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Some Modest Suggestions for the Wimbledon Fortnight
by Foster Roden

Okay, so another Wimbledon is behind us, with Sampras crashing bombs and Novotna mowing down the field on the distaff side. Now, the press begins to heat up over what's wrong with Wimbledon and the Slams generally.

Remember three years ago when almost everyone was wondering why tennis was dead? Suggested solutions for what to do about it were everywhere. Now, the hot topic is Wimbledon: Why it is boring and what can be done to boost its drawing power and, more to the point, TV ratings. One commentator suggested that the grass should be removed and some other surface put down. How that would help was left to the viewers imagination. Another critic offered the usual remedies (many of the same ones offered two years ago to save tennis): A softer ball, one serve rather than two, best of three sets rather than of five, require the server to stand 3 feet behind the baseline, and permit only less powerful rackets.

Some of the suggestions would lead to tennis going the way of golf, in which the majors look and feel like any other tournament except for the label (and publicity). Golf lost some respectability when the only unique major folded its tent and capitulated to TV and the PGAA: Does anyone remember when the US Open was 36 holes on the final day? That made the Open a unique test of golf and endurance. Now, even that feature is gone, leaving behind only the tall rough for the millionaires to whine about.

Come to think of it, some of the suggestions for Wimbledon sound like requiring Michael Jordan to play in shorts with a 54 inch waist because he's too good. (Hmmm, as a matter of fact, that would be entertaining). Wimbledon is a Grand Slam with more tradition than each of the other three Slams. Does it need fixing? Probably not. But any changes should rely on its history and not on contemporary visions of modern-day tennis. Here is a list of changes that would help Wimbledon while preserving its history. Most of them will make this slam even more of a one-of-a-kind tournament:

  1. Require the use of only wooden rackets. High-tech rackets offer more power, and that's fine for the other tournaments during the year. But going to wood would assure more rallies and the use of strategy without destroying the beauty and appeal of a serve and volley game. Remember that Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, and Arthur Ashe played serve and volley with those clunker rackets.

  2. Use only white balls. Hey, they were good enough in the past, so they should be good enough now. The problem involves how they show up on the TV screen.

  3. Dispense with linesmen. Is anyone else embarrassed when their basketball buddies watch tennis and we hear some cracked voice screech out? Here's the new rule: Each player will call his own lines, just like you and I do. The umpire will decide any disagreements in the following way: A player thinking a shot is good (but called out by the opponent) can ask the umpire to make the decision. If the shot was in fact good, the umpire reverses the incorrect call. If the call was correct, then the call stands. Each player will have only 3 free wrong appeals. On the fourth wrong appeal (a ball called out that is in fact out), the player is assessed a warning. On the fifth, a point penalty. On the sixth, the player is defaulted. That should stop the whining and keep the match moving.

  4. Dispense with the net-cord let. Play it. This must be the second most embarrassing and useless rule in sportsdom. The first? The field goal in football. What is different about a net cord on a serve and one during a rally? Nothing. Wimbledon should set a consistent standard for all of tennis by either requiring a net-cord let on any shot or never permitting one. The latter makes sense.

  5. No chairs beside the court. Look back at old films (and tapes) of Wimbledon and you won't see players taking a casual break when changing ends. The only place we used to see this was in Davis Cup when the Captain was permitted to coach the player. The rules of tennis say "Play Is Continuous." Lets make it that way at Wimbledon. I would suggest eliminating the 90-second rule between changeovers, except that it is necessary for TV commercials. So keep the 90-second rule and get rid of the chairs.

  6. No towels at the back of the court. Do you agree that it is demeaning to the ball boys and girls to be responsible for a sweat towel? Think about what's in it! The players should carry their own towels like Wimbledon players of the past did -- tucked neatly and nicely in the belt.

  7. The winner from the previous year does not compete in the tournament. The tournament decides who the challenger to the defending Wimbledon champion will be. That's the way it was many years ago, and it makes sense now. The incentive to get to the challenge round would be the same as it is now to get to the final, and the challenge match could be on, say, a Tuesday night (for TV purposes). Winning the challenge match would be more important than just the cash because of the opportunity to rest for two weeks while the blood-letting of the tournament grinds the opposition down.

Any chance of these changes being implemented? Picture a snowball in Hell. Of course, the chances increase geometrically if TV likes their sound. I will point out that now is perfect time for the tournament committee to begin discussing these modest suggestions, and 1999 will be the perfect time to implement them. What a way for the 20th century to bow out!

Foster Roden needs to work on his forehand, but is usually available for a set or two in Denton, Texas.

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