Next January’s Australian Open will see a shot clock to speed up play, and on-site players getting only half the prize money if they pull out of their first-round match after the draw. The Grand Slam Board intends to improve the show and also cater to television requirements as marquee matches which finish prematurely hurt ratings.
But the proposed shot clock, which was trialled in the qualifying, junior and wheelchair matches at this year’s US Open and at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan earlier this month, is the one which can impact play the most. As things stand, players are given up to 25 seconds at regular ATP and WTA tour events to start the next point, while the time allowed at Grand Slams is 20 seconds. But in practice, some players regularly take more than the allowed time, however, the chair umpire doesn’t intervene. At most, there is a warning to a player who takes longer to serve.
Now, the Grand Slams have decided to allow 25 seconds between points, generally from the moment the chair umpire calls time after the applause from spectators has died down, but enforce it strictly. The matter will no longer be left with the chair umpires.
According to the top two men’s players, the proposed shot clock is not a good idea. Roger Federer has termed the innovation “stressful”. “How do you judge, when you finish after a drop shot, it’s been a tough rally, the guy has to run back to the baseline. Sometimes we need to have some leeway. I’m not sure if it’s good,” he said.
Rafael Nadal is known to test the time allowed between points to the limit. It is no surprise that he is not a fan of the move. “If you don’t want a great show, of course it’s a great improvement. I believe it is not something that is good for the future of the Tour. It’s not the same playing at 15 degrees [Celsius] or 18 degrees than playing at 35 degrees and that’s why we have umpires… In my opinion, having a clock with 25 seconds playing in some extreme conditions you cannot have the best show possible.”
No easy money
A player who is on site but unfit to play and withdraws before the start of the main draw will still receive half of the first-round prize money, with his/her replacement luck loser getting the other half plus whatever else he earns. The ATP decided had decided before the 2017 season got underway to award injured players all their first-round prize money for withdrawing before the event.
Professional standards required
Any player who is judged to have performed “below professional standards” could be fined all of the first-round money they have earned. The likes of Kyrgios and his Aussie compatriot Bernard Tomic, who felt “bored” on court during a match, need to beware!
Get ready to play
The length of the pre-match warm-ups will also be strictly controlled at the Australian Open, limiting them to five minutes. Those not ready to play in the permitted time could face fines of $20,000. The players will get one minute to walk on court and be ready for the umpire’s briefing at the net, followed by a five-minute knock-up, plus one minute to prepare for the first point.
The Board is also considering a move back to 16 seeds, down from 32, which can drastically alter the draw for the Majors. It may result in the very top players facing very dangerous opponents in the first round itself.