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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, August 25, 2017

Denis Shapovalov

"I would be very surprised if the Australians don't at least follow and maybe take a step beyond what the USTA have done," Cliff Dyrsdale said of the shot-clock innovation.

Photo credit: US Open Facebook

Tennis entered a new time zone at the US Open.

The Open is experimenting with a 25-second shot clock between points as well as permitting coaching from the stands during this week’s qualifying tournament.

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The shot clock is displayed on the scoreboard labelled “serve clock.” The chair umpire also tracks the time with a stop watch in the event the scoreboard clock is not working.

While the shot clock and coaching rule changes will not be in effect during the US Open main-draw tournament next week, you can still see the rule in play during the upcoming US Open junior tournament, senior tournament and wheelchair tournament.

Experts believe it's only a matter of time before the clock debuts in the main draw.

There is some concern the vocal New York City fans may grow involved counting down the time as the shot clock winds down.

That’s one reason why the USTA is testing this technical innovation before trying to applying it to the main-draw tournament, which could happen in the next couple of years.

ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe, former General Manager of USTA Player Development, told Tennis Now he supports a shot clock for all pro tournaments and is still evaluating the potential for adding on-court coaching or coaching from the stands in the US Open main draw.

“I think they're all great innovations, and I think credit to the USTA for being the first to take a legitimate shot at it and do it because we in the broadcast business have been begging for this kind of stuff for a couple of years now,” McEnroe said in a conference call with the media to promote ESPN’s US Open coverage which begins on Monday at 1 p.m on ESPN.

“So I think it would help tennis. I love the shot clock. Obviously it's got to be used smartly by the chair umpire. The time that players take warming up between set breaks drives me crazy, and I don't see that happening at any other sports. I'd certainly like to see that happening.”

In what could be a game-changing rule change, the US Open qualifying tournament has permitted coaching this week—with a twist. Coaching is allowed at any time during a qualifying match except when the ball is in play.

Coaches are allowed to coach their players from the support box and talk to players when they’re at the same end and when players are at the opposite end of the court coaches will be permitted to use hand signals to coach. 

"I'm not 100 percent sold yet on the coaching part,” Patrick McEnroe told Tennis Now. “I sort of go back and forth on that. There's things about it I like. There's things about it I don't like in that tennis is unique in that way. But I think it does bring a lot to the table, and having the coaches mic'd in the women's tour is great for television. So I'd like to still see how that goes, but as far as all the stuff that's been put into place about the timing of the match, I think all of that should stay, and I think everybody should do it.”

Currently, Grand Slams and WTA events feature a 20-second rule between points, while ATP events apply a 25-second limit between points.

The US Open is aiming to achieve two goals with the shot clock:

1. Speed up play and diminish cases of players going to their towels between points.
2. Enforce a 5-minute warm-up rule and 3-minute medical time out rule.

ESPN analyst and 1965 US finalist Cliff Drysdale calls the experiment “a huge step” and believes other Grand Slams will follow suit and adopt the shot clock, suggesting it could happen as soon as the Australian Open in January.

“This is just experimental, and again, bless the USTA for starting this process because I think it is just a start, and to get things moving, to get things a little snappier while people are sitting there with the remote in their hands ready to change the channel, much less likely to happen when there's constant action on the tennis court,” Drysdale told Tennis Now. “So it is a huge step by the USTA in the right direction, and I would be very surprised if the Australians don't at least follow and maybe take a step beyond what the USTA have done.”

Hall of Famer Drysdale believes enacting an equitable coaching rule will be more challenging and could create "mayhem." 

"School is out. We have to see how that works," Drysdale said of coaching. "You're talking about foreign languages now. You're talking about how loud can the coach be. I'm struggling with that particular... I want the innovation.

"I'm 110 percent behind the innovation. During the match and in between points, I suffer with that. I'd have to see how that works. But I think it could be mayhem, and I worry about that."

Former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert, a long-time vocal advocate for the shot clock, has called adopting the rule “an absolute given.”

“It's an absolute given the shot clock has to be on court,” Gilbert told Tennis Now. “I study when some of these guys give Rafa a time violation. I see numerous times he's gone longer. Sometimes out of nowhere they give it to him serving out a match or a set. For me, it's bullshit. If you're going to call it then call it on the first point of the match.

“Simple solution: There's a shot clock. If it's a 20-ball rally, you don't start the shot clock until you call the score so that gives you a little bit of a buffer. That's what people don't realize: It's not 25 seconds if it's a 30-ball rally because the crowd doesn't settle down immediately. You wait until the crowd settles, then turn on the shot clock.”

Gilbert believes we will see a shot clock at Challengers and Future events very shortly and believes it’s time the clock is adopted across the board at all pro events.

“I am for all of the innovation. I think it's exciting,” Gilbert told Tennis Now. “It's about time that we do it, and I hope it sticks or at least starts implementing at all Challengers and Futures next year and soon it gets to the tour level.”


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