Saturday, June 6, 2015

Slow play and stalling in USTA League play, the pros do it too

We've all seen it or played against it.  An player prefers to play slowly, whether a fitness issue, tactic to get in their opponent's head, or just the pace they like to play, and matches drag out and players get frustrated.  In doubles where points are shorter and fitness should be less of an issue, it can be particularly frustrating when a side feels they need to have a conference between each and every point.

There has been a discussion on the Tennis Warehous Talk Tennis Forum where pace of play has been discussed and while the code and rules of tennis call for play to be relatively speedy and/or at the pace of the server, there is little that can be done in the absence of an official if play becomes slow and drawn out.

In fact, I was watching a USTA League local playoff match last weekend and saw perhaps the worst exhibition of slow play I've seen.  Without going into all the details, every trick was used from saying they couldn't hear the score and asking it to be repeated, picking up balls slowly, excessive time at change overs, to outright just waiting for what seemed like an eternity between points.  A roving official was there but elected to do mostly nothing it appeared, although at one point I think she told the players to shut up and play or something to that effect.

But the problem isn't unique to recreational players.  Those that watch the ATP and WTA tours know there are some players that like to play quickly and others that tend to be slower.  Here, there are rules the officials can enforce for time between points (25 seconds for ATP and 20 seconds for Grand Slams) and some players take it right to and over the edge.  The ATP has been enforcing the rule a bit more the last few years much to the chagrin of some players who are losing first serves when they go over the limit.

Carl Bialik just wrote a great article on the subject looking at objective data and showing how some players tend to be clearly slower or faster than average and the effect it has on length of matches.  He shows how the rule enforcement has helped speed up matches some in the past few years.  Give it a read.