The Next Gen ATP Finals is one of the most interesting events on the tennis calendar, not only do we get to watch the best young players in the world, but it forces us to think about what we want tennis to look like in the future. Since its founding in 2017 the event has trialed rule changes, aimed at creating a high-tempo, cutting-edge, and TV friendly product. Many of these trials have been successful and brought onto the main tour, such as the 25 second shot clock as well as Hawk-Eye live, where hawk eye replaces line judges. Both of these are generally seen as good changes and were first trialed at this event.
Seemingly the most controversial trial has been the sudden death deuce or ‘No Ad Scoring’. It’s something which many match players will have experienced a lot over the last few years. No Ad Scoring has been used in almost every junior tournament and many competitive club matches over the last few years. The main motivation behind this has been to keep matches shorter.
For amateurs this means there is less risk of our match going on for hours longer than expected. Our Mens A team once played a match which went on for so long that one of our opponents had to leave to catch a flight. The unpredictability when it comes to the length of a tennis match can be a reason not to play, something which isn’t a problem in most sports.
In professional tennis, the aim is to make tennis as TV friendly as possible rather than helping players to go on holiday mid match. Knowing when a match is going to start and finish is convenient for fans and can only help viewership. Whilst all grand slams have adopted their own 5th set rules to prevent another Isner vs Mahut marathon, long five set matches can still last around five hours. Sudden death deuce has been touted as one of the better solutions to reduce the upper limit for how long a match can last.
However, many tennis enthusiasts argue that it changes too much and that the sudden death point is too much of a lottery, it definitely amplifies the ‘it’s not how many points you win but what points you win’ side of tennis. For others the biggest problem isn’t that it’s a one off point, it’s that for one player it gives them a bonus game point. 40-30 is now two game points rather than one for example. 40-0 becomes four game points rather than three, I’m sure you get the idea. It’s a much bigger fundamental change to our scoring system than many first realise.
Personally I prefer the ‘Golden Deuce’ rule, where the first deuce of each game is normal and then sudden death on the second deuce. This gets rid of the bonus game points prior to advantage, however still leaves us in a position where whoever wins the first deuce point gets an additional game point. It’s not perfect, but compared to No Ad Scoring it greatly reduces the situations where someone gets an additional game point.
Matthew Willis, a name some of you may recognise from the ‘Modernisation Of Tennis’ blog post, says that tennis has other problems to sort out before it worries about appealing to new fans with rule changes. “Tennis focuses more on format change than making it more accessible from technological, pricing and cultural angles because the former is easy to understand/execute. The latter actually takes work. ‘Let’s just remove advantage’ sounds easier than ‘the demand curve is broken let’s fix it’. Format experimentation is good for tennis. The next gen finals for example are great and if anything they need more experimentation, but it’s the less important problem by a distance.“