While we enjoy a golden generation of tennis players at the top of the world game, and Andy Murray leads the charge for British tennis, there is a worrying decline in the popularity of tennis at grassroots level. Earlier this week the chair of the All-Party Tennis Group went so far as to call the Lawn Tennis Association "useless". So it's perfect timing to introduce a new idea to shake up tennis for all ages and abilities.
For years, golf has sensibly had a handicap system which provides a level playing field for competitors of all abilities. It's a system where fathers can play children, husbands can play wives and friends of all standards can play together and have an enjoyable, competitive day out.
For some bizarre reason tennis has never had a handicap system, which means that wives can't play with husbands if they are better than them, kids can't play with fathers if they are better than them and friends can't play with friends if they are better than them.
So a year ago we started introducing a handicap system on Necker Island, which has resulted in players of varying standards having really exciting sets of tennis with both people playing to the best of their abilities.
Our Virgin Active tennis clubs have picked up on it and are now having tennis tournaments using what they call Richards Rules. I would highly recommend that it becomes a global system in the same way as golf's handicap system.
It will result in many more people playing tennis than do today. As the number of new players seems to be decreasing, in my opinion this is the best way to encourage an increase at grassroots level.
Weve set out the rules below: weve kept them as simple as possible. Why not give it a try? Or head down to a Virgin Active tennis club and ask them how to get involved. We'd love to hear your feedback on how to improve and perfect the system.
We tried the system out very successfully at the recent Necker Cup - more on that soon. Tennis should be fun for all, not just those who are lucky enough to excel at the sport. This handicap system could help make that a reality.
Tennis Handicap Principles
Through a handicap Credit system it will allow two players (or Doubles pair) of differing standards to play and have a reasonably close game despite the difference in their tennis standard;
The handicap system is not designed to allow the best player/pair to play the worst player/pair, more for people within a reasonably similar cohort to challenge each other (i.e. Level 1 player to play against a Level 2 or 3 player) and have a close contest; and
Handicaps should be simple to administer and easy to understand.
How the Handicap Works
A stronger player (Level 1 Strongest, Level 6 - Weakest) will owe a weaker player a number of Credits. These Credits can be used as a Currency to buy different handicapping options during a set. The Credit exchange options include the following:
Points At any time, 1 Credit can be exchanged for 1 point (Multiple credits can be used at once to acquire more than one point in a row if desired i.e. 4 credits could be used to win a game instantaneously);
Serve At any time, 4 Credits can be exchanged in return for the stronger player being reduced to 1 Serve; and
Court Area At any time during the set 2 Credits can be exchanged in return for a single Tram Line (Forehand or Backhand). 4 Credits can be exchanged in return for the both Tram Lines if desired.
How many Credits Do I owe/ Do I Receive? When can I use the Credits?
Between 2 players/pairs, for the first Level of difference, the stronger player/pair will owe 4 Credits and a further 2 Credits for every incremental Level of difference. This is illustrated below:
1 Level Difference (e.g. Level 2 vs. level 3) = 4 Credits (4+0)
2 Levels of Difference (e.g. Level 1 vs. Level 3) = 6 Credits (4+2)
3 Levels of Difference (e.g. Level 2 vs. Level 5) = 8 Credits (4+2+2)
4 Levels of Difference (e.g. Level 2 vs. Level 6) = 10 Credits (4+2+2+2)
Most extreme - 5 levels of difference (i.e. Level 1 vs. Level 6) = 12 Credits (4+2+2+2+2)
You can use the Credits at any time during the set. In allowing the Credits to be used at any time during the set there is a strategic/tactical element to the handicapping system.
e.g. Level 1 is playing a Level 3 = 6 Credits owed because they are 2 Levels apart.
The Level 3 player has a number of options in how they use their Credits:
The Level 3 player could use the 6 Credits to claim 6 Free Points at any time during the set; or
The Level 3 player could choose to cash in 4 Credits to remove the Stronger Players 1st Serve (and have 2 Credits remaining to use for Free Points or buying a Tram Line); or
The Level 3 player could add a single Tram Line to the opponents court costing 2 Credits (4 Credits for both tramlines) and still have Credits remaining to use as Free Points.
Or a combination of the above:
Take 4 Free Points (4 Credits) at any time and buy a single Tram Line (2 Credits);
Buy both Tram Lines (2 Credits) with 2 Free Points to use when needed (2 Credits);,
Reduce the opponent to 1 Serve (4 Credits) with 2 Free Points (2 Credits) to use at any time; or
Reduce the opponents to 1 Serve (4 Credits) and buy a single Tram Line (Backhand or Forehand) (2 Credits).
It is up to you, but you can obviously spend your credits tactically once you have assessed your oppositions strengths and weaknesses!
If you are going to use 4 Credits to reduce the opponents serve, do so as early as possible to get maximum benefit, however you need to decide if it is worth a full 4 Credits;
Dont used a Credit at 30-0, 30-15, 40-15, 40-0 try to win the next point before deciding if you want to use a credit;
Tram Lines Think about where your opponent is strongest and where you are weakest before deciding which tramline to buy;
Dont be afraid to wait until just before your opponents serve before claiming a point play the mental game!; and
Having won your serve, if you have enough credit, you could use 4 Credits to break your opponent immediately and then serve again!
Once you have played the first set, assess how even the game was and then try increasing/reducing the handicap by one Level to improve the closeness of the game. This should allow the system to be self-calibrating at whatever level the game is played.
Doubles Handicapping System
The Doubles handicapping system will use the same principles as the Singles. A Doubles Pair will use their Singles Level to create an Aggregate Pair Level (i.e. if a Level 1 player plays with a Level 5 player their Aggregate Pair Level will be 6). Half the difference, in Aggregate Pair Level, between the two Doubles pairs will dictate the Level of differential and how many Credits the stronger pair will owe.
The Credits can be used in the same way as in the Singles Handicapping system.
Below are some examples to help explain the system:
Pair A: Player Level 4 and Player Level 5 = Aggregate Pair Level = 9
Pair B: Player Level 2 and Player Level 3 = Aggregate Pair Level = 5
Difference between the Aggregate Pair Level = 4 (i.e. 9 minus 5). This difference (4) is divided by two = 2 (i.e. 4/2) therefore Pair B (Stronger Pair) will owe Pair A 6 Credits to be used as currency to buy the options listed above.
The most extreme scenario would be as follows:
Pair A: Player Level 1 and Player Level 1 = Aggregate Pair Ranking = 2
Pair B: Player Level 6 and Player Level 6 = Aggregate Pair Ranking = 12
Difference in Aggregate Pair Level = 10, divide by 2 = 5. Therefore Pair A (Higher Level) will owe Pair B 12 Credits
2 Additional Points to Note for Doubles
Where the difference in the handicap is an odd number (e.g. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9), when the difference is divided by 2 the resulting number should be rounded down to assign the Level of handicap (e.g. Aggregate Pair Level Difference is 7. 7/2 = 3 therefore 3 Levels different = 8 Credits)
In Doubles, when using Credits in exchange for a change in Court Area, instead of buying the Stronger Pairs Tramlines (which they will now be using!), instead you reduce the size of your Court Area (2 Credits = 1 Tramline)
All photos (c) 2012 Mark Greenberg, All Rights Reserved