10 Immediate Changes Needed to Enhance the Tennis Experience
We need to start from scratch without worrying about tennis tradition, status quo and favoritism—factors which historically interfere with change.
Tennis has already changed since the beginning when it was a marginal sport existing only for society's upper crusts.
Today tennis has become a mecca for great athletes who possess speed, power and accuracy.
While there remains a need to create a more universal and more easily accessed training ground for potential tennis stars of the future, tennis has moved into the 21st century with some of the world's best athletes, men and women, fully engaged in the sport.
The main changes need to come in the external factors of the game—the calendar, the schedule and the ever-increasing technology which continue to factor into tennis.
Some of the roadblocks in the path of change are mammoth—fixtures of great tradition. But if we imagine what the future can be, the sport can bring about necessary changes.
How can this be done? Follow along.
Change the Length of the Tennis Season
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Ultimately tennis needs a 10-month calendar for the regular tour.
Today's pros are exhausted by the number of tournaments and the length of the season, which leads to illness and injury.
Players need time off to train, become fit, relax and, if they choose, play exhibition matches. Only during the two months off will exhibitions be possible for charity and other funding purposes.
Not only the length of the season, but the number of tournaments required needs to be curtailed.
Challenger, Future and Junior tournaments can continue to be played during the full 12 months, if so needed.
Currently the calendar includes four Grand Slam tournaments, plus a Year-End Championship for the men and the women.
For the men, there are nine masters tournaments, eight of which require participation for the men.
For the ladies there are four Premiere mandatory tournaments worth 1,000 points plus another five worth 900 points.
Overall, the calendars for the men and the women are quite similar, and there is a great deal of overlap as the tours share events throughout the year. That need not change.
In the new order, during the 10-month span, four Grand Slam tournaments plus the ATP and WTA Year-End Championships will remain. They will be preceded by fitting lead-up tournaments including Masters/Premiere and other tournaments with less ranking points and smaller fields.
Additionally, improvements are needed to equalize play on the different court surfaces.
Move Australian Open to March 1 Through March 15
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Players have long complained that there is not sufficient time to prepare for the first major of the season—the Australian Open held in Melbourne.
Therefore, it is reasonable to push this hard court major back one month. The weather in Australia will still be fine for outdoor play with the end of summer approaching.
Further, in our 10-month calendar, all four majors are held out of doors with each having at least two masters or premiere level tournaments leading up to it.
At this point in time, there are no such tournaments prior to the Australian Open, just as there are none before Wimbledon.
Therefore we shall move Shanghai to the first month of the year with its tournament to be held approximately Jan. 15-22. The Shanghai Masters will retain its Masters/Premiere status worth 1,000 ranking points for the men and 1,000 or 900 for the women. It is, after all, a hard court event—even if it is held indoors.
Then from Feb. 12-21 a tournament in Sydney will serve as the other Masters/Premiere event leading up to the Australian Open which gets underway the first of March.
The other 500/470 and 250/280 tournaments for men and women traditionally held during this time will fold in around these two Masters/Premiere events.
Once the Australian Open is over, clay court season begins.
Move the French Open to May 15 Through June 1
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Play on clay requires few changes, perhaps the least of all the surfaces.
Like the other majors, the French Open will retain its lead-up Masters and Premiere tournaments.
There is just a slight adjustment of moving the French Open up a week or two on the tour calendar to the middle of May, rather than the end of May as it is now.
But that means that the traditional clay-court season starts earlier as well.
The usual Masters/Premiere level events will stay in place with Monte Carlo on tap from approximately March 28-April 3 followed by Madrid being held from April 17 through April 23.
Finally Rome appears on the calendar from April 30 through May 6.
Clay retains its three Masters/Premiere level events.
The other clay-court tournaments normally held will find a place between March 16 and May 15 as the tour settles on clay for the duration.
Once the clay-court season ends on June 1, play on grass begins.
Move Wimbledon to July 15 Through August 1
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Tennis began on grass. Early on, the game was called "lawn tennis."
But from its place and its duration on the tennis calendar, you could hardly guess that play on grass was once revered.
Today, there are only a handful of small tournaments allowing players maybe one warm-up event before Wimbledon.
The grass-court season lasts only a little more than one month, yet tennis' most prestigious tournament, Wimbledon, is held on grass.
This needs to change. More tournaments on grass are required to balance the tennis calendar.
Extending the grass-court season another month and adding two Masters/Premiere level tournaments should strengthen the season immeasurably.
The Masters/Premiere level tournaments will be added at Eastbourne from June 7 through June 16 and at Halle from June 30 through July 9.
The hope will be that other grass events can be added.
While grass courts are very expensive to maintain, new technology in the development of artificial turf should be advantageous to those planning future grass courts.
After the grass-court season ends on Aug. 1, the second U.S. hard-court season begins.
Move the U.S. Open to Sept. 15 Through Oct. 1
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The U.S. Open will necessarily be moved back a couple of weeks on the new calendar, concluding on or near the first of October.
The focus of this hard-court series will be the United States and Canada.
The Masters/Premiere level tournaments will be:
(1) Montreal and Toronto will host the first U.S. summer hard-court tournaments, alternating men and women's tournaments annually—just as we do now. The consecutive tournaments will begin on Aug. 5, and extend through Aug. 12.
(2) Indian Wells and Miami will move to summer, vacating their place on the calendar in March. The men and women will alternate locations annually. Consecutive play at both sites will begin on Aug. 17, ending on Aug. 23.
(3) Cincinnati will continue to host the final Masters/Premiere event before the U.S. Open. The tournament will begin on Sept. 1 and end on Sept. 9.
After the U.S. Open concludes approximately the first of October, the tour will move indoor, edging toward the respective year-end championships.
Move the Year-End Championships to Nov. 1
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When the ATP and WTA Year-End Championships conclude during the first week in November, the tennis season ends for the main tour.
The points awarded for winning the title over a field comprised of the game's top eight players will be worth as much as winning a Grand Slam tournament—2,000 points.
Surviving the round-robin format and championship round become worth the effort it took to make it into the field—awarding the winner the status and the points he or she deserves.
Prior to the ATP or WTA year-end event, players may warm up for the indoor hard-court event by playing at the Paris Indoor, Beijing or Tokyo as well as other indoor hard-court tournaments traditionally scheduled at this time of the year.
This will give those players who need to qualify for the elite-eight field additional points to add to his or her season's resumes.
It is time to give winning this event the attention it deserves.
Change Scheduling for the Davis Cup
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Competition for the Davis Cup goes back to the turn of the 20th century. Battles to capture the Cup are legendary—part of the great, rich tradition of tennis.
The Davis Cup concept remains a good one, but how the ITF schedules it during each season needs to change.
The same applies for the women's Fed Cup competition.
Spread over four weekends per year, the event departs from other tennis contests by offering a national rather than an individual focus.
Tennis becomes a "team" event with two singles contestants and a doubles team.
The idea of a tennis team competition by country is still widely appealing.
But the current format of the event for men and women has promoted Davis Cup and Fed Cup demise as players' calendars are packed with other mandatory events.
One solution might be rooted in the success tennis enjoyed at this year's Summer Olympics.
Since Olympic tennis has become part of the tennis calendar every four years, the Davis Cup should alternate with the Summer Games every two years.
That means that every two years during a two-week period, Davis Cup and Fed Cup competition would be held at a selected site.
Each of the 16-country field would be represented and play four singles matches and one in doubles with elimination in each round until the final two countries battled for the respective Cups—four rounds in total.
Davis Cup and Fed Cup would continue on and grow in stature presented this way.
Women Need to Play Best of Five at Majors
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The WTA has worked diligently to ensure equal pay and equal exposure for the ladies on tour at the four majors.
Their hard work has paid dividends because equality has finally happened.
Women are awarded equal prize money at the majors, but they are not required to play as much as men to take home their equally large paychecks.
If women fought for equality in all things—then they need to play a best-of-five format just like the men at the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
It is now necessary for the ladies to rise to this challenge since they are compensated equally.
Women have played the five-set format in the past, but such a format did not last long because of the length of time it took for women to play five sets.
Nonetheless, the modern player, male or female, should be fit enough to play a five-set match when required.
The best-of-five format is in place because the majors are the last and best of tennis fortunes for players. Women need to step up and play five when required to do so.
Standarize Playing Equipment
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For more than 100 years, tennis rackets were made of wood held together with catgut strings.
But since 1970, changes in rackets have come at a ridiculously fast pace.
The rackets provide additional power, precision and touch even when the player lacks these abilities.
Think of it this way.
There is a reason why baseball requires bats to be within a standard weight, length and circumference as well as being made of wood.
There is a point at which technology supersedes talent if left unchecked.
Tennis needs to do the same thing with rackets by standardizing their size, strings and other variables affecting a players ability to hit the ball successfully.
Tennis wishes to retain talent as the superior element in the game.
Therefore, they need to standardize the basic equipment—rackets, balls, court structure and nets.
And they need to do it now.
Standardize Hawkeye and Other on-Court Technology
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Now that tennis has slowly evolved from the 19th to the 21st century, it is time to embrace Hawkeye technology and require its use on all courts in every professional tournament.
It simply is not fair to deny players on outer courts the ability to challenge a close line call when they feel it was incorrect.
For every tournament on tour, the technology needs to be in place which could become a burden to the individual sponsors. Perhaps it is time for the ATP and WTA to bear some of the responsibility for installing and maintaining this equipment.
Speaking of Hawkeye technology and electronic line calling, it is also time to explore eliminating the human factor on court. If we have technology available, it should enhance the flow of the game and slowly eliminate the need for humans to determine if the ball landed in or outside the court.
The man or woman filling the role of umpire would continue to oversee the action on court while a line judge dealt with the equipment which would beep or signal in some fashion when the ball was out.
While we are at it, we might also add a game clock into the mix. Like football, the player has 25 seconds to get the next play underway.
There is much to be said for on-court technology and its use to speed up and enhance the game.