Comment: Shot-clock comes with questions, but at least the questions are new

Michael Graham

Tennis has introduced something controversial in shot-clock. It naturally comes with questions, but Michael Graham wonders since when has that been a bad thing?

Sometimes, you have to feel sorry for the law-makers in sport. They are just never going to please everyone.

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Anderson’s epic Wimbledon semi-final against John Isner prompted talk of introducing deciding set tiebreakers at All-England club.

Some where excited by the proposal, some were disgusted. Thus it always is.

This week, a new debate is gripping tennis. As with anything new, there are always questions. Is the introduction of the shot-clock going to improve the game, or ruin it?

North American tournaments will use the controversial new system in the build-up to the US Open, where they will be used on the biggest stage for all to see.

In short, players will be held-accountable on-court for violating the 25-second time limit to deliver their serve. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

However, drill down into it and you quickly learn that no one commenting is actually talking about tennis at all. Whether or not the shot-clock will benefit tennis couldn’t be further from their minds. All they care about is whether or not the shot-clock will benefit them.

“I think it’s a good thing,” says Alexander Zverev, before going into a subtle and well-disguised rant about players who attempt to slow the game down to disrupt the rhythm of quicker players. The German is one of the quickest players on the circuit.

Alexander Zverev celebrates
Alexander Zverev celebrates

“Without a shot clock, that would have been a three-hour match,” said Andy Murray after he beat Makenzie McDonald in the first round of the Washington Open.

“It’s a positive change for tennis.”

Well, yes it is, Andy, especially if you’re the wrong side of 30 and coming back from a long injury that has left your fitness lagging behind rivals. Then shorter matches are definitely a good thing.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic isn’t happy about it. That’st he Novak Djokovic famed for mental gamesmanship and an obsessive need to bounce a ball several dozen times before he throws it up in the air, in case you were wondering.

“Everybody is trying to get this new generation of people and the attention span is not maybe as it used to be, except if you’re a real, real tennis fan.”

Rafael Nadal has also gone down the ‘you don’t understand and appreciate tennis enough if you want shot-clock’ route too.

“If you want to see a quick game without thinking, well done,” he said.

“If you want to keep playing in a sport that you need to think, you need to play with more tactics, you want to have long and good rallies, then of course you are going the wrong way.”

So, nothing at all to do with the strict OCD-tastic lengthy pre-serve routine he goes through on every single, point, then?

The point is that everyone has an agenda, but the real question of whether the shot-clock is good for tennis is being lost in the scramble of player self-interest.

And, the truth is, that we just don’t know yet. There are pros and cons on either side of the debate but, like the introduction of VAR into football, we just won’t know until we try it.

Nadal and Djokovic may well be right. It will obviously reduce thinking time for the more cerebral players. From a spectator point of view, that may be a good thing, though.

Novak Djokovic screaming
Novak Djokovic screaming

Instead of seeing how opponents try to counter their court smarts, we can see how the cerebral players counter the talents of more instinctive players.

Andy Murray may be right too, in saying that shorter matches will make for a better spectacle.

However, when he’s back on an even keel, fitness-wise, and has returned to his brilliant best and putting on masterclasses in defence every week, will he be so keen to face people who can conserve their mental energy better thanks to the shot-clock?

Ultimately, we just don’t know, but that’s what will make it fun.

Yes, shot-clock comes with a lot of questions, but at least they are new questions, and that definitelyis good for tennis.