17 August 2018

All change for the Davis Cup: Tennis Revolutions - What's Next?

This week the ITF announced momentous changes to the foremost international team event in men's tennis, the Davis Cup. We look at what's happened and assess some of the other revolutions that could rock the world of tennis.

1. Back of the net - Davis Cup

Despite a rear-guard fight from the likes of the LTA and veteran player, Pat Cash, Spanish footballer Gerard Pique's radical format changes have won the day. Out goes the 16 nation World Group knockout event played across the year, and in comes a World-Cup style end of year tournament each November. Out go five set matches, in come three-setters. 

2. BANISH LINE JUDGES - Hawkeye takes over

The days of the lines man and woman could be numbered. The ATP experimented last year with using technology to call all the lines at Next Gen finals in Milan and at an a event in Delray Beach. Of all the innovations made at the Next Gen event, it was probably the one that worked best and was most supported by the players. How to roll out the innovation further was discussed, we are told, at an ATP council meeting at Wimbledon this year, but no further details have been announced.

3. Limiting deuces - advantage the revolutionaries

More innovation from the Next Gen ATP showcase of younger tennis talent - the introduction of sudden death at deuce with the server given the option of which side of the court he would like to serve from. "Will this happen on the tour in the next five years?" asks ATP boss Mark Kermode. "Probably not. But 10 years down the line could this be the way it's played? Yeah, it could be." Similar changes have already been adopted in doubles matches but not to universal approval, "It's nonsense, I think," said Jamie Murray last year. "They're not putting matches on centre court or on TV, so just put us on the outside courts and let us play normal scoring."

4. Back to the future - bring back wooden rackets

All-time-great John McEnroe has advocated bringing back wooden rackets, though even he admits he is unlikely to be able to storm the big-brand barricades. An astonishing amount of money and technology has been invested in the lighter, more powerful rackets that have changed the game and arguably made it easier for today's pros: "Now you have bigger, stronger guys playing with rackets that have 30 per cent more power than we had. It doesn’t make sense. If anything you should be making the rackets smaller and harder for these guys," says Mac. "That’s what I would do."


A 25-second shot clock will be introduced at the US Open this year and for the first time in a Grand Slam. It could be fun for spectators who will be able to see it count down but not all the players are happy. "We are not machines," is Nadal's view. "If you want to have matches played like I played with Novak Djokovic [a 6 hour final at the Australian Open in 2012], you cannot expect to play 50-shot rallies and in 25 seconds be ready for the next point."


Another innovation the US Open is introducing this year is strictly timed warm-ups. Players will have just seven minutes from when they enter the court, to when they begin the match. Currently, they have a leisurely 15 minutes, but according to a USTA spokesman, "We would like to keep the pace of play moving. That's our goal."


In 2016, it was reported that players stole $170,000 worth of towels at Wimbledon taking home what they are, strictly speaking, supposed to return. But while they are playing, should they fetch their towel themselves, rather than waving at long-suffering ball kids who have to carry the limp, sweaty cloth to and fro? The officials at Next Gen, an end of year ATP event for the top 8 men aged 21 and under, seem to think so. For the finals, in November this year, there will be a new accessory at the back of the court: a towel rack.


It's lonely playing singles and tennis is one of the few, if not the only, sport which does not allow mid-match coaching, though the WTA permits it outside the majors. Last year in-match coaching was trialled at the US Open qualifiers and it was also discussed at the Grand Slam board. Richard Lewis CEO of Wimbledon, is "philosphically" against it and the players are divided. The Next Gen Finals, however, are taking the plunge and will allow it via headsets for the Finals in November.


Shortening sets to the first to four games instead of six would be one way to speed up tennis. ATP chief Chris Kermode is all in favour, and although he does not expect to see major changes to scoring in the next five years, he has allowed it at, where else, the Next Gen Finals. 


Though we say it ourselves, we have, with your help, changed the world of park and public tennis in the UK. While coaching, social play and friendly mix-ins have always been available, never before have ordinary players all over the country had a simple structure which allows them to play singles (and some doubles) on their local park courts, whether they are members of a tennis club or not. Long live the Revolution!