Glimpse of future as ATP tries to innovate
Shorter sets, on-court coaching, shot clocks and electronic line calls.
These are some of the new initiatives that are on trial by the ATP at this week's Next Gen Finals, an inaugural tournament in Milan, Italy, for players aged 21 and under.
In preparation for a massive void when the likes of 30-somethings Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray retire, the ATP is determined to adapt to a changing marketplace.
It hopes to find some "future-proofing" solutions for tennis during this five-day tournament, which showcases exciting talents such as Canadian Denis Shapovalov and Russian trio Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev.
Several other sports, notably cricket, have adopted shortened formats to appeal to a younger generation of fans, both at venues and on television. However, the qualifiers are wary of turning their backs on tradition.
"I don't think this will be the future and I hope they don't change the rules because then they change the sport," said 20-year-old Rublev.
"It's better to make a new sport if they are going to change the rules."
American Jared Donaldson thinks some of the tweaks the ATP will trial this week could find their way to the main Tour.
"There is a fine line between innovation and when it becomes a novelty, and that is something that must be closely watched," said the world No. 55.
"But there are rules that could benefit the game."
The 21-year-old likes the idea of shorter warm-ups, saying the five-minute tune-up before matches is too long and can turn off television viewers.
But the idea of replacing line judges with machines is a step too far, he believes.
"Electronic line calls? That is a negative for the sport," he said. "I really enjoy the Challenge system... Reviews are crowd engaging and that is a positive. But you never know, maybe people will love it."
Croatia's Borna Coric thinks scrapping the let rule on serve - which will be the case in Milan - is a good idea.
"I like the no-let rule," the 20-year-old Coric told Reuters.
"If you hit a good forehand and it clips the net, you don't stop the point. So the serve should be the same."
The other players in Milan are South Korean Chung Hyeon and a yet-to be-decided Italian under-21 wildcard.
Meanwhile, the ATP had to apologise after its glitzy draw was branded "sexist" for having the players choose female models who had the letter "A" or "B" hidden on their bodies, to determine their groups. - REUTERS