Table tennis scoring was tried out for the first time at the World Professional Tennis tournament. From Cleveland SI's Bill Talbert submits a report—and a critique.
The game of tennis, which has undergone few radical changes since it was born "le jeu de paume" in France seven centuries ago, got a modern face-lifting last weekend.
The POC World Professional Championships were played under a different scoring system patterned after that of table tennis. There were no "deuces," "advantages" and "love-forties," which frequently confuse the uninitiated. The idea was started by Tournament Director Jack March.
JUST ONE SERVE
Points were counted in simplest arithmetic—1, 2, 3, 4 etc. The first player winning 21 got the game—unless the score became knotted at 20-20. Then it takes a two-point advantage to win. There were no sets, just games. The best three-out-of-five won the match.
I was among those at the Cleveland Arena to watch Pancho Gonzales, the big, swarthy Californian, retain his title by beating Pancho Segura 21-16, 19-21, 21-8, 20-22, 21-19.
In this new system each player, as in table tennis, serves five times and then passes the service to his opponent for the next five deliveries, and so on. But the server gets only one shot instead of two, and lets are played. If he misses that one shot, he loses the point.
This is my principal objection. The single service eliminates the "big game" in tennis—the bold serve-volley attack—and reduces the match mainly to a battle of baseline strategy.
I noticed that Gonzales, who has the best service in tennis and one of the best of all time, never once risked cutting loose with his flat "cannon ball." He relied entirely on his spin service, which under normal conditions he would use after missing the first. As a result, through the entire five games Gonzales didn't have a single service ace—unbelievable in his case.
There was another instance pointing up the impracticability of the one-shot service. In the final game, Segura, behind 13-20, rallied to cut the gap to 19-20. Then on game and match point he served a fault. The new scoring system would have more merit if two services were allowed. I understand this may be tried next year.
But the pace of this new game is terrific. Players hold their sides of the court for the full 21-point game instead of swapping frequently as under the regular system. There is no "toweling off," no chance to relax momentarily. Both Gonzales and Segura, I found, were winded at the end of the match.
Points go quickly—almost too quickly. There is no chance to "toy around" on the court. The game may be gone before you know it.
I timed the match in order to compare it with a match played under regular conditions. This is my chart:
Gonzales 21-16, 10 minutes.
Segura 21-19, nine minutes.
Gonzales 21-8, seven minutes.
Segura 22-20, 10 minutes.
Gonzales 21-19, 11 minutes.
That's a total of 47 minutes for the five-game match, which went the limit. A straight-set average tennis match would go an hour and a half. A five-set match lasts up to three hours.
The new system is a great equalizer and would be particularly beneficial to strong back-court players with good ground strokes, such as Hamilton Richardson and Ken Rosewall. It would work to the detriment of serve-volley specialists such as Vic Seixas.
Gonzales, an exponent of the "big game," came through because he is the world's best active player. It would take more than a scorecard to beat him.
I am opposed to any new formula which takes the attack out of tennis, as this plan obviously does, but there's one thing I like about it: it gets the word "love" out of the game.
With love lost, boys will no longer be ashamed to be caught carrying a racket down to the park courts.