The Grand Slam Board has met, with rule amendments high on its agenda.
And it was decided:
1) to support 2018 Australian Open’s application to the ITF for a waiver of the 20 seconds between points required by the Rules of Tennis, in order to allow for enforcement of a strict 25 seconds utilising a “serve/shot clock” system in line with that trialed at the 2017 US Open.
2) the timing of the pre-match warm-up will be strictly enforced (1 minute after walk-on to be ready for the pre-match meeting, followed by the 5 minute warm-up, then 1 minute to be ready to start the match). Violation of this timing may subject a player to a fine up to $20,000
3) any main-draw singles player who is unfit to play and who withdraws on-site after 12pm on Thursday before the start of the main draw will now receive 50 per cent of the first-round prize money in 2018. The replacement “lucky loser” will receive the remaining 50 per cent plus any additional prize money earned thereafter.
4) any player who competes in the first-round main draw singles and retires or performs below professional standards, may now be subject to a fine up to first-round prize money in 2018.
5) the 2018 Grand Slam tournaments will continue with 32 seeds in singles and intend to revert to 16 seeds in 2019
So what to make of it all? The Tennismash team of Vivienne Christie, Matt Trollope. Leigh Rogers and Bede Briscomb give their views in the latest edition of SmashTalk.
Christie: Ah, the drama this could entail! I like it. But I wonder should there be some flexibility on enforcement? I know the shot clock allows that little longer between points but there are times when 25 seconds can feel longer or shorter than others. How fair would it have seemed for mechanics to dictate when Ivo Karlovic and Horacio Zeballos were deep into the fifth set of their five-hour, 14-minute battle (which Ivo eventually won 22-20) at AO2017?
Trollope: Love it. It’s time to force the notoriously slow players who faff around between points to speed up – the game is slow enough as it is. And I think this is an improvement, like Hawkeye on the big screens, which will be highly entertaining for fans.
Rogers: Not sold on the idea. Hasn’t it always been the umpires job to enforce time limits?
Briscomb: It’s a no-brainer. Sorry Rafa.
Christie: Who doesn’t love the Netflix “skip intro” button? I’d favour something similar in tennis. Players should be ready already and fans just want the action: scrap the warm-up altogether.
Trollope: I don’t see this doing much – you’ll save 30 seconds at best. Do away with the warm-up entirely. And was this not being enforced already? I don’t recall any warm-ups that dragged on for much longer than the allotted seven minutes …
Rogers: To be honest, I had not even noticed this was a problem.
Briscomb: Eh, I’ll believe it when I see it. Saying they will strictly enforce it is more of a warning than anything.
Christie: The more I think about this, the more complexities there seem to it. But I’ll try to keep it simple – nobody wants a clearly injured player trying to compete merely because they need (or want) the prize money. A 50-50 distribution between one player who’s at least turned up in the hope of competing and another who has been lucky enough to take a spot (which, let’s be honest, they haven’t actually earned yet) seems a reasonable compromise.
Trollope: Great idea. It discourages players from rocking up for their first-round match injured or underdone – certainly not a good look for the tournament, and bad for fans – simply so they can collect their (increasingly hefty) first-round losers’ cheque. And a boon for a lowly-ranked lucky loser.
Rogers: Any initiative to stop injured players competing in Grand Slams purely for prize money is a good one. Will it work? I’m not convinced.
Briscomb: Good for the event and the fans – and great for the players. Win, win.
Christie: How has this not happened already? Message is clear and long overdue on this one: play your hardest, people – or don’t bother playing.
Trollope: I love the principle – I just don’t know how, like the tanking rule, it will be properly enforced.
Rogers: A positive move for the integrity of the events. With such enticing prize money you can understand why injured players would try to compete – but it isn’t a good look for the sport for that to be happening.
Briscomb: It’s too arbitrary. What if I break my leg in the first game? And apart from a Bernard Tomic underarm serve, how do you determine ‘performing below professional standards’?
Christie: On the one hand, it’s alarming to think the world no.17 – Roger Federer at AO2017 – will enter a Grand Slam without the protection of a seeding. On the other, I think about increased fan value in more compelling early-round matches. Aren’t the fans what’s most important?
Trollope: I’m on the fence. I love that the current 32-seed system protects top players and typically ensures high-profile match-ups in the second week. But think of some of the first- and second-round barnstormers we’ll now get. That’s pretty exciting.
Rogers: Hate it. It will skew draws and is unfair on players ranked between No.17-32 who deserve better protection from top 16-ranked players in early rounds.
Briscomb: Love the idea but 16 is too drastic; 24 seeds seems like the sweet spot.
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