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By Chris Oddo



(January 5, 2013) -- Andy Murray, speaking after his semifinal victory over Kei Nishikori (Nishikori retired with a knee injury in the second set), spoke candidly about the ATP’s new rules regarding server’s time violations.

The U.S. Open champion and current World No. 3 believes that the rule is a good idea, but he’s of the belief that the time allotted to the server is too short. “I’m for them being more strict with the time,” he said, “but I think they maybe should have increased the time allowed first.”

Murray believes that the game is too physically demanding to ask a server to recover from a 20 or 30 stroke rally in 25 seconds. “25 seconds goes by pretty quick,” he said.

Several times this week, players have become upset about being warned or penalized for the infraction, which was approved in December by the ATP. Feliciano Lopez became irate in Doha when he was given a warning while facing a triple break point against Lukasz Kubot, and Marcos Baghdatis was penalized at a crucial juncture of his third-set tiebreaker in his semifinal with Grigor Dimitrov yesterday.

It's been a busy week for umpires and players as they adjust to the new rules.

Lopez's fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Pablo Andujar took to Twitter to complain about the new rule, and elsewhere Gael Monfils got into a humorous dialogue with an umpire when he received a warning during his match with Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Murray says the ATP told players that the reason they were changing the rule was because of the 2012 Australian Open final. The five-hour, fifty-three minute affair between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was the longest Grand Slam final in tennis history.

“Right now that match is getting shown when there is a delay,” said Murray “so it’s not like the TV hated the match so much that they’re never going to show it again.”

Whether players like the change or not, what seems to anger them more than anything is the fact that the warnings and penalties can seem arbitrary to a player that has no reliable method to keep track of time between points. In a sport that does not allow on-court coaching, players are forced to blindly count the seconds between points and hurry to serve.

It goes against the nature of players who have been taught to embrace pre-serve rituals between all points, and Murray feels that the new rules will definitely favor the returner.

“Players just aren’t used to playing at that pace,” Murray said. “It’s a huge advantage for the returner not for the server. The returner can just get to the line and just stand there and say that he’s ready, whereas the server, 99 percent of players bounce the balls three or four times before the serve. That’s when guys are actually getting the penalties.”

Given time to adapt to the rules, servers should be able to develop more of a feel for the new time constraint, but violations at tense moments in matches will still be a problem because servers tend to slow down and concentrate more when they are facing big points.

A visible shot clock seems like the most obvious -- and fairest -- solution, but critics argue that the clock would encourage crowd participation and lead to a generally chaotic environment on court. That could be true, but is the alternative -- players that don’t really know when the violations are coming -- any better?

All the more reason for the ATP to revisit the rule and consider adding more time for the server. Short of a visible shot clock, which would eliminate all doubt from the server’s mind, it might be the best solution.

“I like the idea behind it [the rule],” said Murray, “I just think they could have adjusted the time between the points a little bit.”

Stay tuned for much more on this development in the upcoming weeks. The ITF--the governing body that runs all the Grand Slams--allows for only 20 seconds between serves, based on its rulebooks.

Perhaps the worst has yet to come.


 

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