I’ve been involved with tennis for more than 40 years now, and have seen the game evolve to what it is now. There is no doubt in my mind that the racket size should have remained their original size when invented. That decision, which was ultimately a commercial decision, would change the game forever.
The newer, bigger and more powerful frames allowed the average club player to produce cleaner and powerful strokes, and prolonged the careers and the quality of play of older, aging players.
However, this change in racket size altered the pro game forever, shifting the game from a game of precision, variety of strokes and strategic flexibility, to a game that is more one-dimensional. Today’s game is based on huge first serves and controlling points with big weapons from the back of the court.
Two other major sports faced similar issues in the past, golf and baseball, and both sports chose to stick to old equipment at the pro level. This is what tennis should have done.
In baseball and golf, we can compare the levels of the old greats to those of today since they played with the same bats and clubs. In tennis, any comparison between Rod Laver and Roger Federer, arguably the two greatest of all time, is doomed because of the advantage that Federer’s racket gives him.
The wheel will never turn back on that issue unfortunately, so let me focus on a few issues that can still change in today’s game in this country and in general. I am realistic and realize that things in the tennis world move slow, but hopefully in the near future, someone will solve the following burning issues …
1. The cheating problem
Tennis is a unique sport in many ways, but this is ridiculous! Can you imagine a baseball or soccer little league game without an official? Each game would end in a brawl! Tennis is the only sport that lets the players call their own lines, and this is not fair to the kids. The USTA should make it mandatory that from the quarterfinals onward of a tournament, that there is an official, at least in Level 1 tournaments. Also, there are technologies now available that allow for cheaper electronic refereeing. This should be the future of the sport. It has been the oldest problem in tennis, and as a coach who respects the game, it disgusts me every time there is a bad call and this issue needs to be taken care of.
Another way of attacking this issue is punishing kids who get over ruled over a certain amount of time per year. If more kids would get caught and suspended for cheating, it might set a precedent and keep kids from blatantly cheating, which unfortunately is the case today in most big tournaments, making it very difficult to watch junior tennis these days.
2. The (other) cheating problem
I’m sick of hearing about those minor players who were caught throwing matches on the Futures Tour as part of a gambling scam. It is very easy to fix a tennis match and for every person who gets caught, there are probably a few who got away with it and tainted the purity of the sport.
The solution is to ban betting on tennis altogether! Let those who gamble wager on horses, soccer and other sports that are harder to fix. There is no reason that an otherwise meaningless match on the Futures Tour should be bet on. It doesn’t do anyone any good and will save those (literally) poor players from being tempted to make the wrong choice.
3. NCAA status and amateur status
This is a case where the NCAA is shooting itself in the foot in my opinion. The strict rules that the NCAA apply force many young players to make the decision to go to college and not turn pro because of fear of losing their “Amateur Status.”
It’s a well-known fact that until you are in the top 300 in the world, you don’t really break even, let alone make money, because of the nature of the profession in terms of travel expenses, hotels, coaching, etc.
The solution is to set a certain ranking level that if you make, will make you a professional. If a player plays on the minor pro tour for one or two seasons and doesn’t make it, he or she should have a chance to play some college tennis. This would encourage more players to try their luck on the tour, knowing that they will still be eligible to play collegiate tennis. In an era when NBA players are allowed to play the Olympics, it’s ridiculous that a player who played a few matches on the Futures Circuit would not be allowed to play college tennis.
4. The doubles issue/second tier players
Tennis is one of the most capitalistic sports. There are only about 200 players who make a decent living, and the top 20 rake in most of that purse. Once you dip below 200th in the world rankings, there are plenty of very good players, but their struggles are real and many of them need to retire due to the grind of the tour. The reward is minimal below the 200th ranking, and many times, survival is impossible without a sponsor.
There should definitely be a better distribution of money to lower-ranked players. A player ranked 400th in the world should be able to make a comfortable living. It is important to have that type of depth in the game.
Which brings me to the issue of doubles …
Now, I love doubles and played doubles in almost every single tournament I ever played in, but it was a supplement to my singles game, which is the way it was meant to be.
So, sorry Bryan Brothers and other doubles specialists, but I would eliminate doubles as it is on the tour and allow only singles players in the main draw to play doubles. If any of the main draw players choose not to play doubles, then the players from the singles qualifying would go into the doubles draw. This would allow the singles players from the qualifying draw to make a little extra money.
Even though doubles is a part of the game traditionally, it is a fact that the crowd flocks to see mainly the big name singles players and often, the double events are played in front of empty stadiums. The doubles draw is usually filled with very good players that are mostly unknown to the average tennis fan unless he or she is a doubles buff.
Allowing only singles players to play doubles would not only allow second tier players to make money, but will also let the public enjoy top players playing doubles in a more relaxed atmosphere and make it entertaining.
There will be a small group of doubles specialists allowed, but you would need to have some kind of a singles career first in order to qualify for it. To me, it is unhealthy for the pro tour that there are players who travel all over the world and play only doubles and never play a set of singles tennis.
5. The coaching “issue” … to allow or not allow?
Another thing that makes tennis unique is that no coaching is allowed. As a tennis coach, I’m not allowed to even say “good shot” during a match. This should change as it makes no sense anymore.
After each set, there should be an allowed one minute talk with the coach if both players have one and agree. If one player doesn’t have a coach or parent around, they can choose that their opponent doesn't get coaching, but if both players agree on it, there is no reason not to allow it (after each set only). I don’t see the harm in it. Kids are clueless many times out there, and a one minute talk can help them raise their level and learn more from the match. It is, after all, a coach’s job. They still need to win all the big points by themselves, and there is nothing wrong with giving them a little guidance if it’s fair.
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.