|Tennis - the Greatest Game|
Page 1 of 14
A new solution to the time violation problem
NB: A refined version of this proposal was recently published in the Tennis View Magazine.
Those of you who have read my original article about Nadal’s time violation may recall that I proposed that the excess time after each serve be added and once a certain limit is exceeded, the server automatically loses the point. The ATP then came up with a much better solution, namely that the player receives a warning at first, and for subsequent time violations only forfeits his first serve. This approach has for all intents and purposes, however, proven to be completely impractical. The typical player explodes after having received the first warning and I cannot recall a player ever receiving that second warning, which would have cost him his first serve.
I have noticed during recent televised matches that the ATP can display the average time it takes a player to serve (the whole purpose of my original article J), quite easily and at any time. So why not do the following? For each player, continuously display the average time he takes between first serves, on the scoreboard. Let an average time below 25 seconds be displayed in green, between 25 and 30 seconds in yellow or orange, and the moment a first serve is served which takes the average above 30 seconds, the display turns red. The umpire is only allowed to issue a warning when the display has already turned red, i.e. for the next serve. This approach would have the following advantages.
1. The player is always in control of his own destiny. If his average is green and he arrives at a crucial point, he may take 90 seconds to prepare for his serve without being concerned about the umpire (it will, of course, push up his average). He can work his average down again during later, easier points and build up a reserve for when extra time may be required.
2. When the display turns orange, he knows that he should hurry up, but he would still have no need to be concerned about the umpire, even when he is at an average of 29 seconds. He may just be in trouble if he should exceed the time-to-serve for his next serve.
3. It would make the life of the umpire much, much easier. Once the display has turned red, he would be completely justified (if not compelled) to issue warnings as is done at present, should he feel like doing so, depending on the specific stage of the match. That would remain the case until the player has worked his average back to at least orange.
I decided to insert this ‘solution’ before the main article as I would really like to know what you think of it! You can read the rest of the article at your leisure, should be interested, but please rate my suggestions at the end of the article as well.
I wrote the following article after Federer’s loss to Nadal at the 2008 Wimbledon Tennis final and have added the occasional update since. For many years following that final the focus on who might be the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) had been on Federer and Nadal, but over the past few years Novak Djokovic has quietly slipped in as the third contender and he may very well end up wearing that crown, should it be based on purely the number of major titles. I certainly hope that Federer will continue playing for some years to come, for as long as he can compete, and perhaps, with some luck, he’ll be able to capture that elusive 18th grand slam title.
To me the definition of the GOAT encompasses more than just the number of titles won, or the years as number one. What Roger Federer brought to the world of tennis is unlikely to be paralleled again. Not only is it is effortless game and movement, his shot-making and tennis artistry, but also his sportsmanship and personality on and off court. May he be remembered for a very long time. I was tempted to say ‘always’, but should the human race and the game of tennis survive for millions of years to come, ‘always’ now will be long forgotten by then.
For the record, I have decided to add the details of how I performed the time analysis of the match. It was done by means of a Borland Pascal program which I wrote after the final, called WIMBLEDN.PAS (a text file) as included in the ZIP file here. I have also included the executable file WIMBLEDN.EEX, which if anyone should be interested, can be run in DOS mode by changing the file type back to .EXE. One of course has to watch the match while performing the analysis, which I did from a DVD, but it can now be bought here as video file. This site can really be recommended for its variety of matches and also the quality, in HD, of all recent noteworthy matches.
The image below shows a screen shot of the match in progress (Nadal preparing to serve for the last point) and the DOS window display right after he had won that point. During the actual recording process I had moved the DOS window off screen – I did not have two monitors available at the time. I have not written a user guide for the DOS program as I do not think there will be a single person interested in repeating this analysis. However, the basic principle is that the program will keep track of the score as the match progresses, and the user presses keys like ‘S’ for when the first serve is served, ’A’ for an ace, ‘N’ for Nadal having won the point, ‘F’ for when Federer had won the point, and so forth. One quickly gets used to the keystrokes.
Screen shot of match in progress and DOS recording screen (click on image to enlarge)
So, in order to start the analysis, run the DOS program and the video, the press ‘P’ when the umpire calls for play to commence and ‘S’ when Federer serves his first serve. Then press ‘N’ when Nadal wins the first point, ‘S’ when Federer serves again, ‘F’ when he wins the point, etc. You’ll notice that several other functions also had to be programmed in, such as for challenges, when the analysis had to be interrupted or paused and when the wrong key had been pressed (happened a lot). The program automatically creates a text file named WIM_2008.DAT at the start and updates this continuously during the recording process. The histograms of these data were plotted afterwards by means of a MatlabTM program I had written, but which is not included here as it can be easily done by experience programmers.
Back then the ATP did not yet have the ability to perform a time analysis of a match and I submitted the results of my analysis to various tennis magazines. It was never accepted for publication, though, possibly due to the ‘disagreeable’ content of the rest of my website!
As a note to the time violation method I proposed in the article, the ATP’s solution of an automatic first serve fault after the first warning is brilliant (just goes to show that two heads, or many, in fact, are better than one!). However, it rarely goes beyond a warning. With the advances in technology, it may, however, be possible to allow more time between points depending on the duration of the rally. Having just served an ace will require less time to prepare for the next point than just having finished a gruelling 22-point rally. The allowable time will then be calculated automatically and if exceeded too far, a fault can be beeped. A player can argue with an umpire, but not with a computer.
Irrespective of the time delay issue, I still feel that something should be done about the medical timeouts. Even though they are fully justified in many instances, Nadal had early in his career become notorious for his regular use of medical timeouts to break his opponent’s momentum (to my knowledge he hasn’t done so for some time now, possibly because of the crowd’s response, e.g. at the 2014 Australian Open final), and even the almost impeccable Djokovic tried the same trick when Murray was about to serve for the 2012 US Open title. Some ladies were even more blatant than their male counterparts - Dr Google will tell you their stories in detail. I would, therefore, appreciate your feedback in the poll at the end of the article.