As the tennis U.S. Open returns to New York next week, we’ve been following the flood of new thinking about pro tennis. Much like the preliminary moves we’ve seen in the squash world (see: best of three scoring; see: Ramy Ashour’s RAM scoring system), tennis has long pondered ways making the pro game more exciting.
The idea is to make everything faster, more climatic. Cricket serves as a model. T20 cricket was invented less than two decades ago but now it is the most popular way to play world-class cricket. I still love five-day cricket—it is a novel, while T20 is a short story—but there’s no doubt that T20 has revolutionized the game.
For tennis, the pandemic put the discussions into action. This spring Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach, created Ultimate Tennis Showdown, an exhibition league in France. The format: no warmups; matches are divided into four ten-minute quarters, played tiebreaker style, with a sudden-death point if tied; fifteen seconds between serves; no net cord lets on the serve; players took care of their own towels; coaching timeouts (where you can listen in); and cards that shake it all up (you can make your opponent have just one; you get three points if you hit a clear winner; your opponent needs to win the point in three shots or less).
Amateur squash won’t change—and nor should it—but pro squash could take a closer look at this kind of thinking. Maybe not for our equivalents of Grand Slam events, but for most tournaments we could add some of these ideas. We could have cards for giving a second serve (a major loss when hardball gave way to softball). For speed, we could reduce the warmup before the match and especially in between games and have a serve time-clock (less hand-wiping). Maybe a match tiebreaker—first to win three points or something—instead of a fifth game. And we could get on the clock.