We live in a fast world. We love fast cars, fast food and fast internet. In recent years, even sport fans are demanding to have their sport faster.
Rugby 7s, the abridged version of union has grown in popularity and will debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rugby League has launched its annual 9-a-side tournament to huge crowds while Twenty20 cricket continues to become one of the world’s most popular sports.
The latest sport to get this “short and fast” treatment is tennis with its new “Fast4” format. It’s no secret that tennis matches can be long affairs. In 2010, American John Isner defeated Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in a match that lasted over 11 hours and spanned three days in the first round at Wimbledon. In fact, Grand Slam matches will regularly last from four to five hours.
Fast4 tennis uses experimental rules to try and reduce the amount of time required for a match and to generate more action, with four points, four games and four rules lending themselves to the Fast4 name.
Unlike traditional tennis, there is no advantage scoring as the first player to win four points wins the game. If the game gets to deuce (three points each), the next point wins. This rule is designed to avoid lengthy “advantage” duals that can draw out a match. Players are also allowed to nominate one ‘Power Play’ each set, by holding up the ball and announcing “Power Play” before service. The winner of the Power Play receives two points.
Similarly, a player wins the set when they are the first to win four games. This means a nine-point tie-breaker is played when the score is three games all to speed up gameplay.
Another unique rule of Fast4 is the removal of lets. Normally, if the ball clips the net during an otherwise regulation serve, the server is ordered to serve again. But in Fast4, there’s no time for replays. It’s play on!
However, the rules of Fast4 aren’t just designed to make play faster and more exciting; they are also designed to make the game easier for newbies to pick up. Instead of the traditional 15-30-40 scoring system, which can be confusing for first-timers to understand, games are scored 1-2-3 with the first to four winning the game.
Tennis fans got their first taste of professional Fast4 in 2015, when Lleyton Hewitt played an exhibition match against Roger Federer in Sydney, before the Australian Open.
Many players and officials believe Fast4 could be used to try new league-style professional tennis competitions, much like the Big Bash League in Australian Cricket, particularly as the Fast4 concept is even more exciting when played as teams.
Although the Fast4 concept draws criticism from the sport’s purists, it is hoped that this new style of play will bring in more players and fans and will help to grow the sport for years to come.