We all know it.
Some players like to take their time before they get ready to serve. In today's exceedingly physical tennis, it is understandable that the players need a longer break every once in a while.
However, the rules allow them only 25 seconds from the point has ended until they hit their first serve. In Grand Slams it is a mere 20 seconds.
There are, without a doubt, multiple players who consistently break these rules.
However, three of them are high profile players and are thereby the faces of tennis.
What they do influences what everyone else is doing. From kids to other players.
Each of them not only break the 20 seconds rule (which is, admittedly, not a lot of time to get ready to serve), but the 25 seconds rule as well.
At the Australian Open final, Nadal took an average 30 seconds after each first serve and Djokovic an average 33 seconds. These numbers were after the first two sets and probably rose as the players got tired.
Their heroic 5 hours and 53 minute battle would have been a mere 4 hour and 43 minutes had both kept the 20 seconds rule.
And that is not even counting the huge amount of time both players sometimes takes between the first and the second serve.
Djokovic likes to bounce the ball a lot, Nadal likes to towel off, do his rituals and well, get ready.
And in their Miami match, Murray was every bit as slow as Djokovic.
Is this a problem?
It may turn out to be. While some fans cherish the long grueling matches and find that 'the longer, the better,' others may find more difficulty in keeping an interest in a match that stretches towards six hours.
Especially if a lot of the time isn't play.
There's also a player perspective to be included here. In a way, it's not fair to the player receiving the serve as that player needs to be ready when you are and thus may end up having to concentrate longer as the server waits and pick his moment.
Over the course of a long match that can decide points.
Deciding the rhythm of a match is an advantage. The time wasting is at its worst when there's an important point on the line, say a breakpoint against the server.
As it stands now, it's up to the chair umpire to give warnings when the players take too much time. However, they rarely do.
“No. They (officials) are being too loose about it. I understand that after a longer rally you gotta give the guy some time to recover.
But I do believe that the officials could be a bit more tough on timing… Because at the end of the day I don’t want the fans to get frustrated and say you know, watch five points is going to take us five minutes.”
“The rules are there, but you cannot expect to play a six-hour match, play rallies of crazy points and rest 20 seconds.”
Both have a legitimate point.
The officials are being very loose about it, but at the same time some rallies obviously do require more than 20 seconds of rest.
However, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray repeatedly go beyond the 20 seconds rule, even after a short point (sometimes they do manage to stay within the rule, but at the very least they should be expected to stay within the 20 seconds after all the short points).
I believe there are a few possible roads to take from here:
1) Change the rules to allow for more time between the points, say 25 or even 30 seconds everywhere.
2) Continue as of now, where some fans get annoyed with the continuous rule-breaking.
3) Be much stricter on upholding the rules.
Personally, I like my tennis fast. I acknowledge that it's not easy to run around like rabbits and hit ridiculous winners without breathing breaks in between.
But boxers go three minutes without a break, soccer players only have breaks when the ball goes out or if somebody makes a free kick.
Why do tennis players need 30-35 seconds between each and every point? And sometimes even 45?
To me, a mixture between 1) and 3) would be the best solution. 20 seconds is not a lot after a long rally and not even after a short.
But 25 seconds should be more than enough to get ready to serve in most cases.
If not, the player could receive a violation after each time he breaks the rule. After the third warning, the chair umpire could start handing out point penalties (today, it should be done from the second, but I hardly recall seeing a point penalty being handed out).
It's radical, yes. But it certainly would speed up the pace.
Then there's the long, grinding rally objection made by Nadal above.
And it does have merit.
There could either be a fixed rule, say a rally above 10 shots give an extra five seconds, a rally above 15 an extra 10 seconds and so on and so forth.
Or it could be up to the chair umpire's discretion to decide whether or not the rally had been grueling enough to allow for a bit of extra time to the server. Much like today, but with an emphasis on that they actually should do it and be very strict on enforcing the rules after short rallies.
The problem with the latter, of course, is that they've repeatedly failed to enforce the rule so far. Also, it puts the spotlight on the chair umpires and the players can get into big fights with them if they disagree with the umpire's best judgement.
The problem with the former, the fixed time rule, is that it would be a leap away from tennis tradition. But so was the tie-break and so was Hawk-Eye.
Either way, the present continuous contradiction between what the rules say and what the players do is a problem in my opinion.
So, either change the rules to fit with the players actual behaviour. Or enforce the rules some way or another to change the behaviour of the players and speed up the game.
On a long term basis, I think the latter would be the better way in terms of getting the casual fan hooked on the game.