“Pace of play is a major issue in sports today,” said Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the United States Tennis Association, which owns the U.S. Open. “We recognize that and we want to be ahead of it.”
The U.S. Open experimented with the serve clock during last year’s non-main draw events, like the qualifying and juniors competitions. According to Widmaier, there were no major issues, other than minor grumbles, mostly from losing players.
Technically there was already a time limit in place: players at Grand Slam events were given only 20 seconds between points (25 seconds at other tour events). But that clock was only seen by the chair umpire and the rule was rarely, if ever, enforced, especially against top players.
Now an on-court clock will be visible to players and spectators alike, similar to the shot clock in basketball and the play clock in football. An extra five seconds will be granted to allow players to adjust to the new format, but it will be strictly enforced.
The chair umpire will run the 25-second clock and will be given leeway to delay the start of it in certain situations: after a particularly long point late in a grueling match, in hot and steamy conditions, or if there is a fan disturbance, for example.
Last year, the U.S. Open also experimented with coaching from the stands in the non-main draw events, but that innovation, which is allowed in certain smaller tournaments, is not expected to be implemented for the main draw. The Grand Slam Board, which consists of representatives of all four major tournaments, must approve all rule changes to any of the four events, and Wimbledon is resistant to coaching from the stands.
Nadal, with his constant fidgeting and ball bouncing, is considered to be among the most egregious time-wasters in the professional game, but he is not alone. Novak Djokovic has also been accused of being overly deliberate during matches. During the ATP Finals in London last November, Nadal made it clear he was not a fan of the new measures.
“I believe it is not something that is good for the future of the tour,” he told reporters, and added: “For me personally, I am not worried at all. I don’t want to play for 10 more years. I can adapt easily to that.”
If the serve clock goes smoothly at the U.S. Open, the other three major tournaments — the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon — could introduce it at their events in the future.