Many years ago there was an Australian player who became a coach named Bob “Nails” Carmichael. Everyone called him “Nails”; that was his nickname and the reason he had it as a nickname was because he used to be a carpenter before becoming a player. Nails went to the big tennis court in the sky a few years ago. He was a lovely man but quick in anything was not something Nails was. Even when he spoke it took a while for him to say what he wanted to say.
I was with him at a now defunct event called the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf. He was captaining the Australian team and was on the courtside bench during the changeovers. On one occasion Darren Cahill was playing and losing. Nails is going on: “Darren …”, “Mate you have to…”, “Darren what … you um… you gotta, mate you err…”, “Look when you serve… you…”.
The next thing that was heard was the chair umpire: “TIME!” Nails did not get a bit of what he wanted to say across. It was a very funny situation and Nails shrugged his broad shoulders and sat back down.
There were many other similar stories, equally funny, about Nails and while that true story has a lighter angle, these days the time taken by players during a match is not so funny and in fact has got to the ridiculous situation. There can be a lot of talk about it but not enough is being done to correct the situation.
There is a blatant breaking of the rule by 99.9% of players with regards to changing ends after the first game of a set. Why on earth do you need to stand and towel down and have a drink and rest your racquet against the courtside bench after one game? The rule was changed to keep things moving, to stop players sitting down after one game – they might as well let them sit down again because there really is no difference. After one game no one needs to stop.
The only player who genuinely abides by the rule is Serena Williams. She walks around via the net post on the opposite side to the chair umpire. Maybe that’s what needs to be stipulated now?
It is a similar situation in a tiebreaker. Play is continuous. That is the rule. End of story, no ifs or buts. Yet on changing ends after six points players are still stopping. That should never be allowed because in essence the tiebreaker is a game, so they are in fact stopping in the middle of a game.
“We didn't even sit down (at all); we didn't even have chairs in the '70s and we had to stand up,” Chrissie Evert said. Always quick with the comeback, John McEnroe added: “Back in Chrissie's era, there weren't even chairs. I managed to get in just in time, the first year they had chairs. I lucked out.”
It’s true. You look at archival video footage and you will see that; players would towel off, get a drink while standing and keep walking around to the other side.
“Penalise the people,” McEnroe said. “The whole point of the rule was to sort of keep things going. But if you don't want the rule, okay, change the rule. We weren't even allowed to take bathroom breaks in best-of-five-set matches when we played.”
Arguably the player who receives the most time violations is Rafa Nadal. He even admits that he is slow so it is amusing (meant sarcastically) that he should request a particular umpire to not be in the chair for his matches because this particular umpire told him he would get a time warning during a match they were both involved in in Rio in February.
“You pretty much can look at his routine, what he does. He touches his ears, he bounces a certain amount of times. He does the same thing every time. The poor guy, he's driving himself crazy. He's won so much that he's got caught up in this superstitions in a way. I'm sure deep down he wishes he wasn't doing it,” McEnroe, who was also notorious for twitches, said.
“It's hard to break that habit. I think the times that they pick to do it... Put a clock on. If the players really like it, all these players, put a clock on. It would solve the problem. It's like getting the challenge system. If this is what you want, you want a challenge system, why are there linesmen at all? Players could call 95% of the shots without even thinking.”
Adding to the time issue are the delays that are caused when a player decides to call the trainer on court.
“I have more of a problem with ‘I call a trainer because my heart is beating fast, I'm having a panic attack.’ You know what … You're nervous or you're out of shape,” Evert said. “Sorry, but there's such a fine line between getting injured or getting tired or getting panicky. We see this in the women's game more than the men's game. We see players sitting on the side waiting for ten minutes. They come back and win the match. They have to be a little stricter with the timeouts, period.”
During his heyday McEnroe explained that Bjorn Borg was a quick player, Jimmy Connors played slowly, Ivan Lendl and himself on the slower side but that is all in the past; the game has changed and people’s attention span is not what it once was, so let’s get things moving a bit quicker.
“If the players say, ‘let's put on a clock, as soon as the point ends they start the clock, you get 20 seconds, whatever it is, 25’, then there's no issue” McEnroe said. “In the meantime keep the umpires out of it.”
Ahh a true Johnny Mac line.