A Tennis Wish List for 2019

A Tennis Wish List for 2019


Not much head scratching is required when it comes to deciding how to start a wish list for tennis in 2019.

A sport that has long been concerned about punching below its weight spent too much of last year elbowing itself in the ribs as its too-numerous leaders traded blows and crossed purposes.

This is no way to run a niche sport concerned about market and mind share in a ruthlessly competitive global entertainment landscape. Improvement is all the more urgent with tennis’s biggest stars, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both 37.

And so with a new season about to get serious with the start of the Australian Open on Monday, my No. 1 wish for tennis is unity. In an ideal world, that would mean unified governance.

“It will never happen, but what we need more than anything is a commissioner,” said Brad Gilbert, the longtime player, coach and analyst.

That would require each of tennis’s seven governing bodies to cede some of its authority, a situation that would probably require an existential threat to the game’s viability or profitability.

In an imperfect but still better world, unity could also mean a genuine players’ union — why not men and women together while we’re wishing? — that could make for more meaningful progress on tennis’s now-intractable issues through tough negotiations with those who own and operate the tournaments.

In the current system, the players and regular tour events are in partnership, an unusual arrangement in professional sports that can make consensus and change difficult.

Novak Djokovic, back at No. 1 and president of the ATP Player Council, has explored the concept. But for now, a union appears to be wishful thinking: too many legal and logistical hurdles.

But the sport can still do better at finding common ground in 2019.

Start with agreeing on a more coherent schedule that does not include three men’s team events within less than four months: the Laver Cup in September 2019, the revamped Davis Cup in November 2019 and the revived ATP Cup in January 2020.

Continue by creating a meaningful mixed men’s and women’s team event that will carry on the legacy of the Hopman Cup. Further embrace tennis’s ability to showcase men’s and women’s stars in the same events — a longtime strength that other sports are interested in replicating.

Reach an agreement on coaching that will apply to all sectors of the pro game. The women’s tour currently allows on-court coaching visits once a set while the men’s tour and main-draw Grand Slam events do not allow any coaching during play.

“If we have it, we should have it nonstop,” said Simona Halep, the women’s No. 1. “If we don’t, we should stop completely.”

Halep prefers letting players solve their own tactical and psychological issues under pressure, as do I and plenty of others. But the existing coaching situation is confusing to fans and disorienting to women’s players, who have to change routines in the tournaments that matter most. In light of the difficulty for umpires to fully police player-coach communication, perhaps allowing signals from the box and only the box is the right compromise.

More tennis wishes for 2019:

ELIMINATE LETS ON SERVES A point or a tournament can already end with a net-cord winner during a rally when a groundstroke, volley or overhead hits the tape and trickles over. Why should a serve be treated any differently? This will also speed play, slightly reduce costs (sensors are used to detect lets) and bring pro tennis in line with college tennis.

ELIMINATE PLAYERS’ RIGHT to catch a service toss without penalty. If a player chooses not to hit the ball once tossed, it should count as a missed serve. This will also speed play and, in making the ideal toss more elusive, take away a smidgen of a server’s advantage.

MAKE A MORE CONCERTED EFFORT to push tournaments to use balls from the same brands or at least with the same characteristics during the different surface swings: hard court, clay court, grass and indoor. Few things irritate players more than significant disparity between balls week to week, and there is concern that abrupt changes can lead to injury. The ATP is working on this issue. Time to hurry up.

PROVIDE PLAYERS AND COACHES with detailed information about court speed and ball characteristics well in advance of a tournament to allow competitors to better prepare. This might also help reduce injuries.

PERMIT FANS TO ENTER A STADIUM as the players change ends after the first game of a set. The current policy, which typically does not allow fans to enter until the changeover after the third game, leaves too many paying customers waiting for too long.

COOPERATE TO DEVELOP JUST ONE MAJOR RATING SYSTEM for tennis players, be they professional or amateur. The Universal Tennis Rating, with the backing of strong private investors, is making inroads. But the International Tennis Federation is also creating its own rating system and algorithm. Such a system is an important concept that could simplify and improve the transition to the professional game. Why create more tennis confusion with competing systems instead of joining forces to produce one that will be universally accepted?

FAIRER USE OF WILD CARDS The Grand Slam tournaments should no longer allow reciprocal wild card entry to players from other Grand Slam nations. It is elitism. And the new-look Davis Cup should definitely not be granting two wild cards to its 18-team final phase. It is anti-competitive.

MORE CONSISTENCY IN APPLYING THE RULES on coaching violations, the timing of line-call challenges and the eligibility of convicted administrators to serve on the ITF board of directors.

A MEN’S GRAND SLAM SINGLES CHAMPION UNDER AGE 30 (there are none active at the moment) and a new French Open men’s champion. And a first major title for South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, which would be the first for an African in singles in 38 years.

ONE MORE MAJOR for Petra Kvitova, who has come back so inspirationally from adversity. Another chance in a major final for Madison Keys to conquer her nerves and play to her potential.

MORE VARIETY IN COURT SPEEDS on tour, fewer injury timeouts. More open roofs, less pain for Andy Murray. More drop-shot returns, fewer tweeners. More integrity, fewer conflicts of interest. More conversations, fewer social-media posts. More players, fewer hitters.



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