Tennis - the Greatest Game

Too little time?

Regarding the time restriction of 25 seconds for a player to serve, there are two aspects to be considered, namely the actual duration of the time limit and then of course violation of that time limit.

From Figures 1 and 2 above it is clear that some points take significantly longer than others to initiate (play the serve). As already mentioned, it can take up to 10 seconds for the ball boys to pass the balls to the other side of the court when the number of games is level or when the server changes during a tie-break. For such points one should therefore allow at least 35 seconds instead of the customary 25 seconds. Even longer delays occur when players have to walk to the other side of the court, as occurs after the first game in each set and at the change of sides during a tie-break. It can take up to 15 seconds for a player to take his towel and walk to his chair and another 15 to walk to the opposite side of the court. The players also stop briefly to take in some fluid, which typically takes 10 seconds. All in all we therefore have to add about 40 seconds to the 25 seconds allowed between points, but as the players are not really allowed to stop during the changeover, one should probably allow only 35 seconds extra. The time limit for changeovers should therefore be 60 seconds in total. When the players are seated and the umpire calls time, an additional period of at least 10 to 15 seconds should likewise be allowed for the players to take position (for simplicity's sake, make it 10 seconds again). A brisk walk is all that is required and 35 seconds to serve should be ample time. For all other points the time limit should remain 25 seconds.

If we apply the proposed time restrictions to the Wimbledon 2008 final, the time-to-serve for both players changes significantly. Federer's time-to-serve now rarely exceed the limits (Figure 3), while Nadal's (Figure 4) still does so, but to a significantly lesser extent than before. Federer's only significant time violation (serve #158) was caused by Nadal changing rackets and was therefore not a time violation on his side. Federer then exceeded the time limit by an accumulative duration of only 11 seconds during the entire match. Nadal, on the other hand, did so by 869 seconds, from which one should subtract 12.8 seconds (point #240, a Federer racket change) and 33.5 seconds (point #210, a Federer delay), but then again add at least another 20 to 40 seconds for the delay during point #188. Nadal's delays then add up to more or less 14 minutes 30 seconds, which still far exceeds any reasonable delay.

As a matter of interest, Nadal is certainly capable of serving within 25 seconds. Virtually all his time violations occur when he towels himself after a point and then goes through his customary routine in preparation for serve (in itself a slow process). However, if nearly all other players on the tour can force themselves to adhere to the rules, our Mr Nadal can certainly be expected to do so as well.
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