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How to Improve Tennis

Gareth Dowdell - Monday, September 01, 2014

Tennis has always been viewed as a sport for the elite; a country club whimsy sporadically weighed down by stuffy tradition. We have seen with the rise of Raonic and Bouchard how having an idol to follow really engages an entire nation. This is undoubtedly a priceless way to get children into a sport they hadn’t previously considered. What else can be done at the professional level to make tennis a truly engaging and accessible sport on a global scale?

#1 No Umpires or Linespeople

Remember when people used to sit precariously on the side of the court with a hand poised on the net to judge lets? Every so often an errant shot would hit them in the face providing devilish delight to those of us with a warped sense of humour. That job no longer exists because technology has made it obsolete. Many umpires and linespeople would argue with this but their job is now obsolete too. With the introduction of Hawkeye a player can challenge a mistake (or correct call) made by an official. Let’s remove the middleman. Players call their own lines and if they disagree with their opponent’s ruling, they challenge it. Think of the drama this would create. Imagine Djokovic cussing out Nadal and calling him a cheat across the net after a suspect line call. People might even change the channel from CSI to see that.

#2 No Lets

Lets are a waste of time. They are unnecessary and slow the pace of the match considerably. We don’t stop playing during a point if the ball clips the tape so why do we do it off a serve?

#3 Allow On-court Coaching

Ask Andre Agassi. Or John McEnroe. Tennis is a lonely sport. Perhaps the loneliest. You experience breathtaking highs and debilitating lows in the same match - alone. Why not allow a coach access to their player during change of ends? Put a microphone on court and have viewers at home listen in to what the coaches’ advice entails. What a unique insight we’d have into coaching philosophy and the mind of a champion, as well as possible changes in tactics before they’ve manifested on court.

#4 Shot Clock

The NFL and NBA use it to maintain fairness and speed in between the action. Why shouldn’t tennis use it to police serial offenders of delaying? – cough Nadal cough. If the player hasn’t already begun their service motion when 20 seconds runs out, they forfeit the point. Tough, but fair. Picture the suspense as a player is toweling off and the countdown begins.

#5 The Crowd doesn’t have to be quiet

FIVE. The crowd counts along with the shot clock. FOUR. THREE. The player hustles to the line. TWO. He gives a quick nod to the tennis Gods before – ONE – beginning his routine. It’s too late. A loud buzz rings out. The masses erupt. Another point lost to father time.

What a spectacle this would be. Consider all the sports that have active audience participation: Football, Basketball, Soccer, Hockey, Baseball, and many more. Why is it that these players can play at a high level with crowd noise, but tennis players complain to the umpire whenever someone clears their throat? Let’s stop pretending that players need zen-like serenity to perform.

#6 No more best of 5 sets

I’m a tennis fan and I work at a tennis centre, but I get bored watching 5 set battles, even between great players. Best of three sets is plenty of tennis, and then afterwards you still have time to enjoy your day.

#7 No-Ad Scoring in Singles

Despite players like Raonic, Dimitrov and Nishikori making waves in tennis circles, the big 4 still completely dominates. They have won 36 of the last 38 Grand Slam titles. Aside from inclement weather, the other great equalizer in tennis is playing No-Ad scoring. After deuce, next point wins, and the returner can choose which side to receive from. This would result in more service breaks, and more upsets.

Even if just a couple of these changes are enacted in Professional Tennis, casual tennis watchers would increase and more youngsters would be encouraged to take up the sport. Heroes of the tennis world would become heroes of the sporting world.