Dedicated to Pancho Segura (1921-2017),
one of the greatest small men in the history
of tennis. Without him also this innovative essay
would have never been written.



Since the 1980's people have been trying to find a means to diminish the dominating role of the serve in tennis. Probably the most frequently heard propositions are: only one ball per serve, softer/bigger balls or moving the position of the server further back from the baseline. The option of allowing only one ball per service has apparently been mentioned most often. Its greatest disadvantage is that at least on club level it would make the game too stressing and you should try to avoid a solution where top players and amateurs have different rules. The remaining two of the afore-mentioned propositions are rather artificial.

Especially during the last few years another defect has attracted attention. Not much has been said about it and one feels it has actually not been considered a defect. It is the undue benefit the left-handers achieve because of their divergence . Perhaps it has been regarded as some kind of law of nature in tennis which nothing can be done about. So today every fourth or fifth of the world´s top players is a left-hander. The amount of left-handed people is normally around five per cent of the population. Left-handers do get undeniable advantage of the fact that the decisive point of a game may be played in the second service court at the certainty of over 75 per cent. In a way left-handers get their due normal advantage in regular all-court play of the fact that their spins are more alien and thus more difficult for right-handers than vice versa.

Rule change

The dividing line between service courts will be completely abolished. The area will be divided into THREE equally large service courts as opposed to the two of the present-day rules. Respective one-third marks will be made on the baseline. A single service will in practice be executed quite similarly as today, but the server will be standing between the one-third marks and the respective service court will be the one-third court exactly opposite. Accordingly, there will be no deuce or advantage courts in a singles match, the service court will remain the same throughout the match, only one third narrower than previously. The server will naturally be free to choose his serving position between the marks.

The doubles application would analogically be that the server will always serve from between the sideline and the one-third mark, only not diagonally but straight to the opposing service court. It is a matter of taste whether the first service will be executed from the left or right side. Western thinking would prefer the logic of the first service being served from the left - as seen from the server s point of view. In service position the other two players may - for a moment - appear to be bystanders as regards the action on the court and certainly there would be some adjustments in the tactics, but they might be even more complex than the present ones. Anyway, because of the player on guard at the net, a break of serve in doubles is nowadays even harder to achieve than in singles, and that would facilitated.

yards / metres

Things worth noticing

As a point in singles would usually be started nearer the centre and the service court would be one third narrower, this would result in aces naturally becoming more rare at least by half and serving would in general become more difficult. However, this would not entirely be for the benefit of the returner, which is noteworthy. As the ball would more often have to be returned from the ( crosswise ) mid-section of the court and never from so far from the side as now, the narrower return angle would reduce the returner s benefit from the rules change. If it is not the returner who achieves entirely the server s loss of advantage, then who or what gets the remainder? The better all-court player and accordingly we as an audience and tennis devotees get to see a more versatile and action-packed match.

Present rules cause the fact that tennis - at least on the top level - is being played in a slightly peculiar way, also during the all-court phase ( or what remains of it ). Players are in the back-court corners and the ball is being hit cross-court. That is the safest way; after all, the court is broader diagonally than crosswise and of course striking the ball back is less risky than to to turn the stroke along the line. The player who goes for that first, takes the chance of a) totally failing in the stroke or b) having a busy time getting to the other corner and so the opponent can easily strike the ball back along the line behind the back of the initiator. The fact that the match so often gets settled in the corner-play mould clearly originates mostly in the present diagonal serve. Changing the rules in the afore-mentioned way the situation would improve. It is to be expected that even then much of the game will be played cross-court from corner to corner, but be it so, at least then the situation will have arisen from an iniative of one of the players and not predestinated as a starting point, which happens when present rules are being applied.

It is also highly likely that serving into one court only at singles play will make the game much more easier to adopt for a complete tennis ignoramus; the treshold of starting themselves will be lower and it is hardly much more difficult for a beginner to hit at a 4ft6 (137 cm) narrower service court than the present one. As an added bonus it is easier to aim lengthwise - or almost lengthwise - and having to practise serving into one court only.

Top-level tennis has developed to the point where the returner has had to try to invent a serve-like weapon. Not being so much a retriever - as has been so common - the player has become a proper returner in the true sense of the word, not just trying to get the ball back but aiming for a straight point with a risky shot, when at all managing to get the racket behind the ball. The result is that the server has to take more chances and makes a double fault rather than puts the ball safely in play. The absurd effect of the diagonal serve with current equipment is the cause of this vicous circle. Tennis today is so fast that if the returner can get hold of the diagonal serve, the only chance is to try and hit a straight point because of being outside the court when returning. Indeed, the essence of the proposition for the change of the rules is a notable loss in the effect of the cross-court serve and, simultaneously, the left-handers will no longer have their unearned advantage.

It is unlikely that serving into the same service court would make the game less interesting to watch. On the contrary, the serving player would hardly give the returner the good of hitting all the serves from the same spot to the same spot. Even more than now, one could use the entire serving area, which the returner would have to take account of. In addition, the spectators would no longer have to watch the returner s leisurely movements between first and second service courts. This would naturally diminish the amount of dead moments in a match and the rhytm of the game on the whole would be quicker. This is also true on club tennis level. There is much more actual playing during a one-hour practice session and you can certainly feel it.

Worth mentioning is that one might also expect fewer injuries ( ankles, knees, back) as the angle of the first two or three shots will inevitably be narrower. The constant arguments of what is the right surface material would also be of lesser importance, because one would get to grips with fast serves and respective returns more easily. The alteration would probably increase the birth-rate of tennis personalities, as fighters like Jimmy Connors would get a more even chance.

The players to suffer from the rules change would of course be those top players whose game is mostly based on serve and out of them particularly the left-handers who serve their more diagonal diagonal serve into the second service court. They would then have every reason to diversify their game in order to hang on to the prize money. Anyway, there will always be someone who will suffer from reforms. At least it would not be the audience as has been the case in the way tennis has developed lately.


This simple and logical change of rules is also relatively easy to put into practice on today s courts. You do not even have to know the official court dimensions. It will be sufficient to divide the service line into three equal lengths ( 3 yds or 2,74m ) and have two lines parallel to the current centre service line marked. During the transition period no one will surely be bothered, if the old centre line remains between the two one-third lines. You can use it for aiming purposes and in social tennis either rules would be applicable, but competitive matches should be played in the above fashion as soon as possible. It is obvious that the rules of such a huge international game cannot be changed without thorough consideration and due experimentation, but after this change the rules will not have to be tampered with for a hundred years.

When pondering a little and without prejudice, one in fact starts to wonder why diagonal serving was at all taken into use at the dawn of tennis. Maybe it was simply because it was desirable to trample the lawn evenly.

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Markus Kaila & Antti Karttinen
Tampere, Finland