On the clock! 25-sec­ond count­down makes Slam de­but

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY HOWARD FENDRICH

Any dis­cus­sion of the serve clocks that will make their Grand Slam de­but dur­ing the U.S. Open’s main draw start­ing Mon­day, and could be­come a reg­u­lar part of ten­nis as soon as next year, in­evitably turns to Rafael Nadal and No­vak Djokovic.

They are two of the great­est players in his­tory – and two of the slow­est be­tween points. For one thing, Djokovic’s in­ces­sant bounc­ing of the ball be­fore a ser­vice toss de­lays things. So do Nadal’s ha­bit­ual man­ner­isms: the touch­ing of the nose, the tuck­ing of the hair, the grab­bing at the shorts, and on it goes.

And while nei­ther was a big fan of in­tro­duc­ing dig­i­tal read­outs on court to show the 25-sec­ond count­down be­fore each first serve, the two men with a com­bined 30 Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles seem ready to ac­cept that they must abide by a change in­tended to add uni­for­mity to their sport.

“I just need to go faster,” Nadal said, mat­terof-factly.

Djokovic’s take: “I’m pretty com­fort­able with it.”

Both got a chance to see what this new, stricter world will look like dur­ing a test run at a hand­ful of hard-court tuneup tour­na­ments over the past month.

“Some of the guys might think this is tar­geted to them,” said Gayle Brad­shaw, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for rules and com­pe­ti­tion on the men’s tour.

Re­fer­ring to Nadal and Djokovic, specif­i­cally, Brad­shaw added: “They’ll ad­just. And I think for Rafa, it’s go­ing to be a ben­e­fit: Him wear­ing down the other guy.”

The U.S. Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion, ATP andWTA are track­ing what com­peti­tors, spec­ta­tors and TV broad­cast­ers make of the new sys­tem. Re­views from players so far have mostly been pos­i­tive or in­dif­fer­ent, al­though Ser­ena Wil­liams said she’s “not a fan of it at all.”

“You’re aware of it. You cer­tainly look at it and no­tice it. I do think it’s a good thing,” said Andy Mur­ray, a three-time ma­jor cham­pion. “It’s one of those things in ten­nis that is so stupid: The players were sort of ex­pected to sort of be count­ing to 25 in their head. … How are you sup­posed to know how much time you’re ac­tu­ally tak­ing?”

Wim­ble­don semi­fi­nal­ist John Is­ner and others noted they would step to the line to serve and still have plenty of time – some­times 10 sec­onds or more – left, en­abling them to catch their breath or think about how to ap­proach the next point.

“I didn’t feel rushed at all, by any means,” Is­ner said. “Maybe it can slow you down.”

That might have con­trib­uted to one un­in­tended con­se­quence dur­ing the three men’s tour­na­ments where clocks were used for qual­i­fy­ing and main draws: longer matches. It’s a small sam­ple size, and, of course, it’s de­pen­dent on the par­tic­u­lars of in­di­vid­ual con­tests – nearly 30 per­cent more matches went to 7-5 or a tiebreaker in the third set in 2018 than 2017 at those events. But third sets lasted an av­er­age of 5 min­utes longer this year than last year. First sets were nearly 1 1/2 min­utes longer this year while sec­ond sets were a minute shorter.

Servers were warned 74 times and re­turn­ers re­ceived nine warn­ings at the ATP and WTA tour­na­ments with the clocks.

It’s pos­si­ble this setup will be­come more wide­spread as soon as 2019; the ATP Board could con­sider that for the men’s tour dur­ing its U.S. Open meet­ing.

NICK WASS AP

On Aug. 3, a ball boy stands near the serve clock dur­ing a match at the Citi Open.

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