Your Serve: Too Much of a Good Thing?
A former champion says a Grand Slam match lasting nearly 6 hours is too long — and too dangerous for the players.
By Angela Buxton
In the 2012 Australian Open men’s final, the standard of play between Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Spain’s Rafael Nadal was both brilliant and dramatically entertaining. Very little separated the two players as each pushed to overcome the other. And finally, after 5 hours and 53 minutes, it ended with Djokovic defending his title with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 win — the longest Grand Slam final ever.
But, is a nearly 6-hour match too long in today’s game? Could it even be dangerous for the players?
I watched the final with tennis coach Nenad Simic, who also is a former longtime boxing referee. “It became apparent to me early in the fourth set that both players, although in excellent physical condition, started to have either breathing or balance problems as their wavering unsteadiness increased and their balance diminished,” he told me. “They clearly showed signs of weakening both physically and mentally. Had it been a boxing match, I simply would not have allowed it to continue — I would have stopped it long before 5 hours and 53 minutes.
“Tennis is supposed to be a sport of skill,” he continued. “Endurance certainly comes into it, but it is a subsidiary factor. I understand these two players are in their prime and as such are looking for adventure in the challenge, plus the possible excitement of winning. However, in the final analysis, they must be protected. We must avoid any on-court tragedy at all costs.”
While protecting the players is of course primary, another consideration concerns the TV schedule. TV networks around the world faced the inconvenience of having to either alter their program scheduling to accommodate the entire match, or cut away and miss broadcasting the conclusion — depriving fans of a thrilling and important Grand Slam final.
Then there are the tennis fans around the world, who also had to change their Sunday arrangements if they wished to witness the eventual outcome, which by the see-saw nature of this match did not reveal itself until the very end. I believe most fans probably did watch to the end, probably while also complaining that it was a very long “sit” and wishing it could have somehow been shorter.
So, how can pro tennis acceptably limit the length of matches without diminishing their emotional powers and drama? Here are some suggestions:
- The rules say play is supposed to be continuous. Let’s reduce the 90-second changeover rule to 60 seconds.
- Insist that the 20-second rule between points be controlled more stringently by the on-court umpire, which would automatically bring excessive toweling, bouncing of balls before serve, etc., down to a minimum.
- Eliminate excessive deuces. How about only one advantage per game? Should the game not be won by the time the second deuce arrives, it would lead to an automatic “sudden-death” situation. This also would prevent the long, uninteresting, time-consuming defensive baseline rallies that produce three, four, five or more deuces per game. Plus, it also may encourage players to think more aggressively in order to win the “sudden-death” point quicker.
- All the Grand Slams should promote a compulsive “tie-breaker” in the fifth set, replacing the “extended two games ahead” that caused that marathon first-round Wimbledon match in 2011 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which spanned three days and ended 70-68 in the fifth set.
I’d be very interested in hearing your views on limiting the length of matches.
Angela Buxton, a former world No. 5 who won the Wimbledon and French Open women’s doubles titles in 1956 with Althea Gibson, operates a Tennis Consultancy both in the U.S. and the UK. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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