Australian Open tournament referee Wayne McEwen thinks common sense will prevail in the issue of time taken between points in tennis matches, suggesting the 20-second rule at Grand Slam events is there to be enforced only if needed.
At tournaments in Chennai, Doha, Auckland and Brisbane this month, players received warnings and penalties for exceeding the time limit under a push for stricter enforcement of the ATP World Tour's rules.
McEwen on Friday said the he speaks to the chair umpires before the Australian Open begins, reminding them of the time between points and "to keep it fair, keep it consistent."
Chair umpires can give a warning and then begin imposing penalties points if slow play continues, McEwen says.
"We don't want players out there being penalized after playing a fantastic point, but then again we don't want players deliberately taking too long and that's what we really look at. We focus on that and tell them to use good common sense, good judgment."
The ATP's 25-second rule between points -- it differs by five seconds from that in place at Grand Slams -- hadn't been strictly enforced in recent years, but players were sent emails in advance of the 2013 season warning them of the crackdown.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said he sees a need to speed up matches if players are deliberately delaying play, and that the tennis-watching public - either in the stands on TV - have the most to gain.
"I think they need to enforce them [the rules]," Cash said Friday. "As much as we like Novak [Djokovic] bouncing balls between points, I think the fans just want to see some tennis."
There were dozens of warnings or fault penalties imposed on players in pre-Australian Open tournaments, including 36 in the first five days of the Qatar Open in Doha.
The players included Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, who lost his first-round match in Doha to Lukas Lacko, and 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who was warned and penalized -- losing a first serve -- in his semifinal loss in Brisbane to Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday. Others were warned, including U.S. Open champion Andy Murray in Brisbane and Gael Monfils in Qatar.
Tomas Berdych was one of the players penalized at Chennai, India for taking too long between points, and he wasn't happy.
"I think there are many question marks around it and I don't see any good reason to have this rule," Berdych said. "The hot conditions, it's almost impossible to make it. In Chennai, where it was really humid, you need the towel every time you finish a rally."
Last year's Australian Open final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal took 5 hours, 53 minutes to complete, the longest final in the history of Grand Slam tennis. There were complaints that the pair often took longer than 30 seconds between points, and Berdych cautions that strict enforcement of the time rule could see those kind of matches become a thing of the past.
"It's not going to help improve the game, there's going to be no chance to see matches like Rafa and Djoko in the final," Berdych said.a
McEwen disagrees, and stresses again the need for common sense.
"The players sometimes need a little time to recover, especially in the heat of the day, or in a long match," McKewen said. "Last year's final was a classic match, the points were lasting incredibly long. In a case like that, you don't want to be killing it for everyone."