Wimbledon makes a few “enhancements for ’19

It’s one of the enduring myths in tennis that Wimbledon is a throwback, stubborn in its refusal to change.

In actual fact, in ways apparent and more subtle, it’s constantly evolving and improving. It’s just that the tournament does it on its own time, of its own accord, and without making a fuss about it.

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So in the wake of the decision earlier this fall to institute a tiebreak at 12-12 in the deciding set, the All-England Club announced a few more changes for next year.

Even the way they refer to those changes plays it down: they’re calling them “Wimbledon operational enhancements.”

“We are pleased to be making a series of announcements in order to give our competitors, stakeholders and spectators ample time to prepare ahead of next year’s Championships,”  AELTC chief executive Richard Lewis said.

The “enhancements” don’t even make the top of the list.

First up is the announcement of a change in the tournament referee … in 2020.

Wimbledon institutes 12-12 tiebreak

But first up in this space, the starting time on the outer courts will be moved up from 11:30 a.m. to 11 am., to “allow for greater certainty over completion of the order of play.”

Earlier start times on field courts

The starting time will remain at 1 p.m. on the two big stadium courts, which is always a source of questions from fans.

But we were told years ago that there’s a very simple reason for that. With grass being a natural surface, it has challenges that don’t pop up elsewhere. In this case the morning dew. The outer courts are more wide open, and so the grass dries off much more quickly in the morning.

In the semi-enclosed stadiums, it just takes a lot longer. And the drier the grass is, the less slippery it’s going to be. You can see what a difference it makes even when the roof is closed, despite the state-of-the-art air conditioning system.

On the finals days, start time will still be 2 p.m.

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With an 11 a.m. start time, the gates should also be opened a half-hour earlier, at 10 a.m. As well, players scheduled for one of the stadiums who want to practice on the match courts (like Roger Federer, here on Court 4) will have to get on them even earlier.

Women’s qualifying draw expanded

Following in the footsteps of the Australian Open, Wimbledon will expand the women’s qualifying draw to 128 players to match the men’s draw.

The US Open has long had this. The Australian Open announced the expanded draw for 2019. With Wimbledon joining its ranks, the only Grand Slam tournament (so far) to remain at 96 players is Roland Garros. But they may well follow suit.

There’s a price to pay for this, though.

As it is, the qualifying at Roehampton basically needs perfect weather to finish on time. And that can be a challenge. Many years, it doesn’t. 

So the concession made to make this happen is there will no longer be qualifying events for doubles.

enhancements
With the expansion of the Wimbledon women’s qualifying to 128, the qualifying in both men’s and women’s doubles will be history at Wimbledon in 2019. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

That’s really a shame. It was such a great opportunity for additional players who might not otherwise had the chance to earn their way to the All-England Club.

As well, in expanding the women’s singles qualifying, the men must pay the price through no fault of their own.

And there will be no more fun longshot stories, like this one:

Alabama alums make Wimbledon debut

Or this one:

Qualies stories: The Hsieh family

Quad wheelchair events added

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The addition of the quad wheelchair event means Aussie rock star Dylan Alcott will have a shot at a Wimbledon title in 2019.

There was an invitational quad doubles event in 2018. And beginning in 2019, singles and doubles quad events will be added to the regular “Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ ” wheelchair singles and doubles events.

It adds more events to an already packed docket, and more wear and tear to the courts.

The men’s doubles still will be best-of-five sets (as far as we know). The mixed doubles still plays out the third set, as do the junior events.

Wimbledon is going to have to be even luckier with the weather than it was this past year, when a prolonged heat wave meant that play was barely disrupted.

Gerry Armstrong promoted

Longtime Championship referee Andrew Jarrett has given his notice to the tournament, as he plans to retire after next year’s edition.

(The 2018 event, with all of its controversies about schedule and match stoppages and court assignments and … the roof, might well have aged him 10 years).

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Jarrett has been the Championships referee since 2006.

Veteran Gerry Armstrong has already been appointed his successor for 2020. But unlike Jarrett, who held the job 13 years, it will be only for a three-year term.

Jarrett will be there to show Armstrong the ropes and “enable a considerable and important period of handover.”

Armstrong’s officiating career began 46 years ago. His father George also was a chair umpire, notably for the 1975 men’s singles final between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe.

The son was in the chair for 13 Wimbledon finals – including four men’s and four women’s finals before moving “upstairs” as assistant referee in 2007. He’s been the qualifying referee since 2012 and referee for the wheelchair event since 2014.

There are more “enhancements” to come for 2019.

But we’ll have to wait until the annual spring press conference, to be held April 30, 2019.

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