This week I became aware of the Tennis Australia invention “Fast 4 Tennis”, which is described as the tennis equivalent of Twenty20 cricket, in that it’s not a real match, and is played much more quickly than a traditional five set, no tie-breaker in the last set match in a Grand Slam. Where cricket already had a limited overs format in One Day matches, this is a new invention for tennis, and it’s clear from the two matches that were held in Australia this week that even the players are still getting used to the rules. The two matches that were on this week were Lleyton Hewitt vs. Roger Federer (I saw the highlights package – Federer won), and Rafael Nadal doing a strange round robin thing against 17-year-old Australian Omar Jasika, old Australian great Mark Philippoussis and fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Here is the basic format of Fast 4: The first player to win 4 games in a set wins, and a tie-breaker is played when each player has won 3 games. In the tie-breaker, the first player to reach 5 points win, and if both players reach 4 points, a Power Point is played. A Power Point means that whoever wins the point wins the game, and the receiving player gets to choose which side of the court to play from. The power point is also played if a game reaches Deuce. Also let serves are counted as in, so the receiving player has to be quick. There are also rules about not sitting down at the change of ends and only having 90 seconds between sets. Fast 4 has been specifically designed so that sets don’t last beyond 15 minutes apiece, and therefore a five set match will only last 75 minutes.
I understand that it will take time to get used to the format, but I’m not sold on the concept. The issue with tennis is that there are several playing styles, and if there are two players who enjoy a five minute groundstroke rally, it’s not necessarily going to be a good spectator sport. How entertaining a given match of tennis is depends on the two players, not the format of the match. However, much of the problem with the televised Fast 4 matches this week was related to Channel Nine’s coverage. I didn’t watch the Hewitt/Federer match, so I can’t speak to the choice to cover Hewitt’s face during a 14-shot rally, but I know that it isn’t very good television. I can however, relate to the viewers who didn’t know what was going on because no one explained the rules – it was lucky I had my laptop on me last night, because I had to look them up. Part of Nine’s problem is that they probably don’t have many tennis commentators. For as long as I can remember, The Australian Open has been broadcast by Seven, and therefore Seven employ all the commentators with tennis experience – there are probably some on the cable sports channels, but not many.
While Fast 4 has its issues, I think that it could grow into an entertaining format, even if I prefer to watch a traditional tennis match. There’s potential for the format to be used for fundraising, as Wednesday’s strange match(es) in which Nadal played 7 sets was a benefit night for the Rafa Nadal federation, which creates opportunities for disadvantaged children thorugh sports. That potential is exciting, and if there’s good commentary and proper coverage of the rally, viewers at home might be able to understand what’s going on as well.
(I’m watching the Muller/Tomic match at the Sydney International now, and it’s quite exciting. Despite not being the biggest Tomic fan, I would like him to win. I was going to watch Girls and Looking tonight, but we checked the score of this match and there was a great rally, so I decided to keep watching and record my HBO comedies).