Constantly in tennis there is talk about ways to speed up matches. This month, the ITF board approved an idea to make Davis Cup matches two-out-of-three sets long, a proposal that will be voted on at the organization’s annual meeting in August. A recent Sports Illustrated article proposed doing away with ball-bouncing before serves. And for years, there has been talk about playing let serves, a step already in place in Mylan World Team Tennis and the college game.
Much as I love the traditions of tennis, I’m also a child of tennis boom, of tiebreakers, yellow balls, multi-colored clothing and further innovations. But I’ll admit to being uncertain about many of these proposed ideas. A few thoughts:
When it comes to eliminating five-set matches – particularly in a one-off weekend such as Davis Cup – I’m torn. One of the most dramatic things in tennis is to watch a player try to finish off an opponent in five sets – only to see it then head to into an even more dramatic fifth set. Then again, my unofficial sense of the best-of-five format is that only one of 20 was really worth the while. Outside of sleeping, my belief is that most people can’t do any single thing for more than two or three hours.
Verdict: Try this shorter format in Davis Cup for two years and then reevaluate.
Ball-bouncing. Were this eliminated, I imagine more pros would instead opt to stare into space. Just as basketball players bounce the ball a few times before shooting a free throw, so ought tennis players be allowed to do so prior to serving.
Verdict: Keep the bounce – but I do love an oncourt shot clock.
Eliminate lets. Have never understood the rationale here. This exists in college tennis to curtail cheating. But who wants to lose a big point when someone dribbles one over the net? And how much would it really speed things up?
Verdict: Will give this a personal experimentation in a few practice matches – and perhaps you should too.