The turn of the month saw tennis fans getting introduced to the 25-second serve clock, a measure both the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association Tours formally implemented in order to speed up play. Significantly, it wasn’t the only one; even the time to warm up before matches — split into three to also account for the preparation before the coin toss and then the transition to actual competition — has been capped, and, at seven minutes, signals the seriousness of the governing bodies to get players moving fast.
To be sure, time limits have long been around in the modern era, but followed in the breach by umpires given absolute discretion in the face of prevailing circumstances. As matches grew longer and negative feedback — particularly from broadcast partners eager to maximize airtime — intensified, however, the ATP and WTA thought to enforce them for real. And for the most part, they were welcomed with open arms by those whose movements were thusly constricted. The Washington Open proved to be a good tune-up in this regard, with tour stops over the next three weeks no doubt serving to iron out kinks.
Needless to say, the application of the revised rules will be most under scrutiny when the United States Open kicks off late this month. All eyes will be on how the game’s arbiters walk the tightrope between allowing for justifiable rest between live-ball situations and compelling protagonists to get a move on. There is logic to speeding up play, but not at the expense of the quality of the competition. To those on the court, 25 seconds can appear fast after long rallies. To those looking in, the same period can look slow after quick points.
In short, subjective judgment will still be a factor, and, with it, the possibility of human frailty rearing its ugly head at the most inopportune instances. Nonetheless, the clock is there for a reason, and it will, for the most part, prove beneficial to the sport. Now if only Wimbledon will agree to fifth-set tiebreakers.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.