Murray Steps Into Debate Over Time-Wasting

Andy Murray was penalised twice in his match against Joao Sousa and ended up being docked a first serve.

Published: 29th May 2015 08:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th May 2015 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

Murray-clay-AP

File Photo | AP

What a mess tennis has got itself in over the time violation rule.

Yesterday's (Thrusday's) events were particularly baffling, as Rafael Nadal - the slowest player on the men's tour - got away with multiple breaches while Andy Murray was penalised twice in his match against Joao Sousa and ended up being docked a first serve.

After the match, Murray was adamant the incident had not affected his performance in a patchy 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory. But the debate highlighted the inconsistencies in the system, which go far beyond the variations in individual umpires' discretion. The whole game is in a muddle, with the men's tour demanding a 25-second gap between points and the grand slams 20 seconds, which no one ever keeps to. As for the women's tour, Murray suggested they barely keep an eye on the clock at all.

"I played in Brisbane, and the ATP were enforcing the rule very strictly [but] the WTA weren't," he said. "A [female] player would take 35 seconds, and we took about two seconds over and we're getting warnings for it. In general, it's better if the rule is very clear, easy to understand for fans, across men's and women's tennis."

The issue might seem like a nicety, but this sport could do with a faster pace of play in the age of Twenty20 cricket and sevens rugby.

A shot-clock on the court would be one way of introducing more urgency, even if Murray suggested yesterday it would risk subduing the crowd.

Would an outstanding rally draw the same response from the fans if they had one eye on the numbers counting down towards the deadline for the next serve?

There were strong comments from the pundits on ITV4's French Open coverage. Mark Petchey referred to the time violation rule as "ludicrous, a bit of a joke", while Jim Courier said it "doesn't really speed the game up. And the second problem that we have is it isn't implemented equally among the tours. When you come to these more physically demanding matches, no human can be ready in 20 seconds".

Amid the confusion about timekeeping, this was a memorable day of tennis on Court Philippe Chatrier. Nadal was not far off peak intensity as he ejected compatriot Nicolas Almagro in straight sets.

He also moved at his usual glacial pace, sometimes taking more than 35 seconds to start a point, although umpire Cedric Mourier did not intervene.

Once Nadal had concluded his 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 victory in 2?hr 19?min, Murray had to tap into the best of his recent clay-court form to dispose of the dogged and intermittently dangerous Sousa.

The pattern of a draining match was set at the beginning, when Murray broke Sousa in the first game - but only after seven deuces, 12 minutes and five break points.

Sousa is a natural clay-courter who covers a huge amount of ground and retrieves many apparently lost causes. He made it particularly difficult in the second set, when he combined his sturdy defence with some punishing shot-making off his forehand side.

Murray lost his rhythm on his first serve, landing it in play only 36 per cent of the time. The wobbles started at around the time that Maria warned him for the first time violation, although this seemed to be no more than a coincidence.

The second warning arrived in the third set, and Murray objected on the basis that the TV replay on the big screen had continued past its usual length.

"If the highlights are still showing I am not going to serve," he told umpire Pascal Maria, "because the screen is right in my eyeline." Maria still docked Murray a first serve on that point - the standard penalty for a second violation.

Mind you, Murray still won the ensuing rally, and eventually finished off Sousa off in 21/2 hours to set up a meeting with the exciting Australian prospect Nick Kyrgios tomorrow.

"I wasn't annoyed with the time thing," said Murray later. "I made no issue of it on the court. I wasn't disputing that maybe I played too slow. But in that period in the match [starting during the second set] obviously I was struggling.

"There was pressure building. I served badly in that set, and I brought that pressure on myself. Then he started to play better tennis and made it difficult for me for that 30 or 40-minute period.

"But when I started serving and returning better, that helped me get out of trouble."

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