Citi Open Begins Right on Time

By Jane Voigt

Washington, D.C., — Washington D.C. is an on-time place. Miss an appointment, oh well. But it seems like that city characteristic has rubbed off on the ATP and WTA tours, as well, as a series of in-game innovations are introduced at Citi Open this week and throughout the summer hard-court season leading to the U.S. Open. 

Sloane Stephens shows off her shiny U.S. Open trophy, last fall in New York. She is Citi Open’s second seed and the 2015 champion. Photo credit Leslie Billman

“I think it will be interesting,” Sloane Stephens said in her pre-tournament press conference about the warm-up clocks and serve clocks ticking away on court this week. “Obviously adding something new to the game is always difficult and different. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t really say if it’ll be good or bad; I have no idea. We’ll see and you’ll see when I see if it’s very good or very bad.” 

The rules, which are an effort to speed up the game, were officially announced as Wimbledon came to a close earlier this month. The “innovations,” as they were described in a press release, were a “result of collaboration and consultation between all three organizations: the USTA, ATP and WTA.”

The innovations:

  1. A Warm-up Clock, which includes a one-minute clock and a five-minute clock. 
  2. A Serve Clock

The one-minute clock should ensure that players are at the net and ready for pre-match warmup within a minute of the last player’s arrival at their chair. If they’re not at the net, the player is “subject to a post-match fine,” but no time violation would be leveled.

The five-minute clock starts to tick immediately following the coin toss. It signals the start of the warmup period. The time will be monitored by the chair umpire who must announce in increments how much time remains in the warmup. Following that a one-minute countdown starts, after which players “must be ready to play.” If a player is not ready, the chair umpire can announce “start of match violation,” which could come with a fine but is not considered a time violation. 

The serve clock is something fans will be more familiar with. Now, however, the amount of time between points — 25 seconds for tour-level and grand slam events — will be visible to players and audiences. As soon as the score has been entered by the chair umpire and announced to players, the clock starts. 

Gayle Bradshaw, executive vice president, rules and competition for the ATP, said the protocol —  when the clock starts — is at the discretion of the chair. 

“If a point leaves fans on their feet and everyone is really excited, the chair umpire will first wait until they have settled down before announcing the score and starting the time clock,” Bradshaw told DownTheTee.

“They were used in qualifications at the U.S. Open last year,” he continued, expecting things to go well this week at Citi Open. “The ATP featured them at last year’s Next Gen finals, too, and they have been used during qualifications at The Australian Open and Roland Garros this year.”

Alexander “Sasha” Zverev lost to eventual Citi Open champion, Gael Monfils, in 2016. If Zverev successfully defends his 2017 title, though, he will become only the fourth player to win back-to-back titles in the tournament’s 50-year history. The others: Andre Agassi, 1990-1991 and 1998-1999. Michael Chang, 1996-1997. Juan Martin del Potro, 2008-2009.
Photo credit Leslie Billman

Alexander “Sasha” Zverev, the number-one seed and defending champion, isn’t too worried about the new rules.  

“I think it’s a good thing they are trying it out before the U.S. Open,” Zverev began. “For me, I’m statistically one of the quicker players on tour. So it probably won’t be as big of a distraction for others but I like the idea. I can tell you more after the first match because, obviously, I haven’t experienced it yet. But I think it’ll be important to listen to different kinds of players and their opinions.”

Kei Nishikori chases a forehand in his win over Leonard Mayer during the 2015 Citi Open. Nishikori went on to win the title. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Kei Nishikori, Citi’s seventh seed, is happy to be back in D.C. He feels healthy, after taking a couple weeks off. He won Citi Open in 2015 and was one semifinalist last year. Yet he is one player who approaches the rule changes with some apprehension.

“It may be tough on me because I usually take a lot time between points, which in summer it’s going to be tough,” he said.  “In Europe it might be okay, but it’s one of the hottest places here. [I’m] not going to have too much time to think where am I going to go with my serve, especially with this heat. It’s going to be tough.” 

His friend and countryman Yosuke Watanuki, who has qualified for his first main draw here at Citi Open, might be better at all this timing protocol. At least he has a better offensive forehand, Nishikori mentioned. 

“[He has] a great forehand, maybe better than me,” Nishikori said, smiling. “He has more speed, good swing speed and spin. Maybe not great defense but offense. He doesn’t look like Japanese forehand; he looks like Spanish. He hits with little spin because usually we hit more flat. It’s similar to Jack [Sock]; he has great topspin forehand.”




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