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 2: No lets on the Challenger Tour
In the first part, the focus was set on the enforcement of the time violation rule and the reactions it brought since it came into effect.
This time, the focus is on a new rule, that the ATP World Tour is implementing as a test, and only on the Challenger Tour, for the first three months of the season: the elimination of the service let.
When the announcement was made, ATP’s Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett declared:
“Although this change will not materially reduce the length of a match, we believe it should have a positive impact on the flow of the match. We’re certainly not ready yet to eliminate the service let, but believe a trial at the ATP Challenger level will be a good way to test this initiative in a competitive environment and get feedback from players and the public before deciding if it could be adapted more broadly.”
In the case at hand, the let procedure that is being tested changes this part (ATP World Tour Rulebook, Section X, Exhibit I, rule 22, page 230):
“The service is a let if:
a. The ball served touches the net, strap or band, and is otherwise good; or, after touching the net, strap or band, touches the receiver or the receiver’s partner or anything they wear or carry before hitting the ground;”
In the old days, there was a person sitting next to the net post only to call those let shots. We can still see it in some tournaments, although most net judges have now been replaced by net devices, which emit a beep when the ball touches the net.
No let, no problem? Not so sure…
The rule being tested right now aims to remove the service lets, and can be found in the same section of the Rulebook as was previously mentioned, in the Appendix IV (page 241):
“THE LET DURING A SERVICE (Rule 22):
This alternative is play without the service let in Rule 22 a.
It means that a serve that touches the net, strap or band, is in play.
(This alternative is commonly known as the “no let rule”)”
This means that the receiver must really be on his toes, in case the ball touches the net and makes a crazy bounce, goes out of the trajectory it would make had it not touched the net, etc.
A rule that can cost a match
Without the service let, a lucky net cord can cost a player a break, or even the match, as soon as the first shot of a rally, rather than, in a way, giving the receiver a fair chance to try and return the serve.
Since the coming into effect of the new rule, last weekend, there hasn’t been too many comments from players, at least for the moment. After all, we are only into the first week of the season.
However, the comments that were seen or heard of were not very positive, and lead to think that the no let rule causes more problems than benefits.
The first comment I came across was a tweet from Argentine Marco Trungelliti, who really did not mince his words when he talked about it:
Me cago en la regla de la red de mierda y en el desgraciado q se le cruzo por el cerebro usarla
— Marco Trungelliti (@MTrunge) December 31, 2012
Translation (note: I am leaving and translating the expletives, not out of disrespect for Trunge, a really nice guy, but because it would make no sense removing them): “Fuck the shit net rule and the moron whose brain it crossed using it”
As the match he is likely referring to (his first-round defeat at the São Paulo Challenger) was not on a TV court, we cannot tell exactly what happened, but it is clear that it cost Trunge something, as he saw fit to repeat his tweet the day after, still obviously enraged (no translation needed):
Me cago otra vez en la regla de la red de mierda y en el desgraciado que se le cruzo por el cerebro usarla
— Marco Trungelliti (@MTrunge) January 1, 2013
Another player taking part in the São Paulo Challenger, Horacio Zeballos, was more composed when he expressed his dissatisfaction towards the no let rule, and went so far as saying it pleased basically no one:
2 nuevas reglas del ATP, yo me pregunto habra algun miembro d la misma q haya jugado al tenis?, la 1ra regla jugar sin let en el saque en
— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 2, 2013
torneos challengers!, incomodidad y bronca total, no conozco nadie de los 32 jugadores mas varios arbitros q esten conformes con esa regla
— horacio zeballos (@HoracioZeballos) January 2, 2013
Translation: “Two new ATP rules, [and] I wonder: will there be [sic] a member of it who has played tennis? The first rule, play without let on serve in the Challenger tournaments! Total nuisance and anger, I don’t know anyone of the 32 players and several umpires who are satisfied with this rule.” [NDLR: The second part of the Argentine’s tweets were about the time violation, and are posted and translated in my post on the topic.]
A few problems
Other problems than the ones stated previously will be faced during the no let rule trial period, due to the fact that it only applies to the Challenger Tour.
For instance, there are Challenger events this week, but none next week as the Australian Open will get under way, with the qualifications, then the main draw action.
After playing Australian Open, some of the players will head back to the Challenger Tour, whereas others will either play mostly ATP Tour events or, most likely, alternate between the two Tours.
These types of situations will cause this problem: switching between two rules. Furthermore, since the players are used to the let rule, the adaptation has already proven to be difficult, and should not become any easier as some play back and forth on both Tours.
In the end, there can only be more dissatisfaction among the players.
Will the no let be there to stay?
Judging by the actual dissatisfaction, will the no let rule survive the trial period and become a constant in tennis?
I don’t think so.
We will see what happens, but I will personally be very surprised if the no let rule’s time extends beyond March, if the trial period is not outright stopped before the end of those three months, especially if the players’ discontent continues rising.
Between the two rules, the enforcement of the time violation is the one that is the most liable to stay, I believe.
Time and the players’ voices will tell…