It’s a constant question in life, do things stay the same or do they adapt and change with the times? Some might say the old things are the best things, others might say adapt or die.
Personally, I’d say I lean towards the second group of people, but when it comes to our beloved sport of tennis, I’m much more inclined to say the old things are the best things. But am I naive to think this way?
Whenever I tune in to watch some tennis on the TV, it seems like there is a regular discussion among the commentators (guys like John McEnroe) as to what direction tennis needs to move in order to please a modern crowd.
It’s quite obvious why this question comes up with more urgency now than perhaps ever before. Not only has society gone through massive change due to technological advances in recent years, but we’re also looking at the twilight years of some of the game’s most recognizable names.
Big Names Leaving a Black Hole?
Ordinarily, Roger Federer would be a once in a generation superstar. Any sport would be nervous for the future after such a star of the sport retires – just look at Bolt and athletics.
Unbelievably, tennis doesn’t just have Federer, but it also has Nadal, Serena Williams, and Djokovic all at the same time. Tennis has been incredibly fortunate to have such stars (plus others who could have made the list) all at the same time, but if there’s nobody to take their places then the danger is, you’re left with something of a void.
The question is, are these guys just too good? Roger Federer and Serena Williams are both 38-years-old and still making as many Grand Slam finals each year as any pro in their prime could aspire to make. Nadal aged 33 and Djokovic aged 32 won all the Grand Slam titles this season.
Have these players pushed the game on to a level that we won’t see again for some time? The younger generation certainly seems to be struggling to take on the batton.
Society’s Short Attention Span
Another reason that big rule changes are being talked about more often is changes in consumer behavior. Living in the digital age means we’re used to getting things instantly: instant information, instant entertainment, and instant gratification.
If you sit yourself down to watch a 5 set Grand Slam match then you’re not going to get much instantly. Think back to the 2010 Wimbledon match between Isner and Mahut when we had to wait through 11 hours and 5 minutes of tennis to find out who would win. This was certainly not the instant anything that we supposedly want these days.
We’re always hearing about the average attention span being much lower these days, but is this really the case? And if so, should tennis adapt?
Well, we already know the Mahut vs Isner match will never happen again. This year Wimbledon changed its rules, meaning a tie-break would be played at 12-12 in the final set. However, this isn’t the only rule change we’ve seen in the past few years.
By now, we’re quite accustomed to seeing the shot clock counting down the time a player has between points, and on the WTA, coaches coming on court at the change of ends in non-Grand Slam events.
While these changes have fitted in quite seamlessly, there are some much more impactful rules that are often discussed and you can see many of them in action at the Next Gen tournament in November.
- First to four-game sets.
- Tiebreak at 3 all.
- No ad scoring (sudden death point at deuce)
- Best of 5 sets
- No lets on serve
- Coaching allowed at certain points
This system is by no means new. However, seeing it played out at a high profile tournament is. The question is, do the rule changes increase the excitement for the modern viewer?
If we’re looking at even more radical changes then you will normally see ideas that are designed to make rallies longer and take away the massive advantage the serve gives players.
- Making the net higher.
- Regulations to take racket and string technology backwards.
Does Tennis Need Drastic Change?
People are so worried about the growth of tennis, but my question is, does the sport have to go through continued and sustained growth? If it drops in popularity for a bit while the sport resets itself after the Federer and co years is that such a terrible thing?
Like any sport, tennis is going to have its ups and downs in popularity, and yet it finds itself in a very healthy position today. Yes, society is changing, but will tennis benefit from appeasing modern preferences, or is it better served to continue to challenge people as it has since its conception?
Sport isn’t just a regular part of life, it’s something that offers an escape whilst allowing us to challenge ourselves in all sorts of different ways. Admittedly, I’m biased here, but one of the greatest challenges there is in sport is winning a Grand Slam, so why would we drastically change it?
After all, it’s tennis in its current form that has brought us the Federer, Nadal, Djokovic era, it brought us the McEnroe vs Borg tiebreak and it brought us the Federer vs Nadal Wimbledon final.
Despite all the magic moments are we going to make big changes because society demands instant gratification or are we going to continue to show the virtues of patience, grit, determination, and concentration that the very best portray?
Of course, these are just the rough thoughts of one member of TheTennisBros.com and there are lots of sides to the debate.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of tennis and what will happen after the retirement of players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Williams, so be sure to drop a comment below!
Article by: Will