Shortly before the end of last season, the ATP World Tour announced that new rules would be in application starting in the first tournaments of 2013. If one is only there in a three-month trial, the other is technically there to stay. However, so far, both irk players, some experts, and some fans alike.
Part 1: Enforcing the time violation
The first of those new rules is not a new rule at all, but merely the enforcement of an existing one.
“From 2013, on both the ATP World Tour and ATP Challenger Tour, a time violation between points (25 seconds) will be penalised in the first instance with a warning. For the second and all subsequent violations, the penalty will be a fault for the server and a point penalty for the receiver.”
That rule, as I mentioned, already existed before. However, it was rarely enforced or applied beyond a warning by some chair umpires, and never went beyond the warning stage, despite repeated offences by players.
Prior to the new season, the players have been warned about the application of said rule, as confirmed by ATP Player Council member Sergiy Stakhovsky:
Furthermore, the chair umpires have been stating it at the beginning of the matches, when the coin toss is performed. However, it is quite an understatement to say that this enforced application is not going particularly smoothly.
What is the rule?
Before going into players’ reactions to warnings, and to the enforced application of the time violation (their doubts), here is what the rule is. (Note: In the following paragraphs, I am only copying the time before serving rules and penalties. The […] indicate that I am skipping parts, usually related to changeovers and time between sets. You can download the rulebook on the ATP World Tour website if you want to check it out yourselves.)
On pages 118 and 119 of the ATP World Tour rulebook, it is stated:
“1) 25 Seconds/Continuous Play
a) Start Stop Watch. The chair umpire must start the stopwatch after the ball goes out of play or when the players are ordered to play.
b) Time Violation or Code Violation. A Time or Code Violation must be assessed if the ball is not struck for the next point within the twenty-five (25)seconds allowed, except if the chair umpire extends the time for special circumstances defined by the ATP. There is no time warning prior to the expiration of the twenty-five (25) seconds.
c) A player may not receive back-to-back Time Violations because consecutive delays shall be penalized by a delay of game Code Violation, unless there has been a non-continuous game changeover.
4) Not Playing to the Reasonable Pace of the Server
a) Start Stop Watch. The chair umpire must start the stopwatch when the player is ordered to play or the moment the ball goes out of play.
b) Time Violation or Code Violation. The chair umpire must assess a Code Violation if the receiver is employing “gamesmanship.” The chair umpire must issue a Time Violation before the expiration of twenty-five (25) seconds if the receiver’s actions delay the reasonable pace of the server.”
The rulebook is also clear about the possibility of exceptions when it states, “except if the chair umpire extends the time for special circumstances defined by the ATP”. I looked to see if those special circumstances were described in the rulebook and found nothing. However, common sense would dictate that if, for instance, the rally was over 25 shots long, the umpire would be a little more lax and forget about the clock as long as there is no exaggeration. That would be my definition of a special circumstance.
The penalties when it comes to serving and the 25-second rule are stated on page 161 of the rulebook and go as such:
” o) Continuous Play / Delay of Game
Following the expiration of the warm-up period, play shall be continuous and a player shall not unreasonably delay a match for any cause. A maximum of twenty-five (25) seconds shall elapse from the moment the ball goes out of play until the time the ball is struck for the next point. If such serve is a fault, then the second serve must be struck by the server without delay. The exception is at a ninety (90) second changeover or a one hundred twenty (120) set break. The procedures for enforcing this rule are as follows:
i) 25 Seconds Between Points.
aa) Start stopwatch when the player is ordered to play or when the ball goes out of play.
bb) Assess time violation or code violation if the ball is not struck for the next point within the twenty-five (25) seconds allowed. There is no time warning prior to the expiration of the twenty-five (25) seconds.
iii) Time Violations.
Violating a provision of this Section, as server or receiver, shall be penalized by a “Time Violation – Warning” and each subsequent violation shall be penalized as follows:
• Server. When serving the time violation shall result in a “fault”.
• Receiver. When it is determined that the receiver is the cause of the time violation, then the receiver shall be penalized by the assessment of one (1) point penalty. The receiver must also play to the reasonable pace of the server. A Time Violation may be issued in this case prior to the expiration of twenty-five (25) seconds if the receiver’s actions are delaying the reasonable pace of the server. Assess a code violation if the receiver is consistently or obviously delaying the server, thus employing “Unsportsmanlike Conduct”.
Note: A second time violation occurs when a player who has received a prior warning as either the server or receiver is issued another time violation as either server or receiver. Example is Player A had received a warning for not serving within the 25 second limit; later, as receiver, Player A is deemed to not be playing to the reasonable pace of the server. This would be considered a second violation and a point penalty would be issued.”
As you can see, everything is pretty clear when it comes to the rule and its penalties, except for the special circumstances, which are at the chair umpire’s good judgement and discretion.
Feliciano López goes ballistic
Two events implicating the time violation have happened over the last two days, both times in Doha.
On Tuesday, Feliciano López has received a serve penalty for taking 30 seconds before serving, down 0-40 against Lukasz Kubot. As you will see on the video, there was no need to take so long, as the previous rally was only five shots (start the video at around 45:20).
Indeed, López was ready to serve when he was given the warning by the chair umpire. Nevertheless, there was no need for taking that extra time before serving, and in this case, the umpire made the correct call, despite the comments from Feli’s fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Pablo Andújar.
@davidferrer87 a mi me ha pasado lo mismo Ferru,esta regla me parece demasiado estricta.O se cambia o los arbitros deberian ser menos duros
— Pablo Andujar (@AndujarPablo) January 1, 2013
Translation of Ferrer’s tweet: “I don’t understand how tennis umpires can complicate it so much when he [NDLR: match chair umpire] doesn’t have the sense that Feli was about to serve.”
Translation of Andújar’s tweet: “The same happened to me, Ferru, this rule appears too strict to me. Either it changes or the umpires have to be less strict.”
Feliciano López, upon receiving the warning, went quite ballistic and argued for a long time with the umpire. In fact, the time that ended up elapsing between the moment the umpire gave López a warning and the time López made that second serve was 1:07, which was more than twice longer than the time the Spaniard took to serve.
“I’m black so I sweat a lot.”
The second occurrence of that rule enforcement came during Gaël Monfils’s second-round match, as he was given a warning for taking over 30 seconds before serving, having to go often to the towel due to excessive sweating.
In the course of the nearly two-minute rant that followed, Monfils even said, “I’m black so I sweat a lot.” However, he’s then pointing at his clothes, so it seems to me that he was talking about the fact that he was wearing black… If not, we can tell him that Andy Roddick is white as snow and suffers from excessive sweating, but about never took more than 20 seconds to serve.
In Monfils’s defense, some of the rallies were long and the players needed time to collect themselves, catch their breath, and wipe off the sweat. However, you could see that Philipp Kohlschreiber, Monfils’s rival, was still usually within 25 seconds even when doing so.
After the warning, Monfils was clearly unfocussed, which resulted in his losing the set pretty quickly, 2-6, venting for a long while at the change of ends, but he got his composure back after the set and ended up winning, 6-4 2-6 6-4.
Following the match, the Frenchman came back on the events and how he actually likes the rule enforcement, even though the adjustment to it is difficult:
“It’s a bit tough. We’ve been without it in tennis for a long time and then they give you new rules like this.
Actually, I like it because I’m the type of player who plays with his physique. So it’s cool if you have a shorter time to recover, I’m happy with that. But I asked for my towel, I was on the baseline every time. So I tried to (stay under the 25 seconds).
So I think the umpire has to judge if the guy is really taking time because he’s tired or whatever or he’s taking maybe two or three seconds more because of ball kids or whatever.”
Players express justified doubts
The enforcement of the serving time violation rule did not only raise the ire of some players; it also raised a few doubts as to the extent of its application, especially where the top guns are concerned.
For example, doubles specialist Julian Knowle did not hesitate to give names, either, stating two of the most obvious offenders (although not the only ones):
Really curious if atp umpires follow the 20 sec rule as close with the top guys on center court as they do with the guys on outside courts!
— Julian Knowle (@Jknowle) January 1, 2013
@stako_tennis wellit’s still different no matter where it’s 20 or 25 sec. Andnole, roger, andy, rafa are not in chennai either
— Julian Knowle (@Jknowle) January 1, 2013
That is something everyone, and not only players, is wary about, as we have seen many times in the past that when it comes to the top players, the rulebook tends to be forgotten as far as those trivial matters are concerned.
In this case, let’s hope that the umpires won’t have a two-way application of the time violation enforcement, as there might be a locker room mutiny before long.
Common sense in the application
Something that was read and heard a lot since the enforced application of the time violation rule came into effect is that common sense should prevail.
Horacio Zeballos gave a clear example of that when he tweeted about the new rules:
la 2da, tiempo estricto de descanso entre punto y punto, esta mejor, pero los arbitros estaria bueno q tenga un poquito mas de sentido comun
— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 2, 2013
y q des de un punto de 20 a 25 pelotas pasadas y te pases dos seg porq hacen 30 grados y 90% d humedad no te pongan warning!
— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 2, 2013
sentido comun chicos, y sino miren el twitter d un groso del tenis mundial q ayer twitteo algo similar!
— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 2, 2013
Translation: “The second [rule], the strict rest time between points, is better [NDLR: than the no-let rule, the first argument of this tweets], but the umpires better use a little more common sense and that after a point of 20 to 25 shots and you pass [the time by] two seconds because it’s 30 degrees and with 90% humidity they don’t give you a warning! Common sense, guys, if not have a look at a the Twitter [account] of a world’s tennis genius [NDLR: Zeballos clearly means David Ferrer], who tweeted something similar yesterday!”
In this case, the example given by the lefty from Mar Del Plata is clear and should be listed as one of the “special circumstances” mentioned earlier.
We can only agree with him and all the others who mentioned it: the key in the application of the rule is definitely common sense.
A lot of exaggeration
Since the López incident, and even more after what happened to Monfils, there have been a lot of comments, which led to a lot of exaggeration.
The next part is my own personal opinion of some of the issues that have been raised, with which you are free to agree or not, and on which you are more than welcomed to comment and counter-argue.
The game is more physical and the rallies are longer
Yes, the game has changed and is more physical. Yes, sometimes the rallies are longer. However, this is a “hen or egg” issue, as the game is more physical since the surfaces have been slowed down in order to enhance the quality of the show.
When this happened, the rallies became longer, the matches became longer as well, and the serve-and-volleyers almost completely disappeared as the slowing down of the surfaces became the norm rather than just happening for a few tournaments during the season.
A solution, here, might be for the surfaces to be a little more mixed up, and not only having extremely slow hard courts everywhere, since after all, most of the ATP tournaments are now played on cement, which would not only shorten the points and make the need for “in-between points recuperation” less necessary in some events, but would also vary the show even more, and reduce the risk of injuries for the players (as well as extend their careers).
This way, we would still have a great show, as we would really have a variety of players who will be able to express themselves on different surfaces, and not only the more and more homogeneous brand of tennis that has become the norm over the last few years, or the clear-cut “hard courts and grass for big servers, clay for the Spaniards and South Americans” that we were seeing in the past.
Use a shot clock
Another idea that has been mentioned a lot is that of a shot clock. If the idea has its merits, as everyone would clearly see the time elapsed before serving (or receiving), there can also be some disadvantages, especially as far as the “common sense” and “special circumstances” are concerned.
Make it 30 seconds before serving
Tennis is more gruelling than ever and players need more time to recuperate between points. For these reasons, many suggested to bring the time between serves at 30 seconds.
I personally don’t see why they should do that, as there is already a lot of exaggeration from players (and permissiveness by the chair umpires) with a 25-second rule. Bringing it up to 30 seconds would slow the pace of the game even more, as the players might then stretch it to 35 seconds instead of 30, as they do now.
The key, in my mind, is not to change the rule more than… enforcing the rule already in place, which is what is being done at the moment. Of course, it all comes to judgement call from the umpires, common sense, special circumstances. Then again, if the rule is well and evenly enforced, changing the time limit will be unnecessary.
The only things that should change, here, is to make the time limit the same in Grand Slams. Right now, the four majors have a 20-second time limit, whereas the rest of the game goes with a 25-second time limit. It would be high time for the ITF to make the time limit rule the same as in the rest of the tournaments, and enforce it accordingly.
The other change is in the hands of the chair umpires. They must apply the rule evenly, regardless of the status of the player overpassing the time limit. Often have we seen them disregarding the rule because the faulty player is a top player or, when applied, only giving a warning but never going further, even though the player continued to regularly take much longer before serving after being given the warning in question.
In the end, it really comes down to the same things: common sense, uniformity of application, and adjustment.
For more opinions and information, there have been a couple of nice reads on the topic and which I highly recommend:
- “Good Timing” by Steve Tignor on Tennis.com
- “Los segundos de la ATP contraatacan”, by Pedro Gutiérrez on Punto de Break (in Spanish)