the US Open
Men's Singles Final. The closest occasion would be Ashley Cooper's 8-6
final set win over Malcolm Anderson way back in 1958.

Anyone that sat through the tedium of Isner v Mahut - and let's face it, it was extremely tedious - or Federer v Roddick in 2009, must have been begging for a breaker, such was the inevitability of the end result in each.

If Wimbledon et al wish to go for a long final set then surely a compromise whereby a breaker or even a champion's tie break (of first to 10 points) comes into play at a set limit of, say, 10 games each, that would be best for all concerned - umpires, spectators and of course the players.

Who could want to see this insanity continue, after witnessing Isner barely able to hold his racquet against Thiemo de Bakker the day after?

And while we're on the subject, here are a few other tennis rules that
need changing: -

The let rule is one that divides opinion, with 'experts' such as Pat Cash vehemently demanding for it to be scrapped, but I'm not convinced myself. It is annoying to the server when a perfect service delivery is ruled out for the tiniest of brushes against the net cord, but we can't have a situation where matches are won and lost on a serve dribbling over the net and the unedifying prospect of players diving for one that's just made it to their side of the court. Sorry Pat, but you're wrong on this one.

The introduction of hawkeye technology has undoubtedly been a boost for the game, because unless you happen to be Roger Federer, (who doesn't believe it to be accurate) it has all but eradicated the shocking line-calls that we saw in the past affecting matches.

I do think that players are using the challenges now for a rest between particularly long points though, so a reduction to two per set and no extra one for a breaker might be a good idea.

Talking of players taking a rest, surely the time has come to do something about calling the trainer onto court every five minutes.

We see time and again, people calling for the trainer when their opponent is about to serve for the set and a simple answer to this would be to only allow the trainer on court once a set has been completed.

This would cut out the tactical trainer calls. If a player is so injured or ill that they can't complete the set, he or she forfeits the match. Simple as that.

One that really annoys players and fans alike is the 30 seconds between points rule. What is the point in having this if the umpires don't adhere to it?

There should be a timer counting down between points on the scoreboard and if the serving player doesn't serve when the 30 seconds are up they should get a point penalty and so on.

Finally, the first serve rule, whereby the server gets another first serve in the event of a hawkeye challenge or other interruption to a point when the point in play stemmed from a second serve.

Why should the server get the advantage of bombing a huge ace down when he or she has already missed one? For example, a rally is in play from a second serve and a piece of litter blows onto court, the point is stopped and it's back to a first serve?!

Surely the play should restart from the same stage that it was stopped. ie with a second serve if that was how the relevant passage of play began and this should apply whatever the interruption in play was.

Hopefully some of these points will be addressed by the powers that be before the next millennium, but don't bet on it - the PR guys at the All England Club enjoyed the Isner/Mahut affair far too much for that.

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Comments (5)

  1. Jose93 | 08 July 2010

    Because it would be a third serve and the server has already made an accurate second one? It is replay the point - not carry on from where you missed your first serve. The point has started again, and that means you must have the opportunity of the chance to deliver a legal serve twice. It has to stay how it is.

    I agree on the trainer issue. No Medical Time Outs, no calling of the trainer. If the authorities wish to continue banning coaching, although quite why they do even I don't know, then stop treatment altogether. If you're unfit to play that is exactly what you are.

    Perhaps the answer to the challenge issue with players using it like a break is just to flash up IN or OUT. No dramatics with the flight of the ball. Flash up IN or OUT as soon as possible. Federer's right not to trust Hawk-Eye. It only had to be within 5mm of the actual ball-mark for the ITF to approve it. The manufacturers say it is 98% accurate. 2 out of every 100 is wrong.

    The final set should just have a standard tie-break - not even the nonsense of a champions tie-break. If a player can win 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 - I can't understand what they're trying to achieve. A player can win 3 tie-breaks to go through, but a player can't win a final set via a tie-break. It lacks common sense to me. Every set should be the same to me. Either play really stupid with 2 clear games in every set, or play with the now normal tie-break at 6-6 in each set.

  2. Eva Kovacs | 08 July 2010

    One of the things that makes Wimbledon special is that fifth set with no tiebreak. The Federer/Roddick match was riveting. You are thinking of Isner/Mahut, at a lower level, which came about because of certain lack of play and mostly serving.
    Medical timeouts should not be used to regroup, hence banned, or allowed once if there is blood or a clearly serious issue.
    What the fifth set achieves, or does achieve at times,is a special game, like a Marathon, at a high level.
    Other time wasting and coaching should be banned too. But don;t do an all out change. Some of the rules in the serve are useful, such as footfall, and netcord, too, even if at times the little device might be too sensitive.
    Not a polar shift: but one that makes sense and does not radically change things.
    Oh, and how about cheating not allowed?

  3. Molly | 08 July 2010

    There is no 30-second between points rule. The server has 20 seconds to start after the last pointed ended and the receiver has to play at the speed of the server. You might be confusing Rafa-time (stalling) with the rules. Good idea to set a clock on it.

    Regarding MTOs, if they cannot be eliminated altogether then they should never be taken before an opponent's serve. The injured party should have to wait for the 2 minute break between sets or take the MTO before their own serve.

    Federer is right about Hawkeye's inaccuracy. Correct camera settings (placement) are required to make the system work and cameras shift positions (wind, etc) during the course of matches and tournaments. The calibration falls off. In an effort to expand Hawkeye so tournaments place it on ALL courts, the company is trying to compensate for camera movement with software. The more labor intensive (installation, camera adjustments) the more costly. The direction Hawkeye is taking (software developing) will no yield improved calls. Federer's claim about the settings being off at the Wimbledon 2007 final was right. If tournaments and other sports adopt Hawkeye as a means of entertainment it will be at the cost of fairness.

  4. Alex | 27 December 2010

    My personal feelings are that tennis has made its compromise to modern TV broadcasting by introducing the tie-break at 8-all in 1971 and 6-all in 1979 at Wimbledon. A 70-68 set could occur for 5 times in a match before 1971, however, it was considered next to impossible to happen before it really happened. A final set tie-break (the lingering-death version) could also potentially last indefinately, as any of 1279-1281 or 120938-120985 could also occur. You would certainly say that it could not happen, but prior to the Isner v. Mahut match, they also said that 70-68 could not happen. Or perhaps you decide to revert to the "sudden-death" version, where it is set point for both players when the score reaches 4-4. Or perhaps people would consider the rules before 1884, where the set would end once a player reaches 6 games, even if the opponent has 5 games. Or perhaps the best of all, win a match by scoring the most points in 3 hours.
    It's time to face it- Tennis has a unique compound scoring system to let the genuinely more skilled person to win a set, instead of a luckier person. If people watching Wimbledon in 1952 would not complain about long matches, why should we? Aren't they exciting?
    Just put the genuine rules in play (5 sets without tie-breaks whatsoever) and the generally better player will emerge.

  5. Aggasee | 24 January 2011

    Maybe consider - Grand slam round matches start tie break at 10-10 in last set but from quarter finals on the current rules.

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