I’m a tennis lifer. Played, coached, ran programs, ran tournaments, written for a couple tennis magazines and have spoken at tennis events. I have to admit … watching professional tennis outside of the Grand Slams does nothing for me. I really want it to. I have enormous respect for the people who can make it on the pro tour. I love tennis and I should enjoy watching the best of the best, but I don’t. Give me the Islanders, Mets or any pro football game over a professional tennis match.
I think the biggest reason is that I need someone to root for. I think that’s fairly common in that professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, the fans have a rooting interest. It might be for a hometown team, a favorite player, a gambling interest or fantasy sports interest.
So, how can we make it so people like me can find a rooting interest?
Let’s bring the game back to its’ roots and hold some ATP and WTA events where the players call their own lines. This would really bring out the character in players that people can relate too. Imagine if Ekaterina Makarova and Andrea Petkovic are playing … do I really care who wins? But what if Makarova hooks Petkovic at 4-3 deuce. Now I have a rooting interest! Let’s go Petkovic! Or, Kyle Edmund is playing Thomaz Bellucci and Edmund goes on an un-British rant about Bellucci’s calls meanwhile all the calls are fair. It would be a lot easier to bring out the personality of the players. As great as the HawkEye is, it really has taken the personality out of the players. Who doesn’t have a guilty pleasure in hearing a player arguing with an umpire or another player. Having the players make their own calls would allow the fans to get inside the players a bit more. How would Roger Federer react to getting hooked compared to Andy Murray? What would Murray say to a cheating opponent?
Letting players call their own lines would also bring the game to the 99 percent of people who regularly play matches without umpires. Doubles enthusiasts say they sometimes like to watch. Watching matches like this would be very relatable. Everyone who plays tennis can relate to a cheating opponent.
Yes, there are some things to work out. Would there be a person announcing the score? Can a person request an umpire similarly to how you can in junior tournaments, etc.? This stuff could get worked out though. Hopefully, the stigma of cheating in front of thousands of people and many more on television would police the players into calling lines fairly for the most part. The fans would also get behind a player who is getting the wrong end of a bad call, which would give an emotional lift to that player. The argument against this is that the players would never agree to this. If you up the prize money, that would probably take care of that though.
I remember about 20 years ago, a radio listener calling top-rated sports radio host Mike Francesa on-air with the suggestion that Major League Baseball award home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Francesa laughed him off, said that was the craziest idea he ever heard, Major League Baseball would never do something like that and hung up on the caller. The following year, Major League Baseball adopted that very rule (until eliminating this year.). The idea of no umpires or linesmen is definitely out of the box but so crazy that it might work.
One other idea: Allow coaching on injury timeouts/bathroom breaks
Injury timeouts and bathroom breaks suck the life out of a match, are abused and are a relatively new phenomenon that are miserable. I cannot imagine the tours like the abuse, although they say there is nothing that can be done to stop them because it is too difficult to determine if the request is legit. So let’s allow the player who isn’t taking the break to get coaching during the break. It’s not a total match changer, but at the same time, it is enough of a deterrent that someone who doesn’t really need the timeout will think twice about taking that time out. Once again … it’s kind of crazy, but just might work!