In a glimpse of a possible future direction that the game of Tennis could take to attract even more fans in to watch the product that they offer or maybe just as an alternative format that tennis can take for some tournaments (especially in the developing age-groups), “Fast4” represents an intriguing variation. Some have even posited that it may be the tennis equivalent to cricket’s highly lucrative and popular Twenty20.

With that in mind two of the world’s top players, one the elegant Swiss maestro Roger Federer, the other that gritty former Grand Slam winner and all-Australian hero Lleyton Hewitt, stepped on to court to showcase what the new format has to offer. It proved to be a fast and frenetic (and close) encounter, with Federer just getting the upper hand in a shade over 90 minutes. His 4-3 (5-3), 2-4, 3-4 (3-5), 4-0, 4-2 victory illustrated some of the differences between the game and the normal tournament format.

Fast4 features the tweaking rather than the revolutionising of tennis that observers may be hankering for on some occasions, with the removal of ‘advantages’, no need for ‘let’ to be called, first man (or woman) to four games takes the set and tie-breaks slightly earlier than is the norm at three games apiece.

Some would argue that to ensure that tennis can grab prime time slots in international broadcasters’ schedules, a shorter and more predictable (time-wise) format is more likely to appeal. Federer seemed to challenge that particular notion when consulted for an opinion afterwards, suggesting that one of the attractions of the sport in general is “not knowing if you’re going to be on court for 45 minutes or three hours”. However, some viewers might not entirely agree with that viewpoint if they prefer more manageable chunks for their sporting enjoyment.

There would seem to be even more similarities with cricket based on that viewpoint. The people who enjoy the longer format that is Test Match cricket and frown on the perceived ‘vulgarity’ with which Twenty20 blasts its way on to our screens, may have sympathy with those within tennis who would not wish to change the drama of a potential five-setter and the emotions (and mood swings) that can engender.

Federer was in agreement though with trying out variations of the sport that may encourage higher participation rates in kids in the future, as they battle to retain Youngsters that might be persuaded to move into alternative sports with more succinct formats. The players yesterday even sported headsets with mini-microphones attached at one stage during the evening’s entertainment, as they allowed the Swiss player to play a short rally with a young Australian boy on the court. It may be a sign of things to come within the game or more likely an entertaining amusement to supplement the existing exhibition events that several of the elite players participate in during the year.

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