Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir on the box: It's a real smash and grab in a new era for tennis

"Fast4 Tennis, high energy, high tempo, some believe this new shortened form of the game can and will change tennis forever," we were told on Sky early on Sunday morning as we tapped into Channel Nine's coverage Down Under.

By Billy Weir

The latest sport to be meddled with in an attempt to fix something that isn't broken is tennis, with a new form of the game making its bow in Australia this week.

"Fast4 Tennis, high energy, high tempo, some believe this new shortened form of the game can and will change tennis forever," we were told on Sky early on Sunday morning as we tapped into Channel Nine's coverage Down Under.

I was excited but that dissipated somewhat as we were then told: "So here we go, what a blast, history in the making, Credit Suisse presents One Night with Federer and Hewitt," before an Aussie version of Jim Rosenthal came out, when given that title we were expecting Michael Bublé.

Thankfully it wasn't, it was a very excited man called Ken Sutcliffe, who promised us a feast, well, a starter, ahead of the Australian Open next week.

"It's like an entrée and for those that aren't converted to the game of tennis, this is going to be a real appetiser for you," he insisted, but some things are hard to swallow and all the while there was a feel of exhibition about this new sporting evolution.

Perhaps the preamble should have read 'Credit Suisse presents vast sums of cash in a Zurich account to a tennis great and some Aussie bloke who, let's face it, isn't as good as his Swiss pal.' But that was a bit wordy for the advertising hoardings.

The 'it's not real' feel wasn't helped with a warm-up legends double match featuring Pat Cash and Henri Leconte against Fabrice Santoro and Mansour Bahrami, which was blown up early because they were taking too long. Thankfully Pat and Henri didn't attempt to try and climb into the crowd afterwards or the casualty levels could have been horrendous.

They weren't sure of the rules and nor was anyone so we got a helpful guide, with the gist being that there are five sets of the first to four games, if it's 3-3 then there's a tie break of first to five and in a game at deuce the advantage rule no longer exists.

And nor does the net when you serve, if the ball clips it and lands in court then you play on and you don't get a wee sit down between changing ends, something that won't go down well with sponsors. Expect a strongly worded letter from Barley Water manufacturers.

If only we had a manual to help us out, or even a dictionary, but Ken had the only one in Australia.

"If you look up Lleyton Hewitt in the dictionary look for the word 'competitor' and you'll see a picture of him and if you want to look up 'class' then you might find that Roger Federer is there and a picture of him too," he said, and "if you look up 'crass money-making scam' then there could well be a picture of Fast4 Tennis," he didn't add.

Okay, now we knew the rules, it was time for the main event, only it wasn't as suddenly another presenter, Yvonne Sampson, introduced two singers murdering two songs before we finally got to meet the men making sporting history.

But first a history lesson. Hewitt was introduced as a 'double Grand Slam champion' before Federer emerged from the smoke in Stars in Your Eyes style to 'he has 83 Grand Slam titles, 1000 matches and 17 Grand Slams.' Advantage Roger.

A wee interview with the pair of very excited and richer men and then we were ready.

Oh, hold on, not so fast, there's another surprise, a cute little boy has dandered onto the court with a racket. No, not Tim Henman, it's Cruz Hewitt, son of Lleyton, and here, out of the blue, to play some shots with Uncle Roger. Sporting history in the making, eh? Hmmm…

And finally, the new shortened version of the game started and indeed it was short, the first game lasting all of a minute as Federer won without dropping a point, thus, it was the same as normal tennis which will only be made better by returning to wooden rackets, making the balls bigger and heavier and making the players less fit, or the Seventies as I like to call it.

But this was revolution not turning back evolution and what do you know, a five-set classic ensued, or I think it did as part of the new era for tennis included a loss of pictures and a blue screen with 'we are experiencing technical difficulties, we apologise for the loss of picture.'

I can't see this catching on, but it continued for the rest of the match, usually at a crucial point, as indeed, we left the action on a set point, had the blue screen, some adverts and then we were in the middle of the next set.

Even at match point we had to watch it through flickering pictures and in the nick of time, Federer came back from the brink of defeat to win his 1001st game and then he disappeared, like Harold Bishop on a beach, and was never seen again on Sky as the blue screen lifted and we were in the USA for the NFL.

So, a new era for tennis is here. Will it last? Yes, while there are banks willing to serve up vast sums of cash, it will last. Just cut out the preamble, music and novelty acts and make it competitive and it might just work, but only if we get to see it.

Belfast Telegraph

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