Recently, there is a lot of talk about new rules that will be introduced to the pro circuit. Some of these rules are revolutionary and are almost unheard of for an "old schooler" like myself. But then again, when I played in the Davis Cup for Israel back in the 1980s, we played no tie-breaker sets in a best of five sets. In fact, I played the first tie-break in Davis Cup history when it was introduced first in 1989 in Tel Aviv against Yannick Noah from France.
In contrast, Davis Cup competition today has been reduced to two days and is played in a best-of-three format, making it a much less grueling encounter for the players, a more digestible experience for the fans, and a much more marketable product to sell to sponsors and TV stations.
The market also dictated that the ATP Tour experiment with some rule changes during the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals. This came after a realization that the game is not attracting enough new fans. In fact, the average tennis fan is way over the age of 50! A big part of the decline is due to the length of the matches, mainly the "dead time" during a tennis match which is about 80 percent! Think about it … most points are between one and seven seconds, and then there is a 25-second break between points, plus the 90-second changeover break. Most people, especially younger players, cannot endure those marathon matches that last into the night.
Even the major tournaments, ran by the ITF and known for their conservatism, are considering heavily to shorten the first rounds of the majors to a best-of-three sets format until the final rounds.
Despite the argument by the traditionalists, it seems like it's only a matter of time until those changes are implemented. Tennis, as a product, is re-inventing itself, gearing up for the post-Federer/Nadal Era which will end at some point, although they remain at the top of the rankings today.
As a coach, like in the past, I will have to adjust to the new changes in the game that will no doubt affect the way I teach . First of all, the ability to talk to a student during a match is a huge change. So many times, I have watched students throw away matches and wished that I could just talk to them for one minute and help them get through the match. Also, with the new shorter sets the importance of holding serve becomes an even bigger issue, and so is dealing with high pressure points, … this will have to be addressed. I'm sure that there will be other side effects to those new rules, in the meantime, here are my pros and cons on the new rules and how they would affect the game”
1. Best of five short sets to four games (a tie-break at 3-3)
Pros: It makes the game more interesting and dramatic for the spectators, there is a higher chance for tie-breaks, it also means that there are no "garbage points." A player cannot lose their concentration because every break of serve can cost you the set, it will reduce the chance of a tank.
Cons: It favors the big server who usually has an edge if the set gets to a tie-breaker because the short set doesn't give the receiver enough chances to break.
2. An automatic line calling machine that call all lines, eliminating the need for linespeople
Pros: It will be more accurate and give the players a sense of fairness, also saving the time wasted now on challenges.
Cons: Less work for linespeople.
3. No let rule
Pros: It will save time, add drama and also prevent missed let calls.
Cons: I don't see any, it adds a luck element to the game, but it can go both ways, so it's fair.
4. Allow coaching during the game (this is a rule that is already in effect in ITF Junior matches)
Pros: It will improve the player's performance and help improve and achieve better results. Getting advice in real-time will enable players to make adjustments to their game, it will make the coach's role more important, and it will help players make comebacks and deal with stressful situations.
Cons: If one player doesn't have a coach, it can be unfair. It can make players less independent and self-thinking, relying on the coach too much. It is against the original spirit of the game, which is, you are on your own once the match started. This is a very strong argument in my opinion, however, all other sports have coaching, so why not tennis?
5. A clock that measures 25 seconds between points
Pros: It makes the game faster and easier for the audience to watch. It favors the player who is in shape, and favors the receivers, because it might cause lower first serve percentage due to fatigue and rushing.
Cons: None that I see … this is in the best interest of everyone.
6. A "no ad" system (play a final point at deuce)
Pros: It will make the games shorter and shorten match time substantially. It will create a mini-drama almost every game, making every point count even more than before, making it gut-wrenching for the players and fun for the crowd.
Cons: It brings an element of luck to the game. It makes it easier to break serve. It favors the less fit player because of the shorter match time.
Gilad Bloom, former Israeli Davis Cup player and two-time Olympian, played on the ATP Tour 1983-1995, reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 1990, reached a highest ranking of 61 in singles, was Israel Singles Champion three times. Bloom has been running his own tennis program since 2000 and also was director of tennis at John McEnroe Tennis Academy for two years. He can be reached by e-mail at Bloom.Gilad@Gmail.com.