INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal continues his assault on the ATP’s new enforcement of the amount of time players are allowed to take between points, calling it “a disaster.”
The ATP approved the new policy in November with an eye toward speeding up the game and providing more uniformity in the rule’s traditionally haphazard enforcement. The new rule relaxed the penalty for repeated violations in order to encourage umpires to crack down. Umpires now have the ability to warn a player if he takes more than 25 seconds between points and then issue a “fault” penalty for any subsequent violations.
Nadal, a notoriously slow player who can take in excess of 30 seconds between points, played noticeably quicker during his second-round win over Ryan Harrison at the BNP Paribas Open, where the conditions were dry and and cool at night. That doesn’t mean Nadal is happy about the change, which he called “a disaster” in more humid conditions where rallies are more taxing and players need time to wipe their sweat between points.
“I am [playing faster] because somebody very smart puts a new rule that is a disaster, in my opinion,” Nadal told reporters. “Not in places like here that is dry, not very humid place, but is completely disaster when we are playing in tournaments like Acapulco, Brazil or Chile.”
Nadal’s main gripe is that the shorter recovery time will mean an end to the long, grueling rallies that have been the hallmark of his career and entertain the fans. Nadal says he went back to watch tape of some of his most memorable performances at the Slams and the points that whipped the crowd into a frenzy and litter the highlight reels to this day were 30-plus-shot rallies that required him and his opponent to take 30-40 seconds to recover.
“The rules go against the great points of tennis,” he said. “Because if you see the highlights of the end of the season, I didn’t see not one highlight, the best points of the season, I did not see not one ace. The best points of the season are long rallies and amazing points. With this 25 seconds, you play a long rally and you think you can play another long rally next point? No. So go against the good tennis.
“The guy who really accepted this rule was not very smart, in my opinion.”
Nadal added: “You have to see the third set of the U.S. Open 2011 against [Novak] Djokovic, and you tell me if the crowd was very happy about what happened in that set or not, and tell me if with this new rule that can happen again.”
Those sorts of points may still be a common occurrence at the Slams, however, as the ATP’s new enforcement policy only applies to ATP tournaments. The ITF’s shorter but more relaxed 20-second rule, which remains unchanged, applies at the Slams and has traditionally been applied with more umpire discretion. So if Nadal needs the time to recover from a crowd-charging rally at the French Open in May, he’ll probably get it.
Nadal also hit back against claims that his repeated call for fewer hard-court tournaments stemmed from his own self-interest in protecting his body and encouraging more tournaments on his beloved clay.
“Anything that I will say is not going to affect my career,” Nadal said. “That’s not going to change during the years that I will be playing, no? I think it’s more medical things than players think. Hard courts are aggressive for the body.”
This isn’t about him, he says. It’s about the future of tennis and his desire to see the ATP put the health of the players first and protect them from the career-threatening effects of playing too much on hard courts.
“If the next generations want to have longer careers and want to finish careers with better conditions physically, that’s my humble opinion,” Nadal said. “ATP have to find a solution and not continue playing more and more tournaments on this surface that is the harder one for the joints and for the knees, for the foot, for the ankles, for the back, for everything.
“If the volume of the tournaments on hard are more than in the rest of the surfaces, it is normal the top players are specialists on hard courts. So they are not going to go against the hard court. That’s why I say it’s not another player’s thing, it’s a medical thing. Somebody has to think not for today.
“I repeat: I’m not talking about my career. My career is done. We’re going to finish my career playing on the same or more tournaments on hard, because that’s the dynamic. But my opinion is for the next generations that something has to change.”