Fast4, which was started by Tennis Australia in 2014, is an attempt to mimic the success that cricket has had with its own shorter-format league, Twenty20. In this format, games are no-ad, sets go to four, tiebreakers go to five (win by one) and let serves are played. Without the ebb and flow that deuce creates, every point moves a match one step closer to the finish line.
“There were some naysayers who thought playing to four wouldn’t be enough,” Curran says. “But when they played five matches in a row in an afternoon, they definitely got enough. And they wanted to come back.”
According to Waters, the USTA wants to “promote creativity” in tennis, especially in how people are introduced to it. Tiebreaker tournaments, timed matches and short-set competitions are all encouraged. With similar goals in mind, the NCAA has recently instituted changes designed to speed up play and reduce the time it takes to watch a dual match. No-ad scoring has been introduced and super-tiebreakers have replaced third sets—even the warm-up has been eliminated.
Timothy Russell, CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), says that dual matches, which often lasted four hours or more in the past, are now clocking in closer to the group’s goal of two hours and 30 minutes. He hopes that more rapid-fire play will entice fans to watch college tennis on TV or streaming services.
“The changes have been great,” says Peter Smith, head men’s coach at the University of Southern California. “I love no warm-up. It cuts out a lot of time. No ad has made the matches shorter, but more importantly it makes them more exciting.”
Erica Perkins Jasper, the chief operating officer at the ITA, sees the upside of the condensed game. “With no-ad,” she says, “you figure out pretty quickly which players embrace pressure and which don’t. But the ones who don’t really improve with this format.”
To truly change tennis players’ mindsets, though, Waters knows that college may be too late.
“If we can get kids to play in faster formats,” he says, “they won’t be biased against them when they run into them as juniors and adults.”