Well, I suppose it was bound to happen. Tennis is the latest sport to diversify into a short version of itself in pursuit of popular appeal and further commercial success – see here in Paul Newman’s article today on the website of THE INDEPENDENT
When you think about it, developments like this are unsurprising and inevitable.
It’s a potential reductio ad absurdum to point this out, but when most of the sports, games and pastimes that are worth playing were invented – or at least, first reduced into sets of fixed rules and then properly administered – by the British in the 19th Century, the world was a very different place.
There were books, newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, letters, diaries and postcards to be sure – but no media, commercialism in sport, marketing or sponsorship to speak of.
In those days such diversions as games, sporting and athletic contests as existed were largely originated by people of leisure or who had free time on their hands after work. The ancient ‘deck of cards’ gave rise to an explosion of games, sometimes just parlour entertainments devised to amuse in the home, sometimes associated with gambling.
In the grip of supposed ‘Victorian values’ – thrift, hard work, honour before glory, Muscular Christianity and the ‘purity’ of not taking contests over-seriously – the sporting cult of the ‘glorious’ amateur underpinned much of the administrators’ thinking and practical application. This occurred despite the fact that people had run races for money since time immemorial and that it was self-evident from human nature that both participants and spectators found great motivation and appeal in sporting contests that ‘mattered’ – whether that was just in terms of local bragging rights or in the award of trophies to the winners.
Whether you’re considering billiards, snooker, cricket, tennis, football, rugby, hockey or basketball … to list but a few of an infinite number … there were some decidedly whacky rules, principles and traditions injected into sporting pastimes over the years.
For example, when Major Walter Clapton Windfield devised his game Sphairistike in 1874 – a few years later to become ‘lawn tennis’ – as a form of family garden party contest he cannot possibly have imagined what the sport of Wimbledon, highly-successful men’s and women’s professional tours and stella amounts of money was to become.
The key issue is that if any our major world sports were being invented for the first time today few, if any, would ‘begin from here’.
That’s why, over time, rugby invented rugby sevens … cricket devised the concept of one day matches and now 20/20 … and tennis did such stuff as introduce the tie-breaker.
Now tennis is developing a ‘short form’ of the game. The only thing we should be surprised about is that it has taken this long.
Modern sport is dominated by commercialism, greed, power and money. For all of these, the consumer is king – end of message. In a world that is awash with technology and a 24/7 lifestyle and limitless numbers of television channels, internet sites and social media, every sport has had to work like crazy to attract and retain the fans’ attention. And these days attention spans are shorter than ever, so inevitably sport is now presented via a never-ending quest to press the buttons that give a greater, more-rounded, consumer experience … cue spectacular live television coverage, massive merchandising opportunities and constant efforts to expand the ‘all-round experience’ of following a particular sport, athlete or team.
Bite-sized chunks of a sporting contest that can ordinarily take – allowing for both genders’ versions of the game – anything between 45 minutes and 5 hours to complete is an obvious way to go.
If ‘short-form’ tennis allows spectators to watch the equivalent of a one day cricket match – for example, an entire knockout tournament of three-set matches featuring say 8 top elite players from start to finish in six hours or less – my hunch is that you’d potentially have a sure-fire hit on your hands.
The whole thing would begin and end in a day. The strains on the players would be far less – it would be akin to professional boxers (used to 12-round contests) fighting over just three. They’d have periods of ‘down time’ between matches. Arguably, a winner playing a short-form tennis quarter-final, semi-final and then final would be playing no more than the equivalent of a single normal full-length match.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think – what counts is whether the tennis-following public (and maybe some newbies too) would go for it. I suspect they would, so I say ‘Bring it on!” … (with my fingers crossed) …