Stop clocks: a new tennis innovation?

December 6, 2017

There is no doubt the highlights of the Wimbledon for many have focused as much on the tradition and pageantry that goes with the oldest of the Grand Slams.

Great players may come and go, but some things are perennial: the requirement that players wear white, strawberries and cream, the green and purple livery, the references to 'ladies' and 'gentlemen': all these are distinctive and time-honoured elements that help give the event its unique personality.

However, none of this means the event never moves with the times. The clothing may still be white, but the days when women wore long dresses and the gentlemen long trousers have long gone. Over time there was television, then colour television, then yellow balls instead of white to make them easier to see on the television. 

After that came cyclops, which was designed to help the line judges, and more recently Hawkeye. And if decision making was being helped down on the court, up above the vagaries of the British weather were being addressed with the retractable centre court roof, with another now being built over number one court.

The latest innovation could be a stop clock, a device designed to ensure that players do not get away with bending, or completely breaking, the rule that there must be no more than 25 seconds between points during a game.

Last month, it was announced that the Australian Open would introduce the device and it is expected the other Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, will follow suit. 

Opinion has been divided, but a lot of the players are very sceptical. 

World number one Rafael Nadal, who has something of a reputation for taking his time, was opposed. He said: "If you want to have matches like I played here with Novak [Djokovic], the three finals, the kind of match that the crowd is more involved in because the points are so long, well, you cannot expect to play 50-shot rallies and in 25 seconds be ready to play the next tennis point.

"I think that's not possible for a great show. But if you don't want a great show, of course it's a great improvement."

Roger Federer is also unsure, calling the clock "stressful" and citing its use in the recent next generation finals in Milan as a possible reason for a range of cramp incidents.

Others, however, might suggest that quicker play is better for the spectators and that players who take their time over serves when under pressure are indulging in gamesmanship. 

Indeed, some top players are far from unhappy with such an innovation. World number four Alex Zverev, one of the participants in Milan, said: "The shot clock is something not bad. There has to be a few adjustments maybe made to that but I think that has potential."

Other innovations in Milan included the use at the umpire's discretion of Hawkeye on all tight line calls and allowing coaching during matches. There were also experimental rules, such as no lets when serving. 

It remains to be seen whether the shot clock becomes a winner with fans, but it could certainly add some novelty next summer to even the most traditional of championships.

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