Just before the first serves are struck in Noumea and beyond, here are five things that might be worth keeping an eye on in 2013 in the tennis nether regions.
1) US Open Wars
The Australian Open has made a significant play in the fight over players getting more from the Slams, with early exit money going up by 30% at least. While that seems to have been welcome and there are commitments to further hikes from Tournament Director Craig Tiley, there is much less happiness with the US Open and USTA.
The ATP statement on the issue demanded more talks on money, and expressed its opposition to the Monday final for the men.
At the moment it looks the event most in danger from genuine player militancy and the story has plenty of time to gather pace.
2) Let us Pray
The Challenger Tour is the lucky pilot of a new scheme to abolish the let serve, which will be tried for the opening three months of the season under an initiative by the previously mysterious ATP Competition Committee.
When the idea was announced it was in the hope it would improve the “flow of the game”. It leaves players in the slightly awkward situation that on some days they will play Challengers and the rule is in force, then they can head off to Australian Open qualifiers with the rule back in play.
Lets are fairly infrequent to begin with and the change would appear to allow luck to play a greater part in a contest where skill and the sundry psychological warfare of the game should count for more.
3) Time Gentlemen, Please
An attempt has been made to actually get the 25 second rule between points enforced by weakening it. Do it once and it’s now a warning. Do it twice and the server now gets a fault, the receiver a point penalty. Can we expect umpires to enforce this rule properly, especially with certain star names after long points in Slam finals? (Hint: Author does not regard 2012 Australian Open final as a “classic”.)
Hopefully the rule will be enforced, at all levels, it will make the trend for eternal long rallies more difficult to sustain, and Michael Chang can feel cooler about the use of underarm serves. The odds would seem very much against. if you want to innovate, a shot clock might be more fun than messing around with let serves.
4) Challenger Tour well being
The main ATP Tour has remained relatively stable over the past couple of years, with the odd change here and there (the return of Kitzbuhel, the move of Los Angeles to Bogota and so on) but the early Challenger calendar for 2013 looks a little on the thin side, to put it mildly.
In 2012 there were 30 tournaments over the first quarter of the year. So far 2013 has 21 different events lined up for the same period. A significant prize boost for the season opener in Sao Paulo and a new €106,500 event in Dornbirn in Austria don’t really compensate for the sheer amount of opportunities lost for players who’s travel expenses really count.
5) ATP Tour First time winners
One sign that experience is counting for more is the number of first time winners on the ATP Tour.. In 2012, there was only one new name on the roll of honour, the St.Petersburg Open champion Martin Klizan – and he survived a semi-final which lasted nearly four hours to get there.
The level of first time winners will be one barometer to measure the upcoming talent and see if there are new names, faces and stories for the top 20.