Shot clock among handful of rule changes to debut at Australian Open

The ITF has approved the use of a shot-clock at the first Major of the year, the Australian Open, in January 2018

federer
Roger Federer in action at the US Open 2017 Photo: Marianne Bevis

After trials in last year’s US Open qualification and junior rounds and at the debut playing of the ATP NextGen Finals in Milan earlier this month, the ITF has approved the use of a shot-clock at the first Major of the year, the Australian Open, in January.

As part of the agreement to introduce the clock, the ITF has also waived the 20-second-rule allowed between points to bring it in line with the ATP/WTA limits of 25 seconds.

Umpires will also strictly enforce time limits at the start of matches. Players will be allowed one minute between walking on court and the meeting at the net for the coin toss, then a five-minute warm-up, followed by just one minute to be ready to start play. Violation of these timings may be punished by a fine of up to $20,000.

Additional changes approved by the Grand Slam Board for the start of the 2018 season are:

• Any main draw singles player who is unfit to play and who withdraws on-site after 12 noon on the Thursday before the start of the main draw will now receive 50 percent of the first-round prize money. The replacement Lucky Loser will receive the remaining 50 percent plus any additional prize money earned thereafter.

• Any player who competes in the first-round singles main draw and retires or performs below professional standards, may now be subject to a fine up to the equivalent of the first-round prize money.

• While the 2018 Grand Slam tournaments will continue with 32 seeds in singles, they may revert to 16 seeds from in 2019.

This last proposal reverses the decision in 2001 to move from 16 seeds to 32, and so 2019 could be the first time since then that the draw does not contain 32 seeds among the total of 128 players.

Currently, the top 32 players cannot meet a higher ranked player before the third round: With the change, any player ranked below 16 could meet the highest in the draw from the first round.

This year in Australia, Roger Federer was in exactly that position, ranked No17, after missing most of the previous season following knee surgery, and had to beat four top-10 players to win the title. The No17 in 2019 could face the top seed in the first round.

The rule change addressing first-round retirements was surely hastened by this year’s Wimbledon, and notably by the two consecutive curtailed matches against Federer and Novak Djokovic, when their opponents, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Martin Klizan, retired just a couple of games into the second set.

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