Tennis - the Greatest Game - So what can be done about those timely injuries?

Page 8 of 12: So what can be done about those timely injuries?

So what can be done about those timely injuries?

As stated before, it is not only Nadal who uses gamesmanship to influence the outcome of his matches, but numerous other players do so as well. The most unsettling form of gamesmanship to an opponent must certainly be the well-timed call for a medical time-out. Rain delays regularly come to rescue of players, as for instance during the Goran Ivaniševi? vs Tim Henman Wimbledon 2001 semi-final. Henman was leading 5-7, 7-6, 6-0, 2-1 and was dominating play when the rain came down. The momentum changed, Ivaniševi? scraped through and eventually went on to defeat Pat Rafter in the final. All players are aware that a medical time-out can have the same effect, especially when an opponent knows that the injury is feigned.

The ATP has in good faith and probably for very good reasons introduced rules that allow medical time-outs to be called. These rules however have numerous drawbacks:

  • A medical time-out is direct conflict with the rules that require play to be continuous.
  • The medical time-out has become an popular instrument in the hands of players who wish to interrupt the momentum of their opponent, regain their own composure or even simply catch their breath during a crucial stage of a match.
  • Probably only a very small percentage (<10%) of medical time-outs called for are truly warranted.
  • Since one time-out for each type of injury may be called, a player can theoretically claim to have 10 different types of injury during the match, fully aware that the umpire has little choice but to comply. The injury time-outs may then last longer than some sets do.
  • There is no means of verifying whether or not a player is lying about an injury. A shadow of suspicion will therefore nearly always hang over the player who calls for the time-out.
  • Television time, especially during prime events, is extremely expensive. A player who abuses the injury time-out is wasting a lot of someone else's money.
  • We as spectators are really not interested in watching such displays of gamesmanship.

In my opinion there is only one way to resolve this problem and that is to allow the clock and score board to keep ticking during a medical time-out. The latter must of course be allowed as a sudden but brief injury related problem may occur. I specifically remember an incident during which John McEnroe was bouncing the ball, but somehow managed to get it into his eye. He was then allowed some time to recover, although strictly speaking it was all of his own doing. This is of course perfectly in order, as no one would have wanted the match to be cancelled at that point. As another example, the number one player in the world may be leading 2-0 in sets and 5-0 in games in the third set when he accidentally injures his knee. All he needs is a couple of minutes to recover, but at that very instant he will not be able to continue with play, so there can be no doubt that medical time-outs must be allowed. However, in order to counter dishonesty, I would like to suggest that whenever a player calls for a 3 minute medical time-out, he or she should immediately forfeit the next 6 points (180/25 = 7.2, allowing one extra grace period of 25 seconds). One may argue that if a player calls for a medical time-out to be taken during the 90 second changeover, the penalty should only be (180 - 90)/25 = 3.6, or 3 points, but one should take into account the fact that the continuity of play is interrupted and that it may have a negative impact on the other player. An additional penalty would therefore seem appropriate. Should the injury occur just after a changeover and be of such a nature that it requires immediate attention, at least 7 more points will anyway have to be played before the next changeover occurs, so that 6 points for 3 minutes will be nothing but fair. To keep matters simple, I would therefore suggest that a player immediately forfeits 6 points whenever he or she calls for a medical time-out.
The proposed 6-point penalty rule for medical time-outs will have the following benefits:

  • The rule of continuous play will be honoured.
  • Medical time-outs will only be called for in cases of extreme emergency, as should be the case.
  • The number of medical time-outs taken on the professional circuit will probably drop by 90%, if not 99%.
  • There will be no doubt about the seriousness of the injury and there will be no suspicion of gamesmanship. In the same manner that Hawkeye has given players an opportunity to challenge calls they deem to be incorrect, the opponent and spectators alike will no longer have reason to be unfairly upset or unsettled because of the time-out.
  • No time will be wasted because of gamesmanship.
  • Some may feel that rigorous enforcement of the 6-point penalty may be too harsh. As a compromise one can allow players to take a medical time-out between sets without any penalty, but enforce a 6-point penalty should they insist on taking this during a set.
  • As a matter of interest, there are rules that allow the umpire to suspend a match when a player is no longer able to compete at a professional level (see ATPRB examples p. 107). For instance, if Nadal should injure his left hand beyond rapid recovery, he will probably not be allowed to continue the match playing with his right hand. But then again, Nadal reportedly is right-handed in real life and he happens to be a very talented player!

Too little time?
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