Time to Update Some Outdated Tennis Rules

A look at some tennis rules that may be outdated and could do with some updating.

7 min read
Time to Update Some Outdated Tennis Rules

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At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man sitting on my cane chair, shouting at all the sports (it's a recliner), I’m back to give my two cents on the fascinating world of tennis.

While I would like to caveat that the depth of my knowledge here may not be the same as some of the other sports, a lot of my observations and opinions are based on my personal journey of playing and being an avid fan of tennis growing up, to somewhere becoming disillusioned with the sport over the years. While this may not be directly attributable to the following, here are some changes/modifications, I would like to see in the sport (and some I’m happy have already been actioned).


1. Second Serve

My biggest pet peeve. Something I have never understood and honestly believe has made the game far less attractive. The server has the advantage of serving and in doing so, has to achieve a given set of objectives – cross the net, land in the box and that's about it. Where does the question of a second serve come in? Is that a second chance? A do-over? A free it?

No other sport allows a player to make a fundamental error and still get a second chance at it.

A batsman is out, a penalty is missed and even in other racquet sports, a point is lost. Giving the server a second chance has given birth to an entire generation of players, who on the basis of serve, have managed to make a decent career for themselves, while having a very average all-round game. It makes long rallies rarer, the sport less attractive to watch, and a slow, boring spectacle (with lets and faults combined it can take over four attempts sometimes to get a legal serve in). How is that not an issue? The Isner-Mahut match may live long in everyone’s memory, but it came about simply as a result of two players who had mastered the art of the serve, since they had a free hit each time. Surely if you serve incorrectly, you should lose a point and not a get a warning called ‘first fault’. It’s not school.


2. Deuce

Another rule which reeks of an era when people had way too much time on their hands.

The order of play at the grand slams always reads something like ‘not before 3pm’. That's not them being polite – it’s just that no one has a bloody clue when a match is expected to finish. While I understand that it is not possible to predict how long a match will take, surely given the practical commercial realities of the world, one needs to know approximately how long.

Deuce is a rule that can make a game go on forever. That's right – forever.

I know that is probably not going to happen, but the fact that the possibility exists is crazy. Why not make 40-40 a golden point? It happens often enough in a match to be relevant, it adds a sense of drama and occasion to the point and it can have a bearing on the match as a whole. It would not only help reduce match lengths, but also make it far more engaging for the crowd (I know some informal tournaments like IPTL have experimented with this already).


3. Difference of 2

While a lot of people may not have liked the way the Wimbledon final ended with a tie-breaker, I for one was very pleased.

Not for the result, but for the fact that after some ridiculous matches over the years, better sense prevailed and at 12-12 someone decided to find a way to end the game. I know it doesn't feel ideal to a purist, but neither does 70-68! Again, practical, commercial realities have to be kept in mind. Just imagine the logistical nightmare if Isner-Mahut was a grand slam final!

4. Silence

This may feel slightly outlandish, but the fact that every human being, bird and any other living creature has to be pin-drop silent before a point is played is crazy.

The sport is lucky to have such well-behaved fans, where 15,000 people agree to shut up after every 30 seconds. Fans add atmosphere, a sense of drama and the cheers, chants and applause makes the sport an event. I find it highly amusing, if not baffling, that Nadal needs to stop his service routine because a plane flew over the stadium. Play the sport, get used to the crowd, the noise – embrace it. A footballer or cricketer does not need any less concentration than you do and they do just fine.


5. Toga Party

The above is not just about silence but the sport needing to loosen up in general.

I was told by the marker at Gymkhana Club last week that I needed to wear a white collared T-shirt and white shoes to play tennis. I’m flattered that he thinks my level of the game warrants a dress code, but the way Wimbledon needs every player to be in white from head to toe (and everything in between – everything!) is what has led to such superficial formality become an integral part of the sport. Some grand slams are already moving on and it’s high time we treat it as a 21st century sport, not a fun activity after high-tea.

6. Double Trouble

I may be a little biased here, but the fact that India has produced some of the world’s best doubles players over the years has made the format a favourite in this country. While no one denies that singles will (and should) remain the main deal, there is an argument to adopt, acknowledge and recognise the doubles game as more than a side-show.

Just like T20 cricket, it is faster, more exciting and requires a very different set of skills. The more we promote the format, the more specialists will emerge, and young kids will want to take it up as their primary format – not something they settled for.

I would love to see doubles-only tournaments, maybe even its own slam and make these athletes stars in their own right. Equal prize money would be a good start!

7. Coaching

Another sensitive topic in the tennis world and something, which can cause major controversy. Instead of trying to interpret whether Serena was being coached or not, let’s allow the players 2 coaching time-outs per match.

Most sports allow interaction between teammates/coaches from the side-lines and there really aren’t any secrets out there to hide. It could just make the players feel calmer and perform better instead of a strict don’t speak, don’t look policy.


8. Going Under

The ‘Mankading’ of the tennis world.

The underarm serve is an option, which, while completely within the rules, is frowned upon and considered against the spirit of the game. The crowd at centre court booed Kyrgios as one, but for what? For noticing how far back Nadal stood to receive and taking advantage of that? Or for just being smart about his game and winning crucial points, playing by the book?

The tennis world has two options here – either accept the underarm serve as a legit, acceptable variation in the game and applaud its execution, or take the cricket route and ban it altogether. Kyrgios did nothing wrong and neither did Trevor Chappell.

9. World Cup of Tennis

The new Davis Cup format starting in 2019 is a fantastic idea and the World Cup of Tennis sounds amazing. I would love to see expand to a higher number of countries participating and it happening every year, where for two weeks, you are not an individual, but a team representing your country!

While most of the above will probably never be actioned (or even considered), it would be great to see the game become faster, less stuck-up and more engaging for the crowd. It will make an average match more watchable and not rely on rivalries to fill stadiums or draw eyeballs. I would also like to see some new players come through to dominate the game though – I was a lot thinner and had a lot more hair in 2009, when Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were the best of the lot. And here we are…


(Saurabh Mehta is a lawyer by profession, a sports management consultant by chance and a lifelong sports fan by choice. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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