In an effort to accelerate pace of play, the U.S. Open introduced a shot clock — the first of its kind at a Grand Slam tennis event — and two former champions are on opposite sides of the net on the issue.
The 25-second timer between shots begins when the official announces the score after each point. If a player does not serve before the clock strikes zero, he or she is issued a warning. A second violation results in the loss of a first serve. Whereas officials previously counted down in their heads and rarely enforced a time limit, actual clocks appear on the courts in New York City for attendees to follow.
Rafael Nadal adamantly opposes shot clock
Top-seeded defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal won the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month despite the presence of a shot clock. Afterwards, he expressed his concern about the policy:
“No one match that the people remember in the history of our sport are matches that the final duration of the match is two hours,” Nadal told reporters. “Matches where people get involved are the epic ones, and my experience is I don’t see the people get crazy and involved in the match when the ball goes two or three times over the net every time.
“I see the people go crazy and enjoy and feel the passion for the sport when you have rallies of 15, 20 balls, and that’s my feeling. When you have continuous rallies of that kind, you can’t be ready physically to play another point like this in 25 seconds.”
Nadal was similarly critical of the rule change when Wimbledon announced it too will implement a 25-second shot clock. It “seems like sometimes it is only about the business,” he told reporters in July. Two of Nadal’s greatest victories at the All England Club came in marathon five-set title matches.
Nadal is notorious for his pre-serve routine. Between bouts of bouncing the ball a few times, the 32-year-old Spaniard can often be seen pulling at his shorts and shirt, touching his face and tucking his hair behind his ears. However, he does not believe the policy change will impact his performance.
“I just need to go faster,” he added. “I go faster.”
Novak Djokovic open to 25-second shot clock
Sixth-seeded Novak Djokovic is also known for a lengthy pre-serve ritual that involves countless bounces of the ball. He also had little difficulty adjusting to the rule change, winning last week’s Cincinnati Masters in the face of a shot clock, but he views the adjustment differently than Nadal.
“I actually feel like there is more time now than before because the shot clock starts counting down once the chair umpire calls the score,” the two-time U.S. Open champion told reporters at the Rogers Cup. “Sometimes it takes several seconds before the chair umpire calls the score if it’s a long exchange or a good point and the crowd gets in.”
Djokovic also suggested the shot clock may help draw younger viewers with shorter attention spans.
Roger Federer sees both sides of the issue
Where Nadal and Djokovic have come down clearly on the issue, five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer (this year’s second seed) has straddled the net. At this year’s Australian Open, which has also adopted the shot clock in future competitions, Federer told reporters that the countdown could be “quite stressful” and may have resulted in increased cramping issues for players at previous events.
In 2012, though, Federer took issue with Nadal’s extended pre-serve ritual:
“I don’t know how you can go through a four-hour match with Rafa, and he never gets a time violation.” he said. “There are times when they could be more firm because at the end of the day I don’t know if fans are getting frustrated to watch five points that are going to take us five minutes.”
Federer will have little issue with the shot clock, as his pre-serve routine isn’t nearly elaborate.
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