If there is one thing that players hate, it’s controversy or confusion based on a certain rule in a key moment during the heat of battle.
You see it all the time in the AFL, whether it be excessive holding the ball calls or unnecessary fifty metre penalties.
We saw it during the summer of cricket, when umpire Aleem Dar gave consecutive warnings to Australian batsmen David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne for running on the pitch, when there was virtually nothing in it.
There is nothing better than watching a sporting contest evolve naturally, without the interjection of an umpire if it isn’t really necessary.
So now we are faced with tennis’ provocative serving shot clock, is this another case of over officiating? Or does it allow for a more free flowing encounter between two competitors?
The fact is, the serving clock countdown has always been there, previously only for the chair umpire to see, but now it’s being displayed for all to see on court, and a little more scrutiny has come with it.
You can definitely forgive Rafael Nadal for not being a fan, following his four-set loss to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last week, despite the Spaniard speaking very objectively to the media afterward when asked about it.
Nadal was called for a time violation when serving following a gruelling rally that clearly exhausted the world number one, and upon being warned, voiced his displeasure at the call to the chair umpire.
“You don’t like good tennis”, Nadal cried to the chair umpire, and he kind of had a point, after that particularly long rally maybe the chair umpire should’ve taken a more lenient approach.
It’s not something that cost Nadal the match, Thiem was simply the better performer on the night, but it clearly unsettled the champion and was certainly something he could have gone without.
So on Sunday night, in the men’s final, it was Novak Djokovic’s turn to have a showdown with the controversial shot clock, again Dominic Thiem was the opponent, and again the chair umpire was in the firing line.
Most tennis advocates will know that Djokovic is prone to the extra bounce… or ten, before getting into his serving motion, the perfect storm for a shot clock clash.
An extra bounce and a small fumble as the shot clock reached zero saw the chair umpire call a time violation on the seven-time Australian Open champion late in the second set, and when they changed ends at the break, Novak was ready to lock horns with the chair umpire, telling him exactly how he felt about it.
Djokovic, who will now reclaim the world number one ranking, went on to win his record eighth Australian Open title in five sets, which is a truly remarkable feat, but it wasn’t without it’s fair share of drama, with Novak patting the chair umpire’s shoe as he voiced his displeasure during the heated exchange.
The time-allocated to a player is 25 seconds to begin their serving motion, which certainly seems like a more than reasonable amount of time for a player to get themselves organised and ready to serve.
Tennis is an exceptionally demanding game however, and every point could be more or less fatiguing than the last.
The rule is something ATP and WTA players around the world will have to adjust to, and they will, but does the interpretation need to change to allow for players to regroup following a particularly exhausting passage of play?
It’s probably not something you want to see called on a player serving for the match in a major final anyway.