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Tennis could use some changes

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Let me start off by saying that I love the game of tennis. But having said that, I also believe the sport could use a bit of a facelift to improve its overall lure and appeal...especially here in the U.S.

Where do I begin?

An obvious argument in recent years has been a return to wooden racquets, and I'd have to say I vehemently agree with that one. We desperately need to slow down the game in order to produce longer, more entertaining rallies, and just better overall tennis. The move would also allow for a more artistic brand of ball, which perhaps reached its greatest heights with the wizardry of John McEnroe back in the late '70s and early-to-mid '80s. We need more one-hand backhands, more slicing, more serve-and-volley, more drop shots, more lobs, more shotmaking...more artistry. Today's game is dominated by racquet- generated power and booming serves (specifically on the men's side), shorter points and way too much play from behind the baseline (a.k.a. gutless tennis).

John McEnroe
John McEnroe is a proponent for a return to wooden racquets.
Wood just makes tennis a smarter sport. The prowess of the mind (focus and strategy) can outweigh the dynamics of a pure power game, which is what we currently have as the result of the modern racquet. Materials like graphite just make it easier for you to gain success in tennis, much like an aluminum bat would in Major League Baseball.

Today's one-speed, one-style game is devoid of subtlety or variety. As one Wimbledon commentator put it earlier this year, "Andy Roddick plays with all the intelligence of a wooden post."

Serve-and-volleyers are a dying breed in the sport and they took additional hits over the last two years with the retirements of Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter and Richard Krajicek.

Not only do we need a return to wood racquets, we also need to cut down on the size of the racquet head itself. "Johnny Mac" used approximately 78 square inches of hitting surface, while the likes of Andre Agassi and Serena Williams are in the neighborhood of 110 square inches on a super-charged frame. A smaller racquet head would force one to concentrate harder on hitting the "sweet spot," thus perhaps improving one's game and allowing you to generate your own pace.

Moving on.

Also, the ATP and WTA need to get together and organize more events that feature both the men and the women (like the Grand Slams and a couple of the Masters Series tourneys). Isn't that the tennis equivalent to one-stop shopping? We'd get all of the sport's top stars at one event several times throughout the year. Let's say at least 10 times, for starters.

Another bold move would be to cut down on the overall number of events and create a lengthier offseason for the players to work on their games, strength and conditioning.

Also, isn't it time for the other three Slams to follow the U.S. Open's lead and go to a third-set tiebreak for the women and fifth-set tiebreak for the men? No more of this "you must win by two games in the final set" nonsense. Wouldn't you agree Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui (who played a marathon 40- game fifth set in the Aussie Open quarters back in January, won by Roddick 21-19)?

Serena Williams
Serena Williams is the premier power-hitter in women's tennis.
How 'bout a stipulation that every tournament should have at least one court with a permanent or retractable roof, which, of course, would allow for at least some action on those nasty-weather days.

Do we need to do things like change the scoring system in order to attract the tennis outsiders? Are non-tennis fans confused by love-15, 15-30, 30-40, 40-15, deuce, ad, etc., etc.? I'm not, but I know plenty of people who are. Do we need to dumb-down the scoring system to something like 0, 1, 2, 3, game?

Move over NFL, it's also time for instant replay in tennis. Let us not even "experiment" with the move, let's just dive right in. It only makes sense. An umpire/linesperson can only do so much, while the camera never lies. It wouldn't waste time on the court, quite the contrary, it would speed up the time in between points since more time is wasted by players and chair umpires arguing disputed calls. A replay would solve the problem lickety split, every time. Can you say official Mac Cam?

Time for a rant.

Why can't there be coaching from the stands, crowd noise during points or bagels thrown on the court when you coldcock your opponent at love (zero) in a given set or match? Why can't the women wear half-shirts or just a spandex short without the traditional tennis skirt? Wouldn't that attract more male viewers? And I'm guessing more women would watch tennis if the men played sans shirts. Swimmers don't wear shirts. Pro boxers don't wear shirts. Cliff divers don't wear shirts. Sumo wrestlers don't wear shirts. It's been done.

Overall, attire seems to be heading in the right direction, but I do think you need to buff up your arms before you pull out the sleeveless shirt (Mirnyi) and tighten up your waistline before slipping into a skin-hugging top (Capriati).

I digress.

How 'bout some additional surfaces besides grass, hardcourt, carpet and clay? What's wrong with asphalt or hardwood floors? We could even slow things down, with sand.

This Just In! We need to make the Davis and Fed Cups biennial events (that's every two years to the layperson), similar to golf's setup with the Ryder Cup. Such a move would probably make competing in the events more feasible for all the athletes and could only increase drama of the competitions. Is it not absence that makes the heart grow fonder? We also need to scrap annoying Davis Cup and Fed Cup terms like tie (matchup), rubber (match) and most certainly dead rubber (meaningless match). I mean really, a dead rubber?

Last but not least, we need to do a better job of marketing the sport, at least in this country (the U.S.). There's got to be more to tennis than just Serena and Venus and Andre and Andy. Doesn't there? We need to promote events with greater vigor and can't be afraid to promote international stars here in the U.S. Don't show me Justin Gimelstob (USA Network) in your promos before and during the U.S. Open. Be proud that Swiss Roger Federer, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero and Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, etc., etc. are going to perform in the Big Apple. Who's kiddin' who? That'll never work, but I gave it a shot.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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