Short Sets, No Lets & More ‘Meaningful Moments’
Chances are your “did-you-see-that?” moment came later in the set, when more was at stake and players had sharpened their play because of the scoreline.
The big moments – pick your favourite: break points, set points, tie-breaks – stick with us, for better or worse. So, if you could, why not try to create more of those moments?
That's the reasoning behind one of the most noticeable innovations to be tested during the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held 7-11 November.
Matches in Milan will use a shorter format: best-of-five set matches, but the sets will be first to four (with a tie-break at 3-3), and games will feature no-ad scoring.
“We're looking to create more meaningful moments throughout the course of a tennis match. Normally you'd say break points, game points, latter stages of sets, tie-breaks would be more meaningful moments,” said Ross Hutchins, Chief Player Officer, ATP. “So can we host more tie-breaks, more end of sets, more exciting moments, more clutch points?”
Under the new format, the minimum numbers of games needed to win – 12 – is the same number a player needs to win during a best-of-three-sets match. But the shorter format could produce completely different matches, Hutchins said.
Momentum could change more often, with new sets possibly happening every five or six games. The scoreline of a close match could easily be 4-1, 1-4, 4-1, 2-4 as it heads into a fifth set.
Hutchins also predicts players will place more emphasis on the beginning of sets, because they know they have limited time to turn it around.
“One all is the equivalent of 3-all. When you start looking at 2-all, 2-all is 4-all, and you're within two games of winning the set... All of sudden the start of a set is a lot nearer to the end of a set,” Hutchins said. “Players will realise it's tougher to get back into the sets so they'll put more work into holding serve or breaking serve.”
The deciding deuce point, a staple on the ATP World Tour doubles circuit, will feature an exciting new twist as well. In doubles, the receiving team gets to decide who returns. But in Milan, the server will choose.
“We know and have seen the deciding point receiver's choice in doubles. But in keeping with the concept of the event, we thought it would be interesting to see how the server's choice would be viewed and also the mindset of the players having to choose their service side,” Hutchins said.
Other innovations similarly take aim at creating more exciting moments for players and fans. Warm-up time before a match will be reduced to five minutes.
“Guys should be ready to go nearly as soon as they get out there,” said former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.
Let calls will disappear. If the serve clips the tape and rolls over, it's an in serve and a live ball.
“A let is sort of 'Let's go again'. Nothing really happens so it's just a question of trying to create more excitement, and an additional element of unpredictability, within the matches,” Hutchins said.
Fans will get to experience more of these moments as well, as onlookers on the sides of the court will be allowed to move freely rather than waiting for changeovers to come back into the stadium. (Movement will remain restricted behind the baselines.)
“We're trying to create less down moments and less pauses in play and less restriction from all stakeholders, whether it be the crowd, the media, the broadcaster, how we work,” Hutchins said.
The removal of let serves might have the biggest effect on players' pre-tournament practices.
“I think all the rules they'll have to practise, especially the lets. Players will be so used to stopping, they'll immediately switch off. Actually, I think it will take a couple days to get used to this but that's why it's such a good time to host this event. It's at the end of the year, with not much else going on. Depending on what they do during the Rolex Paris Masters, they'll have a couple of days to practise,” Hutchins said.
#NextGenATP players also think the new rules will occupy some practice time.
“I think the hardest thing is going to be for the no lets. For the first couple of times I feel like I'm just going to stop the point and expect a re-serve,” said Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
Hutchins is aware of the potential drawbacks that could accompany the innovations, including the no-let rule. Say it's match point, 3-2, 40/30 in the fifth set, and the serve clips the tape and trickles over the net. A let serve ace on match point could happen, he said, but you also could have a let winner two more shots into the point.
To Hutchins and others, the endless discussion about hypotheticals can wait for another day. In Milan, it will be time to abandon the theories and live in the reality.
Hutchins said, “We could all predict what could happen. We could all predict what could be but we don't know. And that's what this event is there to show; it's to test things.”