Tennis - the Greatest Game

What stands to be gained by delaying tactics?

Before continuing with the time analysis as recorded by means of my program, it is perhaps appropriate to consider what can be gained by a player employing delaying tactics.

  • Resting between points - This is an obvious advantage. Even though both players will seemingly enjoy the same advantage, the server decides when he or she is ready to play. Theoretically, if the receiver is able to hit every ball into an opposite corner, thereby forcing the server to return defensively straight to the middle of the court, the server will be running himself half to death while the receiver hardly raises a sweat. It would then be very much in the interest of the server to take time to catch his breath, with no particular benefit to the receiver. One of the trademarks of Nadal's game is his ability to run down virtually every ball, which requires tremendous physical effort and even more so as the match progresses (e.g. Andy Murray's victory over Nadal in the US Open 2008 semi-finals).
  • Frustrating the opponent - Many players find it frustrating to have to wait for their opponent to start a point. Invariably this reduces the ability of the receiver to concentrate.
  • Requires the receiver to concentrate longer - One of the first things any tennis player is taught is to relax when he or she is preparing to serve. The server knows exactly when he intends to serve and can relax completely up to that moment. The receiver however does not know this precise moment and therefore has to concentrate intensely for a longer period of time. Nadal's time to serve varies from less than 20 seconds to more than 40 seconds, making it difficult to judge when he will start the point. Even if this extra concentration is required for only 5 seconds, Federer would have had to concentrate 18 minutes 10 seconds longer during the match than what should have been the case.
  • Display of arrogance towards all - The player who uses delaying tactics knows very well that there realistically is nothing his opponent, the umpire or the spectators can do to put a stop to these tactics. This only serves to further annoy and upset the receiver.


Time analysis of the Wimbledon 2008 final

Returning to the actual time both players took to deliver their serves, Federer took 3974 seconds in total to prepare for his 195 serves (average 20.4 seconds), while Nadal took 6629 seconds to prepare for his 218 serves (average 30.4 seconds). This not only shows that Federer maintained a safe margin of 5 seconds with respect to the rules, but that Nadal constantly violated the time limit by about the same margin. If the time limit rule had been strictly enforced, Nadal too would have had to maintain a safe margin, probably also at least 5 seconds. One can therefore conclude that we spent more or less 2180 seconds (36 minutes 20 seconds) too long watching Nadal prepare for his serve. About half of this time was in direct violation of the rules.

During the five set Wimbledon 2008 final won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 by Nadal, Federer served 195 times and Nadal 218. The time each player took to play the first serve is shown in Figures 1 and 2 for Federer and Nadal respectively. In both graphs a time limit of 25 seconds was used throughout and is shown in green. The red bars indicate time in excess of 25 seconds. It is immediately obvious that Federer is also guilty of regularly violating the time limit, but then not nearly as excessively as Nadal. Reviewing the points where Federer exceeded the time limit quickly revealed the reason. Whenever a ball changeover occurs (the total number of games is an even number or there is a change of server during a tie-break), the balls have to be passed to the opposite side of the court and a delay of up to 10 seconds can occur before the ball boys can hand the balls to a player for serving. A similar delay occurs when the umpire calls 'time' and the players have to walk from their chairs to the base line. An even longer delay occurs when the players change sides after the first game of each set or during tie-breaks. If the time limit is nevertheless maintained at 25 seconds, Federer exceeded this limit by a total of 219 seconds (3 minutes 39 seconds) while Nadal did so by 1375 seconds (22 minutes 55 seconds). At first glance it therefore appears that we spent in excess of 26 minutes watching the players wasting time in direct violation of the rules, the bulk of the delay being caused by Nadal. An alternative time limit methodology will be proposed towards the end of this article.
Figure 1. Federer’s Time To Serve for
the Wimbledon 2008 Final, time limit 25 seconds
Figure 1. Federer's Time To Serve for the Wimbledon 2008 Final, time limit 25 seconds
Nadal Time
to serve wimbledon 2008
Figure 2. Nadal's Time To Serve for the Wimbledon 2008 Final, time limit 25 seconds
Some points of either very short or very long time-to-serve need to be clarified and are listed in the tables below for the Federer and Nadal serves respectively.
Serve # Point # Score TTS (s) Comment
1 1 S1, 0-0, 0-0 3.1 Match begins
89 224 S4, 0-1, 0-0 45.8 Change of sides after 1st game
103 249 S4, 2-3, 40-40 7.0 Nadal challenged previous point
128 291 S4, 6-6, 2-4 46.0 Change of sides during tie-break
132 299 S4, 6-6, 7-7 10.0 Nadal challenged previous point
156 336 S5, 2-2, 40-40 6.0 Play resumes after rain delay
158 343 S5, 3-3, 0-0 54.5

Nadal takes 50 seconds to change rackets

Table 1. Federer serves of either short or long time-to-serve (TTS)
Serve # Point # Score TTS (s) Comment
1 6 S1, 1-0, 0-0 66.8 Change of sides after first game
43 224 S2, 1-0, 0-0 62.5 Change of sides after first game
80 134 S3, 1-0, 0-0 61.3 Change of sides after first game
111 188 S3, 5-4, 0-0 66.4 Play resumes after rain delay, Nadal serves 111 seconds after times was called, but timing program was only started 66.4 seconds before serve.
128 213 S3, 6-6, 4-2 62.7 Change of sides during tie-break
142 240 S4, 2-2, 0-0 47.8 Federer takes 36 seconds to change rackets
167 297 S4, 6-6, 6-6 73.3 Change of sides during tie-break, "continue with play... Rafa will not be rushed"
170 309 S5, 1-0, 0-0 62.2 Change of sides after first game
215 410 S5, 7-8, 30-30 58.5 Federer complains about something
Table 2. Nadal serves of long time-to-serve (TTS)
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