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Maybe it's appropriate that The Guardian pitched its idea to abolish the second serve from tennis right as the clay season kicks off. Clay is where it often appears that the players get two second serves, and matches are long enough, right? Here is the tenor of its thesis and argument:
The second serve rewards failure, wastes time and means we all have to spend far longer watching Rafael Nadal towelling his face, fiddling with his headband and pulling his shorts out from between his butt-cheeks than is necessary. The time has come to rid tennis of this superfluous second-serve menace.
It's an intriguing idea that is worth at least a discussion, but it would be quite a significant departure from the history of tennis. Changing the game so radically would be like a third era in tennis, as if we could no longer measure the records and make appropriate enough comparisons to stars of the past. For instance:
- Would it altogether eliminate the serve as a weapon?
- Would serve-and-volley style ever matter again?
- Would returners dominate so thoroughly that service holds become harder than service breaks?
Of course there are other concerns, not the least of what it meant to watch a legend like Pete Sampras thrive with his second serve, whereas this has often been one of Andy Murray's great difficulties. And would this make serving more or less predictable?
Would this be entertaining for fans? The penalty for a missed serve would be a lost point and a quick trip to the other side of the court. Would there be too many conservative "serve lobs"?
Maybe The Guardian is on to something, and we certainly encourage new tennis ideas for the sport's progression and optimum skill display, but it's hard to get on board.
On the other hand, if servers become too dominant, a more simple tweak could be to shrink the service box by having to serve completely inside the lines. Imagine a Hawkeye replay in which the crowd moans when the replay shows that the serve is a fault because it touched the line inside the box. After the point begins, hitting the sidelines and baseline becomes acceptable again.
Maybe we need to toss up a third idea.