It was only inevitable. The friendly rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal turned into a war of words at Indian Wells this week. The two legends were asked about the increasing time taken between points by the likes of Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who were both often exceeding the allowable 20 seconds during their epic Australian Open final in January, and they each offered differing views.
Federer, in his old school-ish ways, rarely gets drawn for a violation, and no surprisingly he thinks that the rule just isn’t enforced enough.
“I do believe the officials could be a bit more tough on timing,” Federer said. “I’m not complaining a lot, but I don’t know how you can go through a four-hour match with Rafa and he never gets a time violation. It’s natural that even I would go over time, but they never call it. There are times when they could be a bit 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.”
Zing! Shot across Rafa’s bow! Roger wants enforcement!
Nadal, the true scofflaw in this discussion, had his opportunity for a rebuttal and offered this:
“The rules are there, but we cannot expect to play six hours and play rallies of crazy points and rest for 20 seconds for nobody. If the umpire considers that he has to put a warning because the player is not doing the right thing between points, I think the players have to accept. The rule is there but I think it is more the [interpretation] of the umpire, that’s my way to understand the rule. Everyone understands different ways and you can understand to some its 15 seconds under normal conditions. But you have to understand how the match goes and that’s the role of the umpire. They have given me a lot of warnings in my career and I have accepted almost every one, because sometimes they are right, and the same for Novak having to do it a few times, too. It’s part of the game and we have to follow the rules, but we don’t have to [put blinders on].”
Rafa is saying that yes, the rule is there, he knows that. But, he argues, the umpire understands that there are occasions when more recovery time is necessary – read: every single point of Nadal-Djokovic Australian Open final!
So who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, they both are right and they both are wrong, to an extent.
First, Federer is right. If it’s a rule in the rulebook then it should be followed, otherwise why have it in the rulebook at all. That simple.
But Nadal is also right, to a degree, because the rule needs to be modified or done away with.
The 20 or 25 seconds allotted between points has been around for quite some time. Though I cannot say with certainty when it was established, I have a hunch it’s been around since the 70s/80s, perhaps earlier. And back then players were not playing points like Nadal and Djokovic were in Australia. They just weren’t. We’ve all seen the video of those matches in the 70s and even in the early 80s and silently thought to ourselves, what sport is that?
So given the physical, bruising nature of play these days the competitors should be allowed extra time when the point warrants. The points being played today are nothing like those played 30-40 years ago.
That said, the serve is still a serve. So after hitting an ace there’s no excuse for Nadal to need 30 seconds to serve. Or Novak having to bounce the ball another 15 times. That’s plain wrong.
Which brings us to the shot clock discussion. I mentioned the possibility of one back in 2008 and few people thought much of it at the time. But here we are and talk seems to be gaining some mild momentum.
However, while I’d like to see one in place- and I even wrote we’d get one in four years (2012) – I don’t it’s going to happen anytime soon. And that’s because I have to believe the high ranking tennis officials will recognize the issue, convene and rewrite the rule allowing an extra 5-10 seconds for players to address the serve. With it they’ll toughen the enforcement policy issuing warnings and penalties to those offenders. Hopefully.
And we can all get back to watching tennis instead of guys toweling off, bouncing balls and picking their backside. We don’t have time for that!
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