I have no idea if it’s becoming a trend, but it looks like some sports are looking for ways to become shorter, more powerful and more spectacular. Rugby hasn’t been an Olympic sport since the 1924 Olympics but it’s shorter version – Rugby Sevens, with only 7 players in stead of 15 – will be on the programme of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Also, almost five years ago, ‘Power snooker’ was introduced to the world. A more spectacular version of snooker, including a shotclock: you only have 20 seconds to play your next ball. The game also included ‘power balls’, ‘power zones’ and ‘power plays’. Belgians might remember the game between Luca Brecel en Ronnie O’Sullivan that was broadcast on tv.
This year, it’s tennis’s turn to launch a quicker version. In the built-up to the Australian Open (starting next Monday), ‘Fast4 Tennis’ is being introduced to the world with some events in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. A quicker, more competitive version of tennis. The basics remain the same, but there are four new rules.
- If the serve clips the tape and lands in the service box, there’s no let, it’s game on. What’s more, if you’re playing doubles either the receiver or their partner can take the return.
- As soon as a game gets to deuce it’s a Power Point. The receiver chooses which side will take the serve. This applies to doubles too with the receiving pair deciding who returns the point.
- At 3 games all a short tie-break is played, first to 5 points. A Power Point determines the winner at 4 points all.
- First to four games, wins. Hence the name FAST4. It doesn’t matter how you get there, just make sure you get to four before the competition does. No advantage games.
Shorter sets, shorter tie-breaks and no “loss of time” by stuff like an advantage point at deuce or having to retake the service in case of a let ball.
Last Monday, this “new” sport was launched in Sydney in a quite spectacular way. Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer played some litterally fast tennis in Sydney’s famous harbour. First while standing on a speedboat, afterwards by hitting some balls on a temporary court with the Harbour Bridge as background. It was obvious that a spectacular sport was being introduced!
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) January 12, 2015
That evening, the Aussie legend and the best tennis player ever (as many believe) competed in the first game of Fast4 Tennis ever. ‘One night with Federer & Hewitt’ was an exhibition game in the Qantas Credit Union Arena and was broadcast live on tv. Federer won the game in five sets: 4-3 (5-3), 2-4, 3-4 (3-5), 4-0 and 4-2. Five sets of entertainment, for a total game time of only around one and a half hours.
Two days later it was Rafael Nadal’s turn to get to the stage at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne. Again live on tv, he first took on Mark Philippousis (for the first time back on court in more than ten years), then young Australian talent Omar Jasika and then his compatriot Fernando Verdasco. Three games that Nadal managed to win. The first two were warm-ups: just one set of play, each time won by the Spaniard with four games to one.
Nadal-Verdasco was the highlight of the evening. In 2009 they had played a legendary five sets semi final at the Australian Open, worth of more than five hours of tennis. On Wednesday they played their first Fast4 Tennismatch and again it was a fivesetter. Yet this time, it only lasted one and a half hours.. Nadal won the game with 2-4, 4-3 (5-4), 4-3 (5-4), 3-4 (4-5) and 4-2.
From Tuesday to Thursday, Fast4 Tennis was launched in Adelaide by some other tennis legends. John McEnroe, Lleyton Hewitt, Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Chang and Marcos Baghdatis took part in the ‘World Tennis Challenge’. Some single games, some double games, yet each time ‘best of 3’ games, so with a maximum of three sets to be played.
For now, it’s all just exhibition games. Nice little warm-ups in the built-up to the Australian Open. A fun way to promote tennis and trigger ticket sales while the audiences love to be entertained by the comedy on the pitch. Nadal’s flashy clothing, Hewitt’s son hitting some balls or Verdasco asking for a hawk-eye (even if the ball was clearly in) just to get some more time to recover from a long rallye, the crowd loves those kinds of things.
If Fast4 Tennis really will be a thing, that’s for the future to tell us, but considering the media coverage, the number of people showing up to the games and the many tweets about it, I don’t think these first games will be the last ones. I’m expecting some more Fast4 Tennis here in Australia in the beginning of next year, that’s for sure!
This article was written on behalf of and published (in Dutch) on Belgian sports website SportNext.be.