Upon Tomas Berdych’s return to serve, the ball-boy gives three balls to him, and by random discretion, he hands one back to the boy, another he shoves into his pocket and the third he chooses as his weaponry of bombardment. He taps the ball onto the court half-a-dozen times, tosses the ball high in the air, before in one fluid swing of the racquet, the 6 ft 6 inch Czech cannons the ball into his opponent’s half.
On Friday, as the top seed lost to the unheralded Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut, his elaborate before-serve routine was more than once interrupted by the chair umpire. “Time violation,” he said, and Berdych looked upset.
The inevitability to push through his serves played in his mind and gradually the rhythm of his serve desolated him, and his first-serve percentage dropped alarmingly (56, 60 and 51 respectively in three sets).
The world number six struggles with ATP’s tweak in the time-violation law - from this year, on both the ATP World Tour and Challenger Tour, a time violation between points (25 seconds) will be penalised in the first instance with a warning. For the second and all subsequent violations, the server will be penalised with a point penalty. The 25-second was the norm in the past, but chair umpires hardly enforced it.
Later, Berdych admitted that the new rule was affecting his game. “I was struggling with it (time rule). All this while you grow up with a different set of rule — and it’s become a routine — and now you have to change. It’s hard to adapt to it at this stage. But the fault’s mine and the problem is with my game. I have to adapt to the change,” he said. Berdych would now have to be quicker through his routines (he also takes enormous time to towel off after every point). This is easier said than done, since the last thing weighing on the player’s mind before the serve is time, and it can distort his focus, more so if he is resuming after a long rally.
Berdych’s opponent Agut, too, disapproved of the rule. “Tennis is already a difficult game, now it’s all the more difficult. I don’t see this necessary at all,” he remarked.
It’s harder in the humid climes of Chennai, reckoned Janko Tipsarevic, “I’m not a man who takes strolls during points, but it’s harsh on players especially in a place as humid as Chennai. I’m happy that Grand Slams are not supporting it.” The rule change is designed to help chair umpires be more assertive in enforcing the 25 second limit between points while taking into account playing conditions and other factors that might occur during a match. Though the new rule was approved by the ATP in September, its enforcement has caught several players off guard.