I write this blog because I enjoy tennis and because I enjoy writing. I could not choose between these two loves - my passion for both is equal. Honestly, I think I enjoy writing about tennis just as much as I enjoy playing and watching this sport. It consumes me.
I do not write this blog with any idea that my suggestions for change would come to fruition. When last year I gave myself the assignment of suggesting the top ten changes I would like to see in tennis, it wasn’t with any assumption that any of my ideas would see the light of day. They were merely honest opinions that the blog gave me an avenue to express. I’m sure some of my friends appreciated not having to listen to my diatribes.
So you can imagine my pleasant surprise upon reading the announcement that there will be new medical rules implemented in tennis. I can only hope that the new rules will help to restore some of the honor to the legacy of Shuzo Matsuoka, the Japanese player whose painful cramping introduced changes that have turned into a massive debacle.
Back when players like Shuzo Matsuoka (on left in photo, with Date Krumm and Gael Monfils) were on the tour, cramping was regarded as a loss of condition, preventable if players attended properly to their fitness and remained well-hydrated. But after witnessing the Japanese player writhing painfully for minutes on the court, the ITF changed the rules to introduce the option of receiving medical treatment. And this rule might still be in place if players did not start abusing it.
It’s gotten so that you can sometimes have a hard time telling who’s really hurting and who is pretending to hurt. It’s unfair to pick on them because they are not the only ones, but certainly both Del Potro and Almagro are among the players who have been accused by many of playing unfairly. Almagro famously took a medical time out for leg cramping just before serving to win his second-round 2009 US Open match against Robby Ginepri. Even some Djokovic fans fret about the frequency of his time-outs and retirements. I’m not alleging that any of these players are dishonest; I’m just saying that I am looking forward to their expectedly improved physical fitness.
Even among the women, it’s sad the extent to which the conduct of some have left even their fans dumb-struck. Suspiciously-timed requests for medical assistance have become a form of gamesmanship, attempts to throw their opponents off their rhythm and win at any cost. It behooved the ITF to come up with a solution. And so it has.
Effective January 1st, 2010, the ITF has introduced some new tennis rules that will hopefully cut down on what has become little more than an avenue for dishonorable cheating. For a start, players can no longer request medical time-outs for cramping. A treating professional must first determine that the player is cramping (the player’s word is no longer good enough), and he or she can then be treated during a limited number of changeovers or set breaks. But the business of getting a three-minute medical time out just for muscle cramping is over. Can I hear Amen?
Players can of course be treated for illness other than cramping, such as ankle or knee sprains, bleeding, or illnesses related to heat (such as dizziness, nausea, and vomiting). But any player who claims to be ill and who turns out to only be cramping will be ordered to resume play immediately or risk forfeiting game or tie-break points. That alone will make some of the cheaters think twice, yes?
Already the new rules have been implemented. During the Hopman Cup, Victor Hanescu started cramping in his match against Hewitt. Apparently Hanescu has not been keeping up with the rules of his sport because he expected to receive a medical time-out. He even committed a Hingis, throwing in an unexpected underhand serve which thankfully missed the service line. Hewitt showed him no mercy in his criticism during a post-match interview, noting that it is unfair to those players who do not take short cuts but put in the hard work of preparation. I completely agree with Hewitt.
The ATP has said that the new rule “strikes a compromise between the rule that has just been replaced and the old rule that didn't allow treatment of any kind.” I say that the honor of Shuzo Matsuoka has finally been restored.