Relaxation of rules will benefit volatile players

Tennis chiefs are to be more lenient with volatile players in an attempt to make the game more entertaining for spectators. Following discussions with the ATP Tour, WTA Tour and Grand Slam organisers, the ITF has abolished its "three strikes and out" policy whereby players could be disqualified from a match for three indiscretions such as racquet-throwing or swearing.

Tennis chiefs are to be more lenient with volatile players in an attempt to make the game more entertaining for spectators. Following discussions with the ATP Tour, WTA Tour and Grand Slam organisers, the ITF has abolished its "three strikes and out" policy whereby players could be disqualified from a match for three indiscretions such as racquet-throwing or swearing.

The ITF will now experiment with a system where a third minor offence will now see the offending player forfeit a game with the first offence bringing a verbal warning and the second a point penalty. "We want to avoid a player being disqualified from a Wimbledon semi-final for just a quick "one-two-three" series of offences," said ITF executive director Bill Babcock.

"In my experience, player behaviour has improved over the past 10 years. However players may now feel more free to express themselves in the future under our new rules. Of course we don't want players going out on court and shouting obscenities but maybe they feel a little restricted in what they say at present."

However, following three warnings - and in the case of a 'flagrant Code Violation' - the official reserves the right to disqualify.

A further change to be made will be the introduction of a two minute break at the end of every set. This replaces the 90 second break which is currently taken at the change-over after the first game of each set. "It will help commercially and it will also give a shape to the match. Spectators normally like to let off some steam and talk between sets and this change will allow them to do so."

The change also means three consecutive games will be played at the start of a set if only one game was played following the final rest period in the previous set.

The experimental rule changes will apply to Grand Slam tournaments, Davis Cup and Federation Cup matches, as well as in all ATP and WTA tournaments beginning on January 1 2000.

The ITF Annual General Meeting in June 2000 will decide if the rule changes are to become permanent.

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