Reading the Readers: Jan. 3

by: Steve Tignor | January 03, 2013

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It's time, no pun intended, to take a few questions and comments. They mostly centered around my post yesterday about the 25-second rule. As always, there were elements to the story that I missed, but that my readers didn't.
I'll continue to do a mailbag column each Thursday in 2013. If you have anything you want addressed, please email me at
I think you were too hard on the players yesterday when you wrote about the time rule. How do they know when 25 seconds is up, or when they’re getting close? You said that the chair umpire told them to ask him if they were getting close, but are they supposed to do that every game? Now they could be penalized before they even find out they were close to the edge.—Karen
You’re right, that's a problem for the players. It seems that the ATP, or at least its chair umpires, recognized that when they had Cedric Mourier tell David Ferrer and Dustin Brown to ask him if they were getting close to 25 seconds. But as you say, that isn’t an ideal solution. 
What is? Telling them to wear a watch? That might not be something they want to do while they play, even if they could get a sponsorship deal for it. And checking it before every point is not going to help with their concentration.
This is a where a shot clock might help, but as I wrote yesterday, I don’t think that’s the right move for tennis, and it would be even worse for a player’s concentration. One answer is for the players to practice their rituals and tempo and make sure they’re well within 25 seconds. Another, if it proves to be a problem, would be to have chair umpires issue two warnings, instead of one, before they take away a first serve.
Incidentally, I had a junior opponent who wore a watch during matches, and deliberately delayed being ready to play, sometimes even when he was receiving, until the 30-second mark on the dot (that’s how much time we had between points when I was a teenager). It drove his opponents, or at least me, insane. I can remember standing with my hands on my hips at the baseline watching him wander around the back of the court and sneak peaks at his watch. It drove you even crazier when he finally served, you missed the return, and you knew that you had to wait another full 30 seconds to take another swing. All of which, of course, made you tense up and miss more often. It was, if nothing else, a good early lesson in the benefits of tempo control on a tennis court. I think it has also made me dislike watching or playing slow-paced tennis ever since.
I see you mentioned Feliciano Lopez yesterday. I thought his explanation was interesting. He kept saying to the umpire, “I was ready” to serve. And he was about to go into his motion when he was called the second time. You see Nadal and Djokovic standing at the line ready to serve before they actually do. Is this part of their service motion, and like Lopez said, do you think it’s OK as long as they get to the line and are ready by 25 seconds?—Brento
In my interpretation, a player has, from the moment the umpire calls the score after the last point, 25 seconds to begin his or her service motion. The question is: When does a service motion begin?
I watched the time penalty on Lopez again last night, and thought that he probably should have gotten a pass, but not for the reason he gave. He had just lost a point to go down triple set point, so some leeway for frustration was in order. The umpire said that he took 28 seconds to begin his motion; that’s not a criminal number, unless you’re trying to send a message for the rest of the season. 
As for his readiness to serve, Lopez was still bouncing the ball when the umpire's clock passed 25. This is similar, as you said, to what Nadal and (sometimes) Djokovic do. Rafa will plant himself at the baseline, and then take a good chunk of time staring across the net, pulling his hair back, and bouncing the ball with one side of his strings and then the other. Djokovic, as is well known, will bounce the ball numerous times before finally throwing it up. He has cut down on the bounces over the years, but the number can still rise before big points. 
None of these preliminary tics by Rafa or Novak or anyone else are part of their service motions. The motion doesn’t begin until they start to toss the ball. If you did include, say, Djokovic’s ball-bouncing in his service motion, and thus exempted it from the 25-second count, there would be nothing keeping him or any other player from bouncing the ball 50 times. Being “ready” to serve, in other words, isn’t the same as serving.
Now that the ATP is cracking down, do you think we can get the backwards hat banned? Between Isner, Bollelli, Lorenzi and another guy, I’ve already seen too many of them this year. It’s a bigger problem than taking too much time, IMO.—Michelle
A noble idea. I’m going to look on the bright side and be happy that Richard Gasquet, for one, has gone hatless so far in 2013.
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