• What the Deuce

Nadal the acid test for new crackdown on timewasting

Jo Carter January 7, 2013
Rafael Nadal is guilty of taking his time between points © PA Photos

As the new season kicks into gear, the players have a new rule to contend with as tennis chiefs try to crack down on time wasting.

This season, players on the ATP Tour will have 25 seconds between points - and after one warning players will lose a serve - or a point for the receiver - for subsequent time violations.

Some players will hardly notice the new rule - Roger Federer averages about 15 seconds between points but for others, it is going to take quite some getting used to.

"I hate this rule. I'm not the sort of player who takes too much time between points or uses the towel often, but this is a ridiculously humid place," Janko Tipsarevic said in Chennai last week. "I'm happy that the grand slams are not supporting it because it's stupid."

The majors - under the jurisdiction of the International Tennis Federation rather than the ATP - have not adopted the new rule, instead sticking with their 20-second guideline.

That 20 second policy is rarely stuck to - as Tipsarevic's comment suggests.

Last year's Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal - two of the worst offenders for taking their time between points - was the longest grand slam final in history.

But both players averaged over 30 seconds between points, meaning the match would have been closer to five hours than six if Nadal and Djokovic had been in more of a hurry.

After an epic 50-shot rally, taking a few seconds to towel off and take a breather does not seem unreasonable, but taking 25 seconds to prepare for the next point after a service winner does seem a little excessive.

Speeding things up between points is no bad thing, but a bit of common sense is crucial. If a player is comfortably inside the time limit on most points, the chair umpire should be able to turn a blind eye if he then takes 27 seconds after a monster rally.

Players will lose serve or points if they violate the new 25-second time limit between points © PA Photos

A number of players are unhappy with the new rule - Tomas Berdych voiced his frustration following his exit in Chennai, while David Ferrer has also expressed his discontent on Twitter. It seems Andy Murray is one of the few players who has welcomed the change, although he admits it will take time to get used to.

That said, he believes umpires should be consistent regardless of how long the previous point was, but says some leeway must be afforded for unavoidable incidents.

"I think it's wrong that people say they have to give a bit of leeway if there is a long point," he said. "I don't agree with that. I think that's when the person who is physically stronger gains an advantage. They should be recovering in a certain amount of time, but I just think they should have adjusted the time slightly.

"All it takes is a shoelace to come undone and you're out of time. Guys have been getting warnings when they change their racket for breaking a string or whatever. That's also not right."

It will be interesting to see how strictly the rule is adhered to and how quickly players adapt to the change.

Djokovic, and when fit, Nadal, are two of the most athletic players on the tour, but they are both guilty of dawdling between points. The new rule should favour the fitter players who are able to recover quickly. In theory, matches should be quicker, but played at a higher intensity.

With all his little eccentricities and routines, Nadal is probably the one player who is likely to struggle the most to adapt to the new rule. In the past the 11-time grand slam champion has reacted angrily when warned for taking too long over points.

When he makes his long-awaited return from injury - he will not only have to get back into the swing of things after eight months on the sidelines, but he will have to worry about avoiding penalties for excessive timewasting.

After recovering from a knee injury that has sidelined him since June, the Spaniard was subsequently floored by a stomach virus, which forced him out of the Australian Open.

Call us conspiracy theorists, but perhaps that stomach ache was stress-related owing to his worries about the new ruleā€¦

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk