The worst thing about these rests is that they are predictable. The players' rests become the spectator's rests, and though the action may move him up in his chair, after each rest he must be recaptured. Furthermore, the players (especially in the early sets) do not look as though they either need or have earned all that rest. They seem to be constantly pacing themselves.
Pacing oneself is certainly a consideration, but the introduction of sudden death has greatly lessened its importance. Essentially a time-limit rule (a necessity for live television coverage), sudden death will stay in tennis. What will disappear, however, are those five-hour death struggle matches that at the end were decided as much by character as by skill. Too bad these matches had to go. When they occurred tennis became a gallant war. But the thrills of sudden death will do the sport more long-term good than the lost hardship and, besides, the hardship is not irretrievable. I suggest it be reintroduced by giving the players less rest and in a less monotonous form. I suggest a quota of time-outs for each player.
Time-outs are dramatically superior to periodic rests because they deprive the spectator of an automatic signal to relax. Incorporated into the action, the time-out almost becomes a part of it. Also, when a player calls for time the fan knows he needs it. After all, he's diminishing his quota. But still he calls time. He's saying "HELP!"
I visualize the action of a time-out as follows: a player could call time only at the end of a game. When the umpire grants time the players go not to the same area as they now do, but to opposite corners of the barriers. They cannot go beyond the barriers. Instead, a stool, not a chair (yes, like a boxer), is lifted over the barriers by the player's designated "second" or, if he's a loner, by a ball boy. And if golfers consult their caddies why shouldn't tennis players consult their seconds? This powwow is stage trickery, of course. It lends importance to the action; fans will argue what it's about. Moving the players to opposite corners keeps them from getting chummy during the truce. We keep them isolated but within the combat area.
The ideal quota of time-outs would have to be found experimentally. My own guess is that each player's quota should be as follows.
First set: none
Second set: one one-minute time-out
Third set: one 90-second time-out
Fourth set: one two-minute time-out
Fifth set: two two-minute time-outs.
Also, there should be an automatic one-minute time-out after each set. Under present rules when a set ends no pause is taken. This is dramatically weak. Some punctuation should signal the end of that important episode.
The time-outs above are a guess, but the total rest time should be much less than is now given (to compensate for sudden death), and one time-out a set per player is better than two shorter ones because longer sustained play will result. Also for indoor matches, where a hot sun is no factor, the players' time-outs (but not those between sets) could be shortened. And why not also, for indoor matches, keep the players on the same side of the court for an entire set? In the fifth, or deciding, set courts could be changed when one player reaches three games. This keeps the action concentrated.
As for sudden death, it is clearly disastrous to change courts after the fourth point, just when the tension should be kept unbroken. Far better to decide the issue by a prematch toss, the winner getting the choice of side or serve for the first sudden death, the loser getting the option for the second. Only in the fifth set should a change of sides be made in sudden death—and only then if each player has had the same number of side-or-serve options. And in all sudden deaths, if a ninth point is played, the server should be allowed one serve only.
So far, you have seen only my bold side. I have a shy side, too. For instance, one day during the Open I told my old friend Jack Kramer that some loony notions on tennis were in my head and that before I made a fool of myself by putting them into print I wanted his opinion. I had guessed that Kramer would laugh when I explained my ideas. He didn't. In fact, when I proposed my unique solution to the still-debated serve issues (one serve or two) Kramer shut his eyes, went into a think and said finally, "It would be worth trying. You'd have to find the right distance." What I am saying here, of course, is that if Jack Kramer, an alltime tennis great, listened without laughing, perhaps my notions may not be mad after all.