A look at some of the upcoming rule changes in Grand Slam tennis

The start of the 2018 season of tennis is not too far away from beginning with the world’s best players busily training and preparing themselves for the start of the 2018 ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour and the 2018 WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour seasons, and the first big event of the year, the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2018 Australian Open down in Melbourne at Melbourne Park.

However, there have been five major rule changes that have been announced recently by the Grand Slam Committee, one which will come into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2019, four coming into affect for Grand Slam tournaments beginning in 2018, with one of those rule changes coming into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open.

So, here are the major rule changes for Grand Slam tennis from 2018 and/or beyond!

 

Rule 1: A 25-SECOND SHOT CLOCK BETWEEN POINTS.

This new rule will come into affect for qualifying at the 2018 Australian Open, and is something which has been discussed numerous times among tennis commentators around the world, and in fact the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has had a rule for many years with a time limit of just 20 seconds in-between points, but this has been leniently policed to say the least, and the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour introduced a much more policed time limit of 25 seconds back in 2012 for 2013. If the server breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose a first serve. If the returner breached the time limit, they would receive a warning for the first violation of the rule, and then on subsequent breaches of the rule, they would lose the point.

It is going to be intriguing to see how this is policed, perhaps in a similar way to the way they police it right now, but it may get the crowd or spectators more involved into the match, which in actual fact could cause more problems for both the chair umpires and players alike, which would extend the length of matches, rather than reduce the length of matches due to the supposed “unsportsmanlike behaviour” of the crowd.

The only potential benefit I can see with this rule is to punish a player(s) who are in poor, physical condition, especially after a long rally or point, to get back to playing the next point within 25 seconds, which could break matches wide open in favour of the fitter player over the unfit player relatively speaking. Whether this outweighs the potential negatives of this rule that I mentioned in the previous paragraph remains to be seen! However, would the chair umpire, who is just as engrossed in a match as the players and crowd, show common sense to the players to give them more time to get ready for the next point after a long rally, or would the chair umpire show no discretion to the players involved, and perhaps lose control of a match like some officials in other sports which have problems with officiating standards, and unintentionally destroying the fabric of the game?

I know the game of tennis has created this new rule with good intentions, but I am not sure it will work, in part due to the lack of “perceived” tennis education of the people (in some parts of the world) who attend these big events just for the social experience of watching tennis, rather than for the love of the game! Maybe they can use the money raised from the next rule change to improve the education of the fans of the game.

Rule 2: PLAYERS WILL BE FINED UP TO $20,000 FOR EXCEEDING THE PRE-MATCH WARM-UP TIME LIMIT. PLAYERS GET ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE PRE-MATCH MEETING, FIVE MINUTES FOR AN ON-COURT WARM-UP AND ONE MINUTE TO BE READY FOR THE FIRST POINT.

This rule change, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where players will be fined up to $20,000 for exceeding the time limit for the pre-match warm-up will have little effect on players who are already wealthy in world tennis in my opinion. Men’s world number one Rafael Nadal is an unbackable favourite to be fined the most for breaching this new rule, assuming that he plays in all four grand slams, and plays a good number of matches, while other wealthy players on both the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour will be happy to sacrifice some of their prizemoney if it helps them win a Grand Slam title.

However, it will penalise the players who aren’t wealthy, and make them change to conform to the rules! However, like with Rule 1, many of the young players, often less wealthy than their older counterparts, who have come onto the various tours in recent years are quick in getting ready, and quick in their time of getting ready for the next point.

I see no beneficial impact with this rule change that comes to mind and that I truly believe in, and I believe instead of narrowing the gap between the “rich” and the “poor”, it will do exactly the opposite, making the game less attractive to people and children to take up and play!

Rule 3: A MAIN DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO IS UNFIT TO PLAY AND WHO WITHDRAWS ON-SITE AFTER 12PM ON THURSDAY BEFORE THE START OF THE MAIN DRAW WILL RECEIVE 50 PER CENT OF THE FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY, DESPITE NOT PLAYING. THE ‘LUCKY LOSER’ WHO REPLACES THE INJURED PLAYER WILL RECEIVE THE REMAINING 50 PER CENT.

In principal, I like this new rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, where by a main draw singles player can “admit” to being injured, and say that they will be unable to take their place in the particular Grand Slam singles main draw, and receive a portion of the first round prizemoney on offer before the start of the tournament, but I don’t think it will sort out the problem of players retiring in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments.

In 2017, 16 men and four women retired from first round matches in Grand Slam tournaments. In comparison to recent years, this isn’t the most since 2013, in both cases, with 19 men retiring from first round Grand Slam matches in 2014, while eight women retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2016.

On average in the last five years, a total of 14.4 men have retired from first round Grand Slam matches across a single year, which is slightly lower than the number of male players who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017. However, when you remove the seven male players who retired in the first round at the All England Club in 2017, then the number of first round retirements at the other Grand Slam events in 2017 is well below the average at the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

With the women, a total of 4.6 on average have retired in the first round of a Grand Slam per year over the last five years, which is a higher number that the four who retired from first round Grand Slam matches in 2017.

Overall, I don’t think there is a general issue with players playing with injury, and then retiring with injury early in an opening round match of a Grand Slam, and I don’t believe it will fix any “perceived” problems with players retiring from first round matches early!

Rule 4: A MAIN-DRAW SINGLES PLAYER WHO RETIRES OR PERFORMS BELOW PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS MAY BE SUBJECT TO A FINE UP TO THEIR FIRST-ROUND PRIZE MONEY IN 2018.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2018 Australian Open, is perhaps the worst rule change out of the five, and it will be very hard to policy because if you suddenly suffer a devastating injury while you are on the court, are you going to be subject to a fine of up to your first round prizemoney when you are screaming in pain, and facing many months on the sidelines due to injury?

In addition to this, it is very difficult to interpret or see who is giving their best effort, and who is not giving their best effort, because someone could win 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and not be giving anywhere near their best effort, while someone who lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 could be giving everything that they have to no avail, so I believe this new rule will do nothing other than give the ITF to punish who they see as “perceived” troublemakers on the tour.

Rule 5: THE NUMBER OF SEEDED PLAYERS IN MAIN-DRAW SINGLES WILL REDUCE FROM 32 TO 16.

This rule, which will come into affect at the 2019 Australian Open, appears to be a really good rule change on paper, giving us some big matches during the opening three rounds of a Grand Slam.

The 32-seed system in Grand Slam tennis has been in place since the start of Wimbledon back in 2001, and since then only two unseeded men (Goran Ivanišević, and Gastón Gaudio), and four unseeded women (Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jeļena Ostapenko, and Sloane Stephens) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date, and only three men (Albert Costa, Pete Sampras, and Roger Federer), and three women (Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone, and Flavia Pennetta) have won Grand Slam singles titles in the 32-seed era to date when they have been seeded 17th to 32nd.

I don’t necessarily mind cutting the seeds down from 32 to 16, but I don’t think it is going to necessarily create more even matches during the first week of a Grand Slam on its own!

The most important thing that the ATP World Tour and the WTA Tour need to change is their ranking system to a two-year ranking system, similar to the world rankings in golf, which will solve the issue of injuries and mental illness in many top-level players, giving them time to sort out their issues properly without placing pressure on them to come back too quickly. Only then will the 16-seed system seem fair to everyone!

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So, what are your thoughts on these major rule changes in Grand Slam tennis?

 

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