Mon, Nov 13, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Clock might be ticking on the classic tennis marathon

Reuters, LONDON

Hyeon Chung returns to Andrey Rublev during the ATP Next Gen final on Saturday in Milan, Italy. Chung defeated Rubley 3-4 (5/7), 4-3 (7-2), 4-2, 4-2.

Photo: AP

Keith Glass took the balls to serve during the second set of his match against Anthony Fawcett in the 1975 Surrey Grass Court Championships and served, and served and served... and served.

Eighty points — and 37 deuces — later, in which time an adjacent match started and finished, he finally won the game.

He lost the match, fatigue getting the better of him, but gained a place in the record books as having contested the longest single game ever recorded.

Such freakish games are rare, but are what make the unique tennis scoring system, with origins in the 16th century, a thing of wonder.

The principal of winning a game by two clear points, or a set by two clear games, is ingrained in the psyche of club hackers and elite pros alike — so much so that the almost ubiquitous deciding set tiebreaks still rankle with many.

Wimbledon remains true to tradition, as demonstrated in 2010 when American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut contested the longest match of all time — an 11 hour and 5 minute monster spanning three days in which the 138-game fifth set alone lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes.

Which is why the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals, which concluded in Milan, Italy, on Saturday, caused such a stir.

The event, showcasing the best players in the world aged 21 and under, ripped an ace through the rulebook with a raft of innovations the ATP says can “reinvent” tennis.

Shot clocks enforced the 25 seconds between points rule, warm-ups were shortened and sets were to four games not six, with tiebreaks at 3-3. Even service lets were scrapped.

The crowd could eavesdrop as players discussed tactics with their coaches via enormous headphones and line judges were replaced by live Hawkeye calling.

Even the court looked different, with doubles lines removed and a huge mock-up of Milan’s La Scala at one end complete with a disk jockey pumping out tunes at changeovers.

It was tennis, but not as we know it.

Gimmicky perhaps, but the sizable crowds loved the rock-and-roll tennis served up by the exciting talents such as Denis Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev and Chung Hyeon — three players tipped to fill the void when Roger Federer and company retire.

The players bought into the experiment, producing some eye-catching duels, but while they were positive to some of the new rules, messing with the scoring system touched a nerve.

The first deuce effectively became a “sudden death” deciding point, meaning games could contain a maximum of seven points, 73 fewer than Glass’s epic.

ATP chief executive Chris Kermode, trying to balance tradition with the task of future-proofing the sport, said the quickfire scoring reduced “dead periods” in matches.

The players, willing guinea pigs, were lukewarm about it.

Rublev said it reduced a tight match to a “lucky dip.”

“With these rules, everyone can beat everyone and I don’t think that’s very fair,” he said. “The winner should be the guy who works harder for it.”

While the best-of-five set format meant players were still required to win 12 games for victory, matches often resembled a series of short sprints.

Missing were the elongated games, the mini-battles that often decide who wins the war.

In this brave new world, the mesmerizing 13-deuce game between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka in the 2013 US Open semi-final or the 20-minute game won by Steffi Graf in the 1995 Wimbledon final against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario would not exist.

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