After trialling a number of new innovations in Milan last November at the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals, it’s looking increasingly more likely that at least two new rules will be introduced to ATP tour events and could be in place from as early as next season. Amongst the new rules will be a 25-second shot clock, as well as a reduced warm-up for players and possible towel racks in order to speed up the laborious modern day process of players asking the umpires for a wipe down after every point.
It’s been revealed that this year’s NextGen finals (which take place from the 6th to the 10th of November) will be played in the same way as last years event, with no linesman, a 25 second shot clock, no lets on serve, no ad scoring at deuce and perhaps most drastically, a best of five set format with shorter sets only spanning four games. In addition to this, the warm-up time will be reduced from five minutes to four and a towel rack will be placed at the back of each side of the court, meaning ballboys can once again concentrate on the task in hand as opposed to acting more like a shower aide.
The shot clock is undoubtedly the most controversial new rule and a number of leading players have voiced their concerns, including recently relegated world number 2 Rafael Nadal, who has himself been criticised for deliberately slow play over the years. This year’s U.S. Open is set to be the first grand-slam in the sports history to use the shot clock and with Nadal at 11/2 to retain his flushing meadows crown according to William Hill, it will be interesting to see just how a slight change of pace may affect the Spaniard’s game. The shot clock has already been used in Australian and French Open qualifying this year and with Wimbledon sensibly adopting a “wait and see” approach, the next couple of years could be very interesting for some of the games more notorious “feet-draggers.”
ATP chief executive Chris Kermode has recently revealed that he believes these changes will become permanent sooner rather than later and that he thinks that “medical time-outs and toilet breaks can also be looked at again to speed up play.” World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn recently announced that although a shot clock at some of the more traditional events would be an unworkable concept, some of the slower players in the game will be named and shamed in 12 months or so time if they’ve upped the speed of their shot time to around 30 seconds or less.
It does appear to be the case that those in charge of some of the more traditional sports are now starting to realise that above all else, sports is an entertainment industry and should be treated more like a business in order to ensure success. At the same time however, these changes can not and should not infringe upon the more traditional aspects of the respective sports and finding this middle ground will be no easy task. Still, at least we won’t see players bouncing the ball 15 times before smashing it against the net anymore (we hope).