The Fast4 Tennis is one of the more recent innovations in the sport of tennis and slowly picked up speed in the times of the coronavirus pandemic because of its inherent nature. We look at this invention, why was the Fast4 tennis format brought in, how is it played and the various tournaments which have begun to use it with time.
What is the Fast4 Tennis Format?
This is a new, quicker format which was introduced at the lower levels of tennis to reduce the match times. As the name suggests, sets are played to four games with a tie-breaker at 3-3.
Instead of the traditional tie-breaker of seven points, it is played to five points with a few other glaring differences with traditional tennis matches (check the rules section below).
Who Introduced Fast4 Tennis? The History…
The Fast4 Tennis format was the brainchild of Tennis Australia (also the organizers of the Australian Open among other tournaments) and it was first featured in 2014. Tennis clubs in Australia adopted this format as means to trial it throughout the country.
Called the tennis with a twist, this new format of the sport had slightly tweaked rules which were aimed at shortening the time required for matches.
The idea caught on when multiple Grand Slam winner Roger Federer took on Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt in a Fast4 Tennis exhibition match in January 2015. Hosted at the Sydney’s Qantas Credit Union Arena, Federer prevailed 4–3(5–3), 2–4, 3–4(3–5) 4–0, 4–2. This match was telecast live in Australia. The next day, Rafael Nadal was involved in a similar match at Melbourne Park.
Why was the Fast4 Tennis Format Introduced?
The reason for its introduction was very simply to make the sport crispier in terms of the length of its matches and at the same time exciting for the fans.
Sports have evolved with times and so has tennis. Rules have changed including the color of the balls, the racket technology and even the format of how different Grand Slams allow the final sets to go but as far as the inherent lengths of matches is concerned, it’s more or less remained the same; both men and women play best-of-three sets matches in non-Grand Slam tournaments while in the majors, men feature in best-of-five sets matches.
The need to introduce a shorter format is down to the supposed advantages associated with it. These are:
- Shorter matches lead to lesser stress on younger bodies when one’s game is still in early development stage,
- Shorter tournaments as a result of these shorter matches, making it better for players and for spectators who can watch more matches in a day, at the same time reducing organization costs
- More predictable match lengths, leading to potentially easier deals with broadcasters
Fast4 Tennis Rules
Some of the most important Fast4 Tennis rules which are different from traditional tennis have been mentioned below.
Please remember this forms the basis of the Fast4 Tennis format but it can be used and rules tweaked slightly to suit the organizers (like the Lawn Tennis Association, which is Tennis Australia’s UK counterpart have their own set of rules which were made in accordance with the feedback from coaches, players and parents).
This is one of the most important rule changes in Fast4 Tennis. In traditional tennis, a ball hitting the net on service is called a let and it’s a let. Depending on whether the ball falls inside or outside the mandated area, it could still be a fault in traditional tennis.
In this new format, there are no lets and play continues even if the service hits the net. This means if the serve hits the net and falls within the mandated area, the opponent has to play for the return. As is often the case, if the ball hits the net and dies down close to the net itself with the opponent left without a chance to get close to it, it’s an ace; or a Fast4 Ace.
Unlike in traditional tennis where a score of deuce, i.e. 40-40 is followed by a player needing to win the game with a clear two point advantage, Fast4 Tennis has a no-advantage, sudden death rule – the winner of the point at 40-40 wins the game.
First to Four Games
Sets are won by players who are first to reach four games instead of the typical six-game sets but like the traditional format, a lead of at least two games is needed to win the set. So a set can be won 4-0, 4-1 and 4-2 but at 3-3, a tie-breaker needs to be played.
Instead of the traditional, first-to-seven-points tie-breaker, it’s the first to five points who wins the tie-breaker in this case. One other change to this rule is at 4-4, there is a sudden death again which implies whoever wins the point at that stage wins the set.
The final set is played as a tie-breaker but unlike the previous sets, this is a first-to-10 tie-breaker. Again, at 9-9, the player winning the next point wins the set and the match.
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These matches could be best of three or best of five sets depending on the availability of the time for the tournament. Also the final set could be a normal one or a match tie-breaker.
Issues with Fast4 Tennis
The unpredictability of the no-let rule is one of the biggest issues associated with the Fast4 Tennis format. The problem with the ball dying and falling close to the net resulting in the Fast4 Ace increases the luck factor.
Just imagine a player serving at 30-40, 2-3 down and serves two of those lucky aces. It’s tough enough to break an opponent’s serve but to then do it with the addition of this rule makes it that much tougher.
The other issue is the shorter nature of the matches makes it tougher to make a comeback after having fallen behind.
Tournaments Using the Fast4 Tennis Format
One of the first tournaments which used the Fast4 Tennis format was the ATP Next Gen Finals. This tournament sees some of the top, upcoming tennis players feature in an end-of-year competition which is on the lines of the ATP Finals but with the Fast4 format.
The Hopman Cup, which was last played in 2019, also saw its mixed doubles tie played to this format.
During the coronavirus pandemic break, a chunk of the tennis exhibition competitions which were held were played using one or the other variations of the Fast4 Tennis format.
A lot of juniors matches around the world but especially in competitions organized by the LTA and Tennis Australia use this format.
Fast4 Tennis FAQ
Here’s a list of frequently asked questions around the Fast4 Tennis format.
Why is it called the Fast4 Tennis?
The sets are played to four games and each game is played to four points (no advantage rule); also there are four rules (no advantage, lets, tie-breakers at 3-3 and the winner is the player getting to four games).
What’s a Fast4 Ace?
Typically, if the server hits the net, a let is called. In Fast4 Tennis, there are no lets and as a result the ball might pop very close to the net after hitting it resulting in an ace. This is a Fast4 Ace.
Which are some of the other modified tennis formats?
The Fast4 is itself modified in some regions to disallow the no-let rule. Some formats also modify it in a way that a let is allowed to continued if it reaches the baseline without having bounced the second time.
There’s also something called the silver deuce rule in which the players don’t get a game-point on the first deuce of the game but on the second one the player winning the point wins the game.
If agreed upon before the start of the match, there could be some tournaments which allow a Powerplay point where the point is worth two points.
And then there is the Thirty30 format in which games begin at 30-30.
How do lets work in doubles in Fast4 Tennis?
Either player in the opponent team can reach out to play the ball if it’s a let.
Who serves at 4-4 in the tie-breaker?
This is decided by the toss of a coin by the chair umpire.
What is Power Play in Fast4 Tennis?
This is a variation which is used by some which allows a player to call out Power Play at any given time in a set and the winner of the point gets two points.