The Hindu Explains: From Amos Oz to Australian Open rule changes

Why will the Australian Open be different this time?

Hungary's Marton Fucsovics prepares to serve to Switzerland's Roger Federer during their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Hungary's Marton Fucsovics prepares to serve to Switzerland's Roger Federer during their fourth round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)   | Photo Credit: Dita Alangkara

What are the changes?

Tennis loves its traditions. But the feeling, at least in the recent past, has been that of a sport trying to slowly chip away at its perceived anachronism. The plethora of changes announced ahead of next week’s Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, is to be seen in that context. Two of them stand out — the introduction of a 10-point tiebreak at 6-6 in the deciding set and ‘Heat Stress Index’ to replace the old Extreme Heat Policy. Other changes include the use of serve clock — to be set at 25 seconds — to help speed up matches, Hawk-Eye review technology on all 16 courts, increase in the number of spots in the women’s qualifying draw from 96 to 128, and the inevitable upgrade in the prize money pool.

Why were they needed?

The tiebreak rule has followed a similar move by Wimbledon, albeit at 12-12 in the decider, to prevent long-drawn matches from messing up the schedule. At Melbourne, where a night session is a huge attraction, a marathon encounter extending into the wee hours is undesirable. The change in heat policy is probably the result of the severe criticism the previous set of rules came under. In the last edition, Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils were vociferous after being forced to play at temperatures that almost touched 40 degrees Celsius. The hospitalisation of Simona Halep, immediately after the women’s singles final which was played with the roof open, appears to have forced the organisers’ hands. The serve clocks will help enforce the guideline that players have 25 seconds to initiate play after the previous point ends. The additional spots in the women’s qualifying draw is to restore parity with the men, while the use of line-calling technology on all 16 match courts will ensure equal conditions for every player in the draw.

How will it impact players?

A final set super tiebreak means encounters like the one in 2017, where Ivo Karlovic defeated Horacio Zeballos 22-20 in the fifth set, will be a thing of the past. So will be Halep’s memorable 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win over Lauren Davis and the 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 semifinal triumph over Angelique Kerber, both last year. While it is sure to help players physically, the move has generated criticism, with many arguing that the women’s game could have been spared. If anything, it was the men’s game which needed trimming and there too it was felt that curtailing the end would deprive fans of drama. In the 2008 Wimbledon men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, it is the 9-7 final set scoreline that everyone remembers and not the initial phase of the match, went the theory. As to how the new heat policy — which takes into account air temperature, radiant heat, humidity and wind speed — plays out is yet to be seen. But tournament director Craig Tiley’s confirmation that none of 2018’s contentious decisions to continue play would have been overturned under the new system has dampened hopes.

How will the tournament pan out?

A rejuvenated Djokovic, a six-time champion here, is a welcome change from last year. So is the return of Serena Williams, who skipped the 2018 competition because of pregnancy. Andy Murray’s recovery after his hip surgery has been slower than expected and the searing Australian summer is the least ideal of conditions to put his body to test. The same may apply for Rafael Nadal, who is coming back from an ankle surgery. However, defending men’s singles champion Roger Federer is as resplendent as ever. Caroline Wozniacki, the women’s champion, who has stuttered of late, will hope for some of it to rub off on her.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 4:04:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/tennis/why-will-the-australian-open-be-different-this-time/article25920780.ece

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