Four years later... An update to USA Today
By Jim Reffkin
In March of 2002, your newspaper, USA Today, did a feature story on the innovations we had been introducing to help grow tennis participation and spectator interest. The title of this March 6th article "Changes far from smash hit" described our effort to modernize tennis, and pointed out how the suggestions were being met with resistance from the governing bodies of the game. The article painted a rather negative picture of what many people believe is an impossible task of introducing change difficult to implement in the Tennis Community.
Well, I agree with the article's assessment of our efforts. Little did I know when I started this campaign in the late 1980's, that for many years to come I would be deluged with an endless trail of nasty letters, e mails and phone calls blaming me for what would be the demise of tennis and how my so called innovative formats would ruin the game.
Well, I stuck to my guns and four years after your article and almost twenty years after I began this relentless effort, I have an update for you: In 2002, because our innovative formats were just beginning to get traction, it wasn't as bad as your article portrayed. However, today we are breaking the speed limit, our suggestions are now universally accepted and are definitely on a fast track to grow both tennis participation and viewer interest!
Harry Marmion, one of our past USTA Presidents, said it would not be easy and he succinctly compared it to, "turning a battleship in a pond." He was so right! At the national level, governing bodies of our sport are a labyrinth of dead ends and stop signs. So why not take the direct way, actually the only "one way" to deliver the product to the consumer; at the facility where the ball hits the court.
So for the last two years I have been on the road to New York, Williamsburg, Pinehurst, Hilton Head, Dallas, Phoenix, Honolulu, San Destin, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Orlando, Palo Alto and just this month Memphis. It's working, because I am continuously being asked to present at USTA and USPTA annual meetings everywhere; including the national meetings. And only this month, May 4th and 5th we hosted a "National Workshop" here at the Reffkin Tennis Center - see story "Southwest Programming Goes National."
So here is a brief update for you: In the professional game, as of this last January, the ATP has adopted and mandated that all ATP Master Series doubles events must use "match tiebreak" in lieu of 3rd set. This was an extremely controversial issue that players grudgingly accepted; arguing that the new format is a "crap shoot" where less skilled teams would win more, and the better seeded teams would be upset more often.
Well the players were wrong! To this date, the ATP has been keeping an accurate accounting of all the doubles matches played since the new format was adopted. So far after 421 matches played, the statistics (2006 vs. 2005) prove just the opposite when using the Match Tiebreak: Seeded and Higher Ranked Teams are winning more often. And even more important, the statistics have also proven what the ATP was hoping: By using Match Tiebreak, it has brought a 67% increase of doubles matches played on Centre Court and an increase of 21% of singles players participating in doubles draws. We now see the very best singles players in doubles, including Federer and Nadal. Incidentally, for the last five years, match tiebreak has been used in mixed doubles at the US Open and Australian Open.
Speaking of doubles, College Tennis has adopted an eight game pro set for all doubles matches, and it has proven to be a tremendous plus in making matches more exciting and more interesting to the spectator. In the summer, all twenty-four of the ITA/USTA Summer College Circuit tournaments use match tiebreak in singles and the "Collegiate Doubles" format of an eight game pro set.
High School Tennis is finally adopting our innovative formats as well. Can you even imagine trying to play a dual meet after school using two out of three sets in both singles and doubles? It is not uncommon that matches would take two days to complete; and we wonder why we seldom see spectators at high school dual meets.
Now that Professional Tennis is beginning to adopt more "Time Definable" formats expect more of the same in the most important segments of growing the game - Youth Tennis and NTRP Adult Participation.
For a number of years, the Reffkin Tennis Center has been collaborating with the USTA Southwest Section in hosting half and one day USTA Sanctioned events for ranking purposes. Thanks to these non-elimination formats, our facility has increased participation 140%. The Arizona Shootouts use match tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set and the SuperSets use a one set format with a set tiebreak at 6-all. Our non-sanctioned events that prepare the kids for the SuperSets and Shootouts use four game "short sets" which play set tiebreak at 4-all. All of the innovative formats we have introduced are endorsed by the USTA and ITF and are included in the "Friend at Court" page 124.
Lets not stop; we have more work to do. Television has introduced the "instant replay" with "shot spot" a fantastic breakthrough in tennis entertainment value for the spectator. So wouldn't we want to take it a step further and rid ourselves of the "let serve" and of course the most ridiculous anachronism of all - our scoring? Let's use simple numbers - as all sports do - and allow our non-tennis spectators to immediately understand who is winning and who is losing. Love, 15, 30, 40, ad and deuce just don't get it! Use "numerical scoring" as we do in our set and match tiebreaks and forever erase one of the most confusing and demeaning issues of our game.