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View from the Chair
Recipe for Excitement? Seven Points and No-Ad

Certainly one of the greatest things ever to happen in tennis was the invention of the tie-breaker and no-ad scoring systems that prevent sets from lasting almost forever.

Two true tennis "blue-bloods" were responsible for these improvements: the late James Van Alen (Newport, RI) and Frank Van Rensselaer (King of Prussia, PA).

Jimmy Van Alen, a descendant of the aristocratic Astor and Vanderbilt families, was the driving force behind simplifying tennis rules in the 1950s and 1960s when he was running the Newport Invitational. (He also bought the old Newport Casino to be the site of the International Hall of Fame.)

Van Alen wanted to abolish love, 15, 30, 40, deuce and advantage in order to limit the time of matches so that spectators might see a match on time and also allow television to operate efficiently - all of which he thought would make tennis more popular.

He came up with a solution called VASSS (Van Alen's Simplified Scoring System) - a scoring system similar to table tennis, counting by ones up to 31, the winner of the set leading by at least 2 points, such as 31-29. Matches could be 2-of-3 sets or 3-of-5 sets. Service changed every 5 points.

Enter Frank Phelps, a former Hamilton College (NY) tennis star, now generally acknowledged as America's leading tennis historian. In the 1950s Phelps had been a spectator at the World Professional Championships in Cleveland where VASSS was used. He was not satisfied with this system and noted its weaknesses in a letter to the editor of World Tennis in 1958.

Phelps praised Van Alen's attempt to shorten matches but listed four major objections to VASSS. He wrote: "Little spectator excitement is generated until the final points, and then only in close contests." So he offered a plan of his own: the no-ad game and the tie-break at the end of a traditional set.

He recommended two modifications: (1) Eliminate advantage, making each game the best-of-seven points, and (2) limit sets to 15 games - if seven-all is reached, alternate service each point and reinstating advantage (and the 2-point victory margin) in the 15th game only. From this proposal later came the tie-break at six-all, with first the nine-point breaker and later the best-of-twelve point system.

In January, 1959, Phelps wrote Van Alen and asked him to promote his (Phelps') 7-point game, and Van Alen later did so in his Newport Invitational. And, that's why Van Alen was given credit for inventing the 7-point game, but Phelps never objected. He was happy to have his system used.

Van Alen eventually liked the 7-point game so much that he "sold" the idea to college tennis when I was chairman of the NCAA Tennis Committee. It was the official scoring system in college tennis from 1971 to 1988 when a minority group of coaches campaigned to have it abolished.

I can testify that it was immensely popular with the majority of coaches and I would venture to say one hundred percent of the fans. For example, in matches at Henry Field Stadium in Athens, GA (site of the annual NCAA championships in those days), whenever an umpire stood up in his chair and announced "sudden break tie-breaker on court No. 6," all eyes in the stands took a "bead" on court No. 6.

Mikael Pernfors, Georgia's back-to-back NCAA singles winner in 1984 and 1985, paid no-ad scoring this compliment: "Coaches want players to concentrate on every point, and no-ad scoring helped me do so."

At the 2005 NCAA's in College Station (Texas A&M), I discussed with several coaches the possibility of college tennis returning to no-ad scoring. Most of them agreed it ought to be done. One highly-respected Big 10 coach said, "In practice I have our players use no-ad scoring in order to get them to concentrate on every point." And I would even go one step further - the tie-breaker should be used at 5-games all instead of 6-games all. A 6-5 set is plenty long.

And, I favor the 7-point, sudden-death tie-breaker instead of 12-points with the winner having to have a 2-point margin. That's what Mr. Van Alen called "Lingering Death."

Tennis fans don't like to watch long matches that last several hours. No-ad scoring definitely shortens matches, makes the players concentrate better and is very exciting for the fans.

Of course, I'm no longer coaching college tennis or on any of the rules committees, but I still play for fun several times each week. Guess what scoring system we use? No-ad with sudden-death tie-breaker at 5-games-all!

 

About Dan Magill

Dan Magill is one of the great men of tennis - and a true ambassador of the game of college tennis. Magill retired as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. He is the recipient of the two most prestigious awards available to college coaches: ITA National Coach of the Year (1980), and the J.D. Morgan Award (1990).

In 34 years as coach of the Bulldogs, Magill had a career record of 706-183, winning 13 SEC championships and two national titles (1985, 1987). His teams featured fifteen All-Americans. The 1985 team was the first to achieve the "hat trick" of collegiate tennis, finishing #1 in the final team rankings, with the #1 singles player (Mikael Pernfors), and the #1 doubles team (Pernfors and Allen Miller).

Magill is also known for building over time what has been described as the best college tennis complex in the nation - a facility appropriately named the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. This complex has been the home to 23 men's and 3 women's NCAA Division I championships - including both the 2004 and 2005 women's events.

Magill is also the author of two outstanding books - Bull-Doggerel and Match Pointers, and he writes a regular sports column for the Athens Banner-Herald.

Magill and his wife Rosemary still live in Athens, GA where Magill is the curator of the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. The Magills have three children: Dr. Ham Magill, Mrs. William Brown and Mrs. Stephen Sloan.

 

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About Dan Magill

Dan Magill is one of the great men of tennis - and a true ambassador of the game of college tennis. Magill retired as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. He is the recipient of the two most prestigious awards available to college coaches: ITA National Coach of the Year (1980), and the J.D. Morgan Award (1990).

In 34 years as coach of the Bulldogs, Magill had a career record of 706-183, winning 13 SEC championships and two national titles (1985, 1987). His teams featured fifteen All-Americans. The 1985 team was the first to achieve the "hat trick" of collegiate tennis, finishing #1 in the final team rankings, with the #1 singles player (Mikael Pernfors), and the #1 doubles team (Pernfors and Allen Miller).

Magill is also known for building over time what has been described as the best college tennis complex in the nation - a facility appropriately named the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. This complex has been the home to 23 men's and 3 women's NCAA Division I championships - including both the 2004 and 2005 women's events.

Magill is also the author of two outstanding books - Bull-Doggerel and Match Pointers, and he writes a regular sports column for the Athens Banner-Herald.

Magill and his wife Rosemary still live in Athens, GA where Magill is the curator of the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame. The Magills have three children: Dr. Ham Magill, Mrs. William Brown and Mrs. Stephen Sloan.

 
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