Five changes that tennis needs to make

Former seven-time major champion and a man not shy of an opinion, John McEnroe, has had his say on changes tennis should make and our own Sean Calvert is also not short of a view or two and he goes a few steps further…

Tennis legend John McEnroe recently treated us to his view of what needs changing in the game and it was typically radical, if hardly practical.

Ideas such as players calling their own lines were bizarre, but it got me thinking as to what improvements I would make to the game and the more I thought the more issues I found.

Here’s the first five issues that annoy me, beginning before the matches have so much as played their opening point…

Start times

Let’s start at the beginning. I understand why it’s not practical to give a finite start time for every match, as they depend on the one before, but there is no reason whatsoever that the first match of the day can’t begin on time.

Each and every tournament has a start time for match one of the day and it’s still always 15-20 minutes late, as the players saunter onto the court and mess about for a while before deciding that they’d better begin.

We’re used to it, but it’s daft – can you imagine a 3pm kick off in football starting at about 3:20pm because the players and officials were a bit slow and didn’t have the right coloured towels at hand? No, me neither.

Play should start at 10am if the start time is 10am and that is when the first ball should be struck. I wouldn’t be opposed to fines being dished out for late starts on this issue.

Bathroom breaks and warm-ups

Sorry, but this ludicrous situation whereby the likes of Venus Williams come out for a match, knock up for 10 minutes and then when play is called they then leave court again for a bathroom break should result in a fine or the loss of the opening game of the match.

One area where I do agree with Mac is in his view that warm-ups should be scrapped and this makes sense and will help with the accurate start times concept.

Plenty of players take a while to get going in a match even now, regardless of the warm-up, and they’ve generally spent the last few hours hitting on the practice courts anyway, so I don’t see how five minutes of on-court hitting helps them much.

Towels

Again, this is unnecessary, time consuming, and more of a mental thing than any need to remove sweat after every single point. I blame Greg Rusedski for starting the daft trend of pointing to a towel and mopping down after five seconds of physical exertion.

And the ball kids should not have to be saddled with the job of handling a disgusting towel thrown at them by players, who often yell at them in the process.

You want to towel down do it at the changeover, that’s what it’s for. Until then shirts, sweatbands or whatever else will do the job.

Time between points

A thorny issue indeed and one that a certain Mr R Nadal is not happy with, but he has no basis whatsoever to moan about getting hit with time violations, as he regularly takes far longer between points than is allowed. And he’s far from the only one guilty of this.

Clearly, the current system has flaws, and I don’t really see the problem with having a shot-clock in the corner of the court operated by the umpire (or a separate official) that shows how much time the players have to start the next point.

Common sense would dictate that a 50-shot rally or equally such draining point could allow the official to skip the next point in terms of time violations – that’s not what this is about – it’s about players not constantly taking 30 seconds between points for no reason.

Challenges

The current system of challenging ‘in a timely manner’ is far too woolly and open to abuse and therefore, unsurprisingly, it gets abused.

The likes of Juan Martin Del Potro ambling up to the net at 1mph to check a perceived mark on the court, thinking about it for another 10 seconds, and then deciding that they may as well challenge is not ‘in a timely manner’ and it wouldn’t be difficult to stamp it out.

Changing the rule to ‘immediately’ from ‘timely manner’ would be fine and stop those who can’t make up their minds and go hunting for marks or checking with their coach in the stands.

You know instinctively as a player when you’ve hit a shot that’s very close and the challenge should be based on that and not as an excuse to time waste.

The players could also do with challenging more clearly, with certain players half throwing a disdainful arm in the air and expecting the umpire to translate that gesture into a challenge.

And these five issues are really just the beginning. Part two next week will cover more of the unfathomable rules, traditions, precedents and quirks that the sport could well do without.