Tennis' time rule under scrutiny
Melbourne - Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic says he's not concerned about a crackdown on the time taken between points in tennis matches, saying if he is guilty of delaying play, he'll take the warning without complaint.
At tournaments in Chennai, Doha, Auckland and Brisbane this month, players received warnings and penalties for exceeding the 25-second time limit under a push for stricter enforcement of the ATP World Tour's rules.
At the Australian Open and other three Grand Slam tournaments, that time limit is reduced to 20 seconds.
Djokovic, who bounces the ball repeatedly before he serves, and Rafael Nadal, who goes through several pre-serve routines that includes tugging on his shorts, are two of the most consistent offenders.
Last year's epic Australian Open final between Djokovic and Nadal took 5 hours, 53 minutes to complete, the longest final in the history of Grand Slam tennis.
Some complained that the pair often took longer than 30 seconds between points, while others saw it more as just one ingredient of a classic match.
"Well, I guess Nadal and myself, we're right up there mentioned in that topic as the players who would be always in danger of the time violation because of the time we are taking between the points," Djokovic said on Saturday.
"It is the way it is. I cannot have any complaints when I take more than 20 seconds between the points. If the chair umpire comes to me and said, 'Listen, you should be a little bit more careful about it'. If I do it again, he gives me warning, I can't complain about it.
"It's within the rules and I will respect it."
Australian Open tournament referee Wayne McEwen thinks common sense will prevail at the majors. McEwen on Friday said he is speaking to chair umpires before the Australian Open begins, reminding them of the time between points and "to keep it fair, keep it consistent."
Chair umpires can give a warning and then begin imposing penalties if slow play continues, McEwen says.
"We don't want players out there being penalised after playing a fantastic point, but then again we don't want players deliberately taking too long and that's what we really look at. We focus on that and tell them to use good common sense, good judgment."
The ATP's 25-second rule between points hadn't been strictly enforced in recent years, but players were sent e-mails in advance of the 2013 season and at tour meetings warning them of the crackdown.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said he sees a need to speed up matches if players are deliberately delaying play, and that the tennis-watching public - either in the stands on TV - have the most to gain.
Authorities need to enforce the rules, Cash said on Friday. "As much as we like Novak bouncing balls between points, the fans just want to see some tennis."
There were dozens of warnings or fault penalties imposed on players in pre-Australian Open tournaments, including 36 in the first five days of the Qatar Open in Doha.
The players included Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, who lost his first-round match in Doha to Lukas Lacko, and 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who was warned and penalised - losing a first serve - in his semi-final loss in Brisbane to Grigor Dimitrov last Saturday.
Others were warned, including US Open champion Andy Murray in Brisbane and Gael Monfils in Qatar.
Tomas Berdych was one of the players penalised at Chennai, India for taking too long between points, and he wasn't happy.
"There are many question marks around it and I don't see any good reason to have this rule," Berdych said. "The hot conditions, it's almost impossible to make it. In Chennai, where it was really humid, you need the towel every time you finish a rally."
Berdych cautions that strict enforcement of the time rule could see such marathon matches such as last year's Australian final become a thing of the past. "It's not going to help improve the game, there's going to be no chance to see matches like Rafa and Djoko in the final," Berdych said.
On Saturday, ATP president Brad Drewett said he planned to meet with the players to discuss the stricter enforcement of the rules that began on January 1.
"It's only been two weeks, and like anything else, change takes time and for the players to adjust," Drewett said. "So I'll have a better idea of how they feel after that. I've heard some reports, but it will be good to get the players' feedback directly."
"When we brought in the tie-breaker 40 years ago, there was huge controversy. Rod Laver was one of those who hated it. Look at it now."
McEwen said he feels the timing issue will not court too much controversy over the next two weeks.
"The players sometimes need a little time to recover, especially in the heat of the day, or in a long match," McKewen said. "Last year's final was a classic match, the points were lasting incredibly long. In a case like that, you don't want to be killing it for everyone."