New Tennis Rules Boost US Open Spectacle

STARNBERG, October 3, 2018

The 2018 running of the US Open was the 138th that has been held, and its finish on 9th September marked the end of the Grand Slam events for the year. It has been the fourth and final Grand Slam event of the year since 1987, being held after the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. Whilst it is just one tournament of many in a long running history of Grand Slam tennis, the 2018 US Open will be a historical event as it attracted a record of 732,663 fans over the two two weeks of main draw action.

2018 saw Andy Murray make his return to Grand Slam tennis after having a hip surgery in January, and saw both men’s and women’s title defenders (Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens) fail in their attempts to retain the trophy. Instead, Novak Djokovic returned to winning form to take the men’s singles title, whilst the women’s title was won by Japan’s Naomi Osaka. The US Open has also been the first major to offer equal prize money to female and male winners.

The new tennis rules are designed to boost the spectacle

Rule changes have been introduced, including the 25 second serve clock that aim to speed up the game play of tennis matches and improve the spectacle for spectators. Further changes are coming to the Grand Slam format in the future and will certainly make attempts to produce tennis predictions more difficult. The new serve clock is designed to speed up the time between points.

Against the Clock

Borrowing from sports such as basketball, where the shot clock has had a massive success in speeding up play and making games more exciting, tennis will continue to experiment with a serve clock. At the Australian Open 2018, a 25 second serve clock was trialled, although it wasn’t used during main draw matches. The US Open 2018 was the first tournament to trial it in main draw matches, much to the dismay of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have been prolific at taking a long time between points. It is likely the serve clock will become more common in 2019 onwards, with players who exceed the 25 seconds being fined.

Fines and Injuries

From 2018, main draw players that were forced to withdraw from the tournament, due to an injury, after the Thursday before the start of the tournament have been awarded 50 per cent of the prize money for the first round loser, with the “Lucky Loser” who replaces them being awarded the other half (plus any other prize money they were afterwards). In addition to the serve clock, fines of up to $20,000 will be issued if players violate prematch timing that gives them 60 seconds to meet at the net from walking on to the court, a warm up of no more than five minutes, and another 60 seconds to be ready to start playing.

Summary

The 2018 and 2019 rule changes look like they will have a positive impact on the spectacle of the game, at least on paper. However, early results from the US Open saw that first round matches were slightly increased in length because players were using the clock to use their full allotted 25 seconds.