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Eight Intriguing Questions for 2017
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Covering junior tennis tournaments and reporting on individual matches is the bread and butter of what I do at ZooTennis.com. But every January, the Tennis Recruiting Network encourages me to step back and contemplate some of the structural and procedural changes that surround the always evolving sport of tennis. Here are the eight questions that I look forward to seeing answered in 2017 ... (You can see last year's questions here.)

 

1) Will a serve clock debut in professional tennis?

Serve clocks were used at certain events during the US Open
© ZooTennis
The introduction of a serve clock at the 2016 US Open Junior Championships and the American Collegiate Invitational later that week gave players and chair umpires valuable feedback about what constitutes too much time. Although umpires are always ultimately responsible for enforcing the 20 seconds allowed between points, few warnings are ever given in junior or college matches, with the lack of ballrunners, or even chair umpires themselves, making enforcement difficult. The US Open presented none of those challenges, and with the umpire having discretion on starting the clock, violations were rare. There was nothing to indicate the clock had run out other than the double zeroes, so the impromptu fan countdowns and loud, disruptive buzzers that some feared did not materialize, but few spectators were present and fewer still aware of the experiment. The clock did appear to have a subtle influence on the pace of play however, simply by making players and chair umpires aware of the time they were taking on each and every point. Perhaps that benefit can be transferred to the ITF, ATP and WTA tours, but if even a few top pros find its presence distracting, it's not likely to gain approval at that level.
 

2) Will the new USTA National Indoor Championships prove popular?

After reducing draw sizes and opportunities for national-level play early in the decade, the USTA has gone in the opposite direction in 2017, with draws of 224 players for the 16s and 18s Clay Courts and Nationals. Also new for 2017 are the 64-draw National Indoor tournaments, which will be held Thanksgiving weekend in eight different facilities across the Northeast and Midwest. Given the holiday and an overlap with the Eddie Herr International Championships, it remains to be seen what kind of interest they will attract from the best players from the South and West, but in my experience, gold balls continue to be a powerful incentive for many American juniors.

 

3) What impact will the Next Gen ATP Finals have?

The new competition for 21-and-under players will take place in November in Milan Italy, with seven players chosen by ranking and one wild card. Modeled after the ATP Masters, the event will feature a round-robin format and award more than a million dollars in prize money, but with no ATP ranking points on offer, the decision to compete may have to be balanced against the ATP's own Challenger Tour for those who are outside the Top 100. But for the ATP itself, the real value may be in the tournament's promise of "rule changes and innovations." Can they find a sweet spot there that doesn't alienate current fans yet attracts new ones?

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