For all the discussion about grunting and how that affects the women's game -- and regardless of how you feel about grunting (I personally don't mind it) you have to admit it drives fans away -- the equivalent issue in the men's game seems to be the time the men take between points. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the faces of the problem, what with their meticulous towelling routines and incessant ball-bouncing in tense moments, but they are not even close to being the only offenders.
With that in mind, the ATP announced a rule change that it hopes will empower umpires to enforce the rule regarding excess time between points. Under the current rules, a player who takes more than 25 seconds between points will be penalized with a warning. That's the rule but it has hardly been enforced consistently by umpires. But beginning in 2013, for the second and all subsequent violations of time rule, the penalty sill be a fault to the server or a point penalty to the receiver, depending on the violator. Currently the rule calls for a point penalty on the repeat offender.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the amount of time taken between points,” said ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett. “We believe this modification will give officials a useful tool and allow for more consistent enforcement of the current time violation rule.”
The ATP seems to believe that the current rule is too punitive given the frequency of the time violations and umpires have been hesitant (scared?) to enforce the rule given the blowback from players and fans who might accuse them of affecting the outcome of the match. I'm all for any measures that help speed up the game, but the issue here isn't the rule, it's the lack of enforcement of the rule. The reason umpires are hesitant about issuing code violations for time is because there's no consistency on tour in the application of the rule. Sometimes Rafa gets called on it, most of the time he gets away with it, and when he does get the violation it invariably comes at a crucial moment that amplifies the significance of the umpire's call.
So we'll see what happens when the ATP kicks its 2013 season off in January. If the first player to go over 25 seconds doesn't get called for it than this entire rule change is more PR move than practical solution. The ATP has set the boundaries. Now it's up to the officials to enforce them.
In addition to the new time violation rule, the ATP has approved a three-month trial run of a no-let service rule on the ATP Challenger Tour. Just imagine it, people? No more beeping netcords and arguments over phantom let calls. Much like in WorldTeam Tennis, players would be required to play service lets as opposed to giving the server a new serve. Admittedly kind of weird, in my opinion, and it would further give quick and agile players like David Ferrer or Andy Murray an edge over players who are going to get burned on those service lets, i.e., John Isner or even a Juan Martin del Potro. Not entirely sure I like that shift in dynamic, even if it's a small one.
So while we're in a rule-making mood, might I throw my suggestions into the ring?
1. No new balls, please: Oh, I'm sorry Mr. or Ms. Tennis Player. You want to hold up play while a ballkid who looks like he's going to pass out from the heat tracks down five balls for you to examine, and then scurries to quietly pick up the three that you've discarded? I know every player is looking for that little extra edge, but this practice has to stop. You get two balls. That's it. Serve them.
2. DJ rules: All on-court shirt changes must be accompanied by Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy. This one is not hard. At least 90 percent of them already are.
3. Potty breaks: A fan has just sat through a 70-plus minute set of exciting tennis. He runs out for a quick bathroom break the minute the set is over and sprints back to his seat only to get an usher's hand in his face as the first game has started and he'll have to wait until the third game to head to his seat. What could have been a quick five-minute break is now going on 30 minutes as our tennis fan stands in the gate and is forced to keep up with the score on his iPhone. This is dumb. Let fans in after the first game of every set. For all the talk about wanting to make tennis more "fan-friendly," the least you could do is give them a sec to use the facilities without missing a decent chunk of the next set.
4. Hawk-Eye for days: Unlimited challenges, I say! If the reason Hawk-Eye was introduced was to ensure matches aren't decided by incorrect line calls and for the entertainment of fans, why the heck do we limit the number of incorrect challenges a player gets per set? Doesn't that actually mean that a match can still be decided by umpire error simply because a player ran out of challenges? That seems counterintuitive. For the integrity of the game let's give the players unlimited challenges, with the umpire well within his powers to issue a "Challenge Abuse" warning for those enterprising players who abuse the system.
5. Code violation: Sarcasm. My tolerance for the patronizing and sarcastic tone of voice players take with the umpires is wearing thin. You are not Statler and Waldorf quipping from the Muppet Show balcony. Have a problem with a call, take it up directly and maturely. Don't worry, you can always save the sarcasm for the press conference. Got any rule changes you'd like to see? Sound off in the comments.