Breaking down the Ultimate Tennis Showdown’s crazy new rules

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 19: Serena Williams of the United States speaks with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou during day two of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 19: Serena Williams of the United States speaks with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou during day two of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images) /

Patrick Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown has officially released its rules for the event. We take a look and determine if they’ll be a good fit for tennis in the future.

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown is the sport’s groundbreaking event set to change the way players and fans look at tennis as a whole. Patrick Mouratoglou’s new tournament has a slew of rules that are his way of changing the game from what it is now to a “new way to showcase tennis”.

To break down each new rule, we’ll look at it a few different ways:

  1. How it differs from the current rule in place
  2. If it makes sense to change based on Mouratoglou’s vision

The final question:

  1. Could these rules make its way into sanctioned tournaments?

Rule #1: Matches are played in 4 quarters of 10 minutes each

The first big change in the UTS is the overall format of match play. Instead of playing in best-of-5 or best-of-3 format, Mouratoglou has instigated a four-quarter system with each quarter taking ten minutes. He’s expressed his desire to speed up the game of tennis, saying recently: “I think the format of tennis is too long. There is too much downtime with not enough happening…”.

This is, of course, vastly different from what is in place now in tennis. The vision here is to speed up the game of tennis, and with matches taking upwards of 4 or 5 hours for men through 5 sets, a 40-minute match certainly speeds up the pace of play.

Rule #2: Players serve twice alternatively. The player with the most points won at the end of the quarter wins the quarter.

Playing into the quarter format, Mouratoglou has used the points system to determine the winner of the match. Here, players will serve twice alternatively (the same format used for 7-point tiebreaks). The players with the most points at the end of the quarter wins the quarter.

It’s a good format in terms of speeding up the pace of play. It also allows players to fight for every point because, in this scenario, every point counts. The biggest factor here is if the serve clock of 25 seconds will still be used in this format. If it isn’t, the leading player can waste time on their serve in order to preserve the lead. It’s likely that the serve clock will still be used so that helps the pace of play to remain high and players to have to fight for every point and not preserve their leads.

Rule #3: If the clock runs out in the middle of the point, the point continues on. If the quarter ends in a tie, a tiebreaker point will be played.

Using the proposed system, ties are bound to happen. It’s unlikely but it still will happen at least a few times throughout the entirety of the tournament. In this scenario, players (if tied) will play one point to decide the winner of the quarter.

Mouratoglou referenced his desire to have the fans play a larger role in the game of tennis, and having the tiebreaker point is a small starting point. Adding onto the quarter system, having a single point deciding a quarter will be one of the tensest and most electric moments of the tournament. Imagine a scenario where a player is up two quarters to one and a single point decides whether the match ends or goes to a decider (we’ll discuss that later). It’ll be an incredible atmosphere.

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Rule #4: If a player wins the first three sets, the fourth set is still played for set average purposes.

This is the one rule that, for fans and players, won’t be very well received. For losing players, it wouldn’t be particularly enjoyable to play more tennis after you’ve already loss, whether it’s a full set or just 10 minutes. For the fans, it’s the same. If this is instigated into regularly-sanctioned tournaments, it won’t be at all enjoyable for fans watching matches that have already been decided, especially if it’s only for “average purposes”.

Rules #5 and #6: The Sudden Death Rules

The most exciting new implementations into Mouratoglou’s rules is the Sudden Death protocol. Here’s how the sudden death works:

If the players have tied with two sets apiece, the players go into sudden death.

The player who’s total of points through the four quarters is higher gets to decide whether they’d like to serve/receive. Alternatively, the player can decide the side they’d like to play on.

Players serve once alternatively (7-point tiebreaker format), and the first player to win two points in a row wins the match.

This is the crowning achievement of Mouratoglou’s new UTS rules. On one side of the coin, it’s only a few points. On the other side, however, it’s a perfect way to maximize tension and excitement, and bring a newfound level of pressure to the players. They play the best under the highest level of pressure; some of tennis’ best ever points will come as a result of these new sudden death rules.

The big question: Will these rules ever make its way into sanctioned tennis?

There are a lot of factors in this. Tennis, like many sports, has endured rule changes throughout its long history. 10 short years ago was the end of the carpet courts on the ATP Tour, a major fixture of tennis in the 20th century. Only a few years ago was a time where major tournaments didn’t have 5th-set tiebreaks, instead opting for a continuation of the 5th set until a player wins two straight games.

It will take time to be instigated at the top level of tennis, but given that many fans, especially the younger generation, feel that tennis is too slow, these new rules should be in contention to start at the Challenger Tour or the ATP 250 levels.

Tennis is largely a far cry from other sports in terms of fan interaction. The new rules will bring fans and players closer together with the faster format and tense points, especially in the sudden death format.

The atmosphere is a key part of why events like the US Open are as successful as they are. New York is the single greatest tennis atmosphere in the world for both fans and players. Players rave about how much they love the role that fans play into the event. It allows for more fans to get interested in tennis because of how much fun it is to attend tournaments.

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The success of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown will be key in deciding whether or not the rules will be carried into regularly-sanctioned events. If so, it could start to make its way into lower-level events and possibly even in major tournaments in a few years’ time.