On the Clock - Does Tennis Need a Between Point Timer?

Posted on May 23 2018

A 25 second shot clock will appear for the first time in a grand slam main draw at this years US Open. While players are already restricted to 25 seconds between points, this is currently monitored by the umpire, but in future, it appears that players will be policed by a clock counting down from 25. This forms part of the ATP’s efforts to keep the sport relevant and popular in a modern world, but tennis purists will surely worry about the direction this leads us in.

When we think of shot-clocks and time violations, the first person people will think of is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is known for his meticulous routines and propensity to stretch out as much time between points as possible. Unsurprisingly, Nadal has been one of the more vocal critics of the shot clock. Nadal is quoted by CNN as saying, “if you want to play well, you have to let players breathe a little bit,” he continued, “we’re not machines, if you want to have matches like I played with Novak (Djokovic), you cannot expect to play 50 shot rallies and in 25 seconds be ready to play the next point.” Many would point out that the rules are the rules, and the rules say 25 seconds, whether it was a 5 shot rally or a 500 shot rally.

I do tend to agree with Nadal though, minor rules such as the 25 second rule should be there to enhance the game, and the way they do that is by being subjectively enforced. There is no problem with how it works at the moment, where the umpire has the power to step in if a player is taking too long. This way, the umpire controls the game in a way that benefits the players and spectators, rather than a clock that cannot adapt to what is happening in the match. When you’ve just watched the best point you’ve ever seen, you’re hardly going to quibble about waiting an extra 5 seconds to see the next one.

Major sports like tennis are always looking for ways to stay relevant in today’s world, and rightly so. But it seems like all they can focus on is fast, fast, fast and technology, technology, technology. Yes we live in a very fast-paced world, but isn’t that more of a reason to slow down and watch brilliance unfold in its own time? The shot clock is hardly a technological innovation (it’s a clock) and I really don’t see any advantage to it.

Picturing a New York crowd counting down the last ten seconds Nadal has to focus before a big point, I can only see it being a major negative.

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