Tennis  

New rules, innovations at maiden NextGen tennis competition

Hyeon Chung. PHOTO: atpworldtour

There was a deeper purpose for ATP Tour tournament for the next generation than the final results. It was a testing event for ideas that have been brandied for years. At the end of the fiesta in Italy, however, there was no optimism that the innovations would be universally accepted any time in the horizon.

The maiden Next Generation Showdown had been given publicity from the beginning of the 2017. The race for the top eight players aged 21 and under kicked off in Australia. In the year, 62 tournaments were played in 31 countries, and every continent. There was only one event in Africa, at Marrakech Morocco. The November tennis Carnival at the Fiera Milano, Italy featured eight players.

Leading the pack was Russia’s Andrey Rublev ranked 39 in the world. He was followed by compatriot Karen Khachanov (45), Serbia’s Borna Coric (48), Canada’s Denis Shapovalov (51), America’s Jared Donaldson (54), Korean, Hyeon Chung (58) and Russia’s Medvedev ranked 65 in the world. The eighth slot was for the winner of the qualifying tournament, Italian Gianluigi Quinzi. All the players were aged 21 except for Rublev (20) and Shapovalov (18).

In the round-robin matches, Korea’s Hyeon Chung won all his matches, including a victory over Rublev. In the first semi-final, Rublev defeated Brian Coric 4/1; 4/3 (6); 4/1. In the other semi-final match, Chung won the first two sets by the same score of 4-1 but Medvedev took the third 4-3 and a hard-fought fourth set 4-1. Medvedev took bathroom break but Chung remained on court. Although Chung double-faulted in the opening game of the deciding set, he held and won three straight games for the match.

In the finals, the sixth-seeded bespectacled Korean defeated the top-seed for title. There was a touch of history concerning the wildcard entrant, Gianluigi Quinzi, who had defeated Chung in the finals of the 2013 Wimbledon Junior Boys tournament.

However, the fiesta in Milano was more of a profile in daring than the final outcome. For decades the Tennis World had considered a plethora of new rules and innovations but they had not been trialed. The warm-up and medical time-out were reduced. As in Davis Cup matches, players were allowed to have their coaches on court during the change-over at odd games. There was no advantage point but a deciding point at deuce; with the receiver choosing the side to have the serve sent. The match was best of five sets. Each set is the first to get four games, with a tie break at three-all.
It has taken years of planning for the management of ATP Tour to stage a tournament with the innovations that are not acceptable to the sport’s traditionalists.

Will changes in fundamentals determine who wins games and matches? The ATP Tour intends to “trial” the innovations for a year at selected lower-point events. During that period, researchers would analyze the effect on the outcome of games and styles of play: big servers, big hitters, touch players, good returners and net players.

Can the tennis world expect a more exciting format for matches in major tournaments? Any changes are subject to an extensive review process and approval by the ATP Tour Board of Directors. This is a long way coming going by past experience.

There was a dogged effort of America’s Van Allen to reduce match play time by introducing a point to end games and a game to end sets. It took a while before the tie break was adopted for sets.

The bold first step taken in Milano could usher in the end of long drawn out deuce games. This is already being done in Club matches and Charity games. A major thrill being considered is for the “Hawk-Eye” electronic line reading to be for the lines such that only the Chair Umpire and the ball boys would be on court during matches.

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