New Updates and New Toys on TennisAbstract.com

I’ve been working quite a bit lately on TennisAbstract.com, and I hope you’ve noticed.

First and foremost, player pages are updating mid-tournamentUsually within an hour or two of the end of each match.  For instance, check out Olivier Rochus, who qualified in Miami and has now reached the second round.  While stats such as ace rate aren’t yet available for current-week matches, most filters do consider them.  You know, just in case you’re wondering about Rochus’s career record against the Japanese.

Next, TennisAbstract.com now works in all major browsers, including Internet Explorer.  Since the beginning of the site, I developed it only for Google Chrome.  It mostly worked in Firefox until, several week ago, it suddenly didn’t.  (The site depends on a few thousand lines of Javascript, and every browser interprets Javascript a little differently, except for IE, which reads it much differently.)  The site is now functioning normally in Firefox.  While it now works in IE, applying filters is painfully slow.  I don’t know exactly why.  I hope that you are using Firefox or Chrome at home, and if you have to use IE at work, your employer changes their ways soon.

I’ve also added a few rankings reports.  First is the Country Rankings page for both men and women, which shows you the top three players for each country.  It’s particularly interesting to see who the best national #2’s and #3’s are, along with the countries that have just one or two top-flight players. Second, there’s a “lefties only” ranking list for both men and women.  Also, I’ve filled out the history of WTA Rankings by Age–you can now see year-end age-group rankings for any of the last 30 years.  Here’s 2000.

Finally, ATP entry lists are now available, updated several times per day.  For example, here’s the list for next week’s Le Gosier challenger.  These lists show who is scheduled to play every event in the next six weeks or so, along with alternates and withdrawals.

Enjoy!

Trends and Perspective on WTA Retirements and Withdrawals

Yesterday, there was no women’s singles at Indian Wells. Both Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur pulled out of their quarterfinal matches, presenting a very obvious target for anyone concerned about an injury bug in women’s tennis.

Last year, WTA retirements hit an all-time high of 4.8% of tour-level matches, almost a full percentage point above the 3.9% of matches that were not completed in 2006.  While part of the injury total was due to stomach bugs in China and food poisoning at Indian Wells, the overall trend has been upward for about 30 years:

WTArets

While it’s less clear that players are any more likely to pull out of Grand Slam matches (the dark red line in the graph above), there’s no doubt that more WTA matches are ending due to injury than they did 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

In a moment, I’ll explain why this is happening, and why the trend is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.  But first, some perspective on yesterday’s programming disaster.

Since there was nothing else to talk about yesterday in the world of women’s tennis, it was inevitable that the subject of injuries dominated. (Thanks to Federer vs. Nadal on the card, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.) Taking a tournament-wide view, though, this year’s Indian Wells WTA event has been a positive on the health front.

Women’s tennis has seen more than 1 in 50 tour-level matches end with W/O or RET in the score for more than 15 years.  Yesterday’s two withdrawals were the first two incomplete matches of the entire event–including qualifying!  Assuming we get through the semifinals and final without any further problems, that’s 93 of 95 (97.9%) of main draw matches complete, and 129 of 131 (98.5%) of main draw and qualifying matches complete.  Last year, while food poisoning dominated the headlines, there were at least three injury-related retirements from the singles draw, and two years ago, there were five.

These two quarterfinal withdrawals were bad news for television and fans, but they don’t represent a trend.

High stakes, high risk

While Indian Wells has been mostly injury-free, it also shouldn’t be seen as a trend in the positive direction.  WTA players (and ATPers, for the same reasons) are going to keep showing up at tournaments less than 100%, developing health problems midway through tournaments, and generally not finishing all the matches they start.

This isn’t because of too many hard courts, slower balls, mandatory events, doping, or even runaway racquet technology.  It’s because the financial stakes in tennis–and with it, severe inequality in the ranks–are climbing even faster than the injury rate.  The level of fitness required to compete at the highest level is always increasing, and players are forced to choose between trying to keep up or probably falling away.

A simpler example of this phenomenon, and one that makes it easier to illustrate the point, is in competitive distance running.  Marathoners rarely run more than two marathons per year, and there is very little room at the top.  Run a marathon in 2:04 and you’re a superstar. 2:05 or 2:06 and the sponsors will keep supporting you.  If you can’t break 2:10, you’re probably working full-time at a local shoe store.

The most straightforward way to improve your marathon time is to train harder, whether that means more mileage over a several-month training period or more aggressive workouts.  When the choice is between 2:05 and oblivion, the incentives are heavily structured toward overly aggressive training.  There’s not much difference between finishing with a 2:10 compared to overtraining, getting injured, and not finishing at all.

Tennis, of course, is a bit more forgiving.  You don’t need to be one of the top 10 in the world to make a decent living, but then again, to remain in the top 10, you must consistently beat players on the fringes of the top 100, where the incentives are not that different from those in distance running.

As the stakes increase, players are more willing to skirt the edge between hard training and over training.  And while players are getting closer to that line, they are hardly going too far–at least according to their own incentives.  Sure, we’d like to have seen Vika play yesterday, but a few retirements over the course of the year isn’t going to stop her from regaining the #1 ranking.  Two years ago, she pulled out of her quarterfinal with Caroline Wozniacki after only three games–and then started a twelve-match winning streak the following week.

If there were more matches on clay, players would simply push themselves harder on clay courts.  (Anyway, there is almost exactly the same percentage of WTA retirements on clay as there are on hard.)  Same thing if the balls played faster.  If there were fewer mandatory events, we’d see top players engaging in longer periods of hard training. Probably more exhibitions, too.

There are no incentives–nor should there be–for players to stay healthy for the duration of 100% of their matches.  If we want the best players in the world to entertain us with the best possible tennis they can play, retirements and withdrawals are something we’ll have to learn to accept.  We won’t get one without the other.

The Historically Strong Dallas Challenger

All eyes are on Indian Wells this week, with seven of the top eight-ranked men in the world in the quarterfinals.  (Oh, and one epic streak coming to an end.)  Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find another ATP event in progress, this one under the guise of a Challenger tournament.

By just about every metric imaginable, this week’s Dallas Challenger has one of the strongest Challenger fields ever assembled.  Many ATP 250s–and a few 500s–are barely at the same level.

Because of Dallas’s timing in between the opening rounds of Indian Wells and the beginning of the Miami Masters, special rules apply to tournament entries.  Higher-ranked players are able to make last-minute decisions to compete, hence the presence of the two top seeds, Marcos Baghdatis and Thomaz Bellucci.  Many other tour-level pros choose to make the stop in Dallas to get a couple of matches under their belt to compensate for a disappointing showing in the California desert.

Measuring field quality is tricky, but here we’re not working with subtle differences.  Here are some simple metrics we could use to the compare main draw strength of the 2500 or so Challenger events since 1991:

  • Average ATP Rank. In Dallas this year, it’s 103, the best ever in a Challenger event.  Second best is 109–that was the same event last year.  Only eight Challengers have ever had an average rank below 130, and the average is a whopping 290.
  • Median ATP Rank. Similar deal, without the risk of a few top players skewing the results.  Dallas’s median is 90; last year it was 90.5–best and second-best ever.  Only two others come in under 100, and the average is 239.
  • 8th seed ATP Rank. I like this metric as it indicates the presumed quality of the quarterfinals–every guy in the last 8 is either this good or has to beat someone this good.  Dallas’s 8-seed this year is #62 Lukas Rosol, the highest-ranked 8-seed ever in a challenger event.  Second place, once again, is the same event last year, where #69 Lukas Lacko was seeded eighth.  Only 18 events have ever had an 8-seed in the top 80, and the historical average is 180.
  • Average seed ATP Rank. Another angle: here Dallas is ousted, coming in 3rd of the 2500 events, at 48.  The 1991 Johannesburg Challenger (46.5) and 1994 Andorra Challenger (47.5) just barely beat it out.  Only 17 events have had an average seed rank better than 60, and the average is 145.
  • Number of top 50 players. Dallas is only the 3rd Challenger event to ever have five top 50 players, after 1991 Jo’burg and 2004 Dnepropetrovsk.  Only 66 Challengers have ever had multiple top-50 competititors, and fewer than 1 in 10 Challengers have a single one.  The average Challenger top seed is ranked #97.
  • Number of top 75/100/125 players.  12 players in the main draw this week are ranked in the top 75, 18 in the top 100, and 25 in the top 125.  All are either new records or tied with the old record.  The average challenger event has 0.13 top-50s, 0.57 top-75s, 1.71 top 100’s, and 3.81 top 125’s.

The one way in which this week’s tournament in Dallas doesn’t rank amongst the best is by a more sophisticated approach, the one that I use in my Challenger strength report on TennisAbstract.com.  By simulating the tournament draw several thousand times, we can estimate the likelihood of a certain level of player winning the event.  For instance, had the 50th-best player in the world entered the Burnie or West Lakes Challenger this year, he would have had about a 25% chance of winning.   But against the more competitive field in Quimper, that number drops to 12%–about the same as the 50th-best player’s chance in the unusually weak Los Angeles ATP event last year.

This week, Jurgen Melzer–ranked in the mid-40s on hard courts by my rating system–had a 9.3% chance of winning the title according to my pre-tourney simulations.  (Go to the tournament forecast page and click ‘R32’ under the ‘Forecast’ header.)  That puts Dallas comfortably among the top 10 toughest Challenger draws in the last year–and better than LA–but nowhere near the top.

It’s one thing to have a deep draw, but another thing entirely to have a tournament that is particularly hard to win.   For the latter, an event needs one or two very highly-ranked players, like Marin Cilic at last year’s Dallas Challenger, or Fernando Verdasco in Prostejov last year.  In theory, if not in practice, someone ranked in the top 20 should waltz to a title, offering an insurmountable obstacle to your typical Challenger-level player.

Dallas may not be the most difficult Challenger event to win, but by any measure of field quality and depth,  it’s one of the very strongest in ATP history.  The fans in Dallas are very fortunate this week.

How Fast is the Ice Rink in Sarajevo?

The Sarajevo challenger is considered to have one of the fastest surfaces on the tennis circuit.  James Cluskey, playing doubles there this week, tweeted, “fast is being very kind. Soo fast!”  Last year, some fans got the point across by calling the surface an ice rink.

The raw numbers agree.  In 13 of the 31 main-draw matches last year, aces made up at least 18% of all points.  Champion Jan Hernych won both his semfinal and final matches against players who scored aces on more than one in five service points.  Two years ago, titlist Amer Delic recorded a 21.6% ace rate for the entire tournament. That’s fast.

Here’s how fast.  The average player who competed in Sarajevo in any of the last three years hit 50% more aces in Sarajevo than his season average.  That’s higher than any other European challenger, a tick above Ortisei (+46%) and well ahead of the third-place fast court, the carpet in Eckental (+31%). (For more on methodology, click here.)

These numbers probably understate just how speedy the Sarajevo surface is.  The players who show up for events like this generally have a game to match–they may not all know about the “ice rink” reputation, but they know it’s indoors.  That’s how you end up with Dustin Brown, Ilija Bozoljac, and Hernych in the late rounds last year.  Jerzy Janowicz was there as well.

Thus, the guys who play in Sarajevo are generally choosing fast surfaces.  So Sarajevo isn’t 50% faster than tour average, it’s 50% faster than the faster-than-average event that these types of players choose.  This is a much bigger factor on the challenger tour than at ATP level, because lower-level guys don’t all play the same events.  Clay-court specialists may show up for Valencia and the Paris Masters, but you won’t find a single South American playing in Bosnia this week.

So we can’t compare Sarajevo to Sao Paulo or Medellin.  (Due to the altitude, those are fast as well, but probably not to the same degree.)  But by any reasonable comparison we can calculate, Sarajevo is as fast as it gets–at least until some savvy promoter puts a tennis match on a real ice rink.

Futures Report: Switzerland F1 in Frauenfeld

It’s not every day you can spend ten hours at an indoor tennis club in Frauenfeld, Switzerland, watching a $20k combined event amongst a small number of tennis-loving friends.

At the main venue, today’s action included 12 matches, seven of which made up the men’s second round in the Switzerland F1 Futures.  They featured everyone from top-200-ranked 29-year-old Bastian Knittel to unranked 17-year-old Swiss wildcard Daniel Valent.  Here are reports on some of the highlights and some of the rest.

George Von Massow (GER) d. (2)Peter Torebko (GER) 6-4 6-3

Torebko is a veteran of Challengers and ATP qualifiers; like many of the seeds this week, he’s not someone you’d expect to see in a Futures event.  Alas, he wasn’t rewarded for dropping down a level.

The 25-year-old is steady, with perhaps the best defensive game on display all day.  Alas, the conditions featured an explosive indoor hard court that rewarded huge weaponry, and Von Massow had more of that.  The final scoreline disguises how close the match felt, especially until Von Massow sealed the first set.  For several games, Torebko withstood the firepower with a nice combination of flat and slice backhands, waiting until his younger opponent made errors.

Then Von Massow stopped making so many errors.  While Torebko hit his share of service winners, especially slices wide, he could only watch while his countryman’s unforced errors turned into winners.  A smarter player–or any player on a slower or less predictable court–probably could have gotten Von Massow off track, as the German looked awkward whenever he had to strike a ball outside of his hitting zone.  But he took advantage of the indoor conditions and kept his form long enough to get through to the quarters.

(Q)Bastian Wagner (GER) d. (7)Adrian Bossel (SUI) 6-4 6-4

Wagner is a David Goffin-sized 18-year-old from Germany with a game to match.  He swings hard, with a two-handed backhand he’s willing to hit anywhere, but he doesn’t seem to be that strong.  Unless he found  a perfect angle, he rarely hit winners.  His saving grace was Bossel’s inconsistency and apparent indifference.

It’s unclear whether Bossel’s performance today was due to an injury–he knelt over in pain in mid-game early in the first set and took a medical time out.  In any event, plenty of errors came off his racquet when he failed to bend his knees for rallying shots, and he refused to play much defense.  The Swiss is a tall lefty who takes advantage of his height to hit flat groundstrokes, but even with that advantage, he netted plenty of shots he shouldn’t have.

He also didn’t seem to use his lefthandedness for positive effect.  Wagner’s backhand took time to get zoned in–the German made at least four errors off that wing in the first two games alone–but once it did, the result was a foregone conclusion.  Wagner won 6-4 6-4, a line that says more about Bossel’s weakness than Wagner’s skill.

(6)Antoine Benneteau (FRA) d. Riccardo Maiga (SUI) 6-2 6-4

Protip: If you’re at a Futures event and looking for Antoine Benneteau, try to find the guy who looks like Julien Benneteau.  If Antoine shaved his beard, you might not be able to tell them apart.

Alas, the difference is evident when Antoine steps on the court.  In a day of aggressive indoor play, the Frenchman may well have been the most aggressive of all.  His serves could probably be heard outside the complex, and on the return, he often stepped well inside the baseline to respond to Maiga’s offerings–which were hardly weak.

While Maiga adapted to the indoor conditions–he played the second set much better than he did the first–he seemed like someone who would be more comfortable on clay.  In the first set, he rarely took the offensive, settling for topspin groundstrokes that gave Benneteau openings to grab the initiative.  What’s odd about Antoine’s style of play is that, once he settles in for a rally, he can be quite passive, camping a few feet behind the baseline, oblivious to openings.  But if the slightest opportunity appears within his first two or three shots, it’s a guarantee that the Frenchman will end the point (one way or another) immediately.

(3)Martin Fischer (AUT) d. Hugo Nys (FRA) 6-4 6-4

Another protip: If you’re trying to find Martin Fischer, look for the spitting image of Alan Ruck, the guy who played Ferris Bueller’s sidekick.  It’s eerie.  Fischer’s impenetrable demeanor on the tennis court even matches what Cameron’s might be.

This match was a study in contrasts and the most interesting of the day.  Fischer knows how to play indoors, but can’t overpower anyone; Nys is the most dynamic player who showed up in Frauenfeld.

Like his countryman Benneteau, Nys can be hyper-aggressive, going for second-shot winners, even stepping in and taking a swing against a first serve.  Particularly against Fischer’s second offerings, Nys would refuse to play defense, aiming for corners and often hitting them.

Alas, Fischer was too smart.  Strangely enough, the Austrian isn’t particularly steady; my notes are filled with references to types of shots he missed that he should have made, especially mid-court.  But he was steadier than Nys, who came unhinged after losing the first set on a late break of serve.  The Frenchman took lower and lower percentage shots, and one could sense Fischer getting increasing patient, realizing that he could just wait for errors.

All that said, the 22-year-old Nys has plenty of potential.  He plays aggressive tennis all over the court, with a powerful serve to set up sharp angles from both his forehand and a flashy one-handed backhand.  As with anyone ranked outside of the top 600, the odds are against him, but the talent is there.

(1)Bastian Knittel (GER) d. (Q)Maximilian Abel (GER) 7-5 6-3

Knittel is ranked within the top 200 and the #1 seed in Frauenfeld.  Based on the power he displayed today, it’s surprising that he hasn’t strung together a few solid challenger results and snuck into the top 100.  Alas, his peak so far is 157, and at 29, his opportunities for bettering that mark are slipping.

I don’t have many notes on this match–it’s tough to remember a single point that went beyond four shots.  Both players are huge servers with huge groundstrokes, and Abel was sufficiently inconsistent to keep points very short.  Abel has also peaked in the top 200, but that was 10 years ago.  He’s now a 31-year-old outside of the top 1000 in the world rankings, a minor obstacle for Knittel en route to a title that should go to the #1 seed.

Edoardo Eremin (ITA) d. (5)Victor Galovic (ITA) 6-4 6-4

This battle of Italians was a noisy one, full of huge serves and almost-as-huge forehands.  It was also tough to keep track of, since most of it took place while the women’s doubles final was played between the crowd and their court.

Galovic, ranked in the 300’s to Eremin’s 500’s, is the paper favorite, but he played a bit like Bossel, not moving as well as one would expect of a top-level player and relying on obvious opportunities to hit winners.  Neither player was particularly imaginative, settling in for crosscourt forehand-to-forehand rallies that, while impressive, hardly served to separate the two.

Ultimately, Galovic made a few more errors.  Neither player showed any notable talents except for the typical big-serve/big-forehand combination that, alone, gets so many guys into the top 500.

(4)Sandro Ehrat (SUI) d. (WC)Daniel Valent (SUI) 6-1 6-1

The match of the day, between two Swiss players, was a dud.  Ehrat, a highly-touted 21-year-old ranked in the top 350, is the best home hope to win the event.  Valent, merely 17 years old, is a wildcard who managed to beat yet another native son, Alexander Sadecky, the first round.

Valent doesn’t yet quite belong at this level, and worse, he doesn’t appear to believe he belongs at this level.  He was quickly broken in the opening game of the match, looking like he was in awe of his older and more accomplished opponent.  Whenever he seemed to be getting into the match, he got tight.  After nearly every winner, he pumped his fist; after every error, he swung his racquet as if he was about to smash it.  It was exhausting to watch.

Valent has a big game. He looks like he has some growing yet to do; with another few inches, his game could be even bigger.  More important, though, is that he learns some defensive skills.  Ehrat is hardly a counterpuncher, but Valent made him look like one.  The older player hit only a few flashy shots, generally withstanding the occasional ace or winner from Valent’s racquet and watching the games pile up on the teenager’s errors.

It’s a shame–I had hoped to see what the fuss is about.  Ehrat did look rather smooth and his serve appeared to be a bit tricky to read.  Those two qualities, combined with his nationality, are enough to generate some dangerous Federer comparisons.  For the time being, though, Roger’s spot on the Swiss Davis Cup team is safe.

Federer, Nadal, and Semifinal-or-Later Streaks

The Indian Wells men’s draw has been released, and a big question has been answered.  Rafael Nadal, about as dangerous a floater as can be imagined with a #5 seed, landed in Roger Federer‘s quarter.  (Sorry Roger, it had to happen to someone, and David Ferrer has suffered enough lately.)

If Fed and Rafa both win three matches, they’ll face each other in a quarterfinal match.  That’s something that’s never happened before.  The pair has met 28 times, 26 of them in a semifinal or final.  The only exceptions are their first match in 2004, when Nadal was seeded 32nd in Miami, and a round-robin pairing at the 2011 tour finals.  Ignoring the round-robin, that’s 26 matches in a row in one of the last two rounds of an event.

That’s a historically great streak, but it’s not the record.  In fact, one player is a part of two streaks–the only two streaks–that are better.

Jimmy Connors is 1st, with 28 consecutive semis or finals against Ivan Lendl, and 2nd, with 27 consecutive semis or finals against (who else?) John McEnroe.  He’s also eighth (21 straight against Bjorn Borg) and 12th (14 with Ilie Nastase).

Until the threat of this week’s draw, Federer and Nadal were right on Connors’s tail.  If Roger and Rafa meet in the quarters, the heir presumptive pair will have to include Novak Djokovic.

Here’s the all-time top ten:

Streak  Player1          Player2           
28      Jimmy Connors    Ivan Lendl        
27      Jimmy Connors    John McEnroe      
26      Rafael Nadal     Roger Federer     
23      Rafael Nadal     Novak Djokovic    
22      Stefan Edberg    Boris Becker      
22      Roger Federer    Novak Djokovic    
22      John McEnroe     Ivan Lendl        
21      Bjorn Borg       Jimmy Connors     
19      Stefan Edberg    Ivan Lendl        
17      Ivan Lendl       Boris Becker

If Nadal stays #5 for long (unlikely as that seems), both the all-time #3 and #4 streaks could be halted.  But as long as Federer stays within the top four, the current #6 streak will climb the rankings.

Of course, there are a couple of other combinations with the potential to crack this list, even reach the top:

Streak  Player1         Player2        
11      Andy Murray     Roger Federer  
10      Novak Djokovic  Andy Murray

But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.  It took five years for Fed and Nadal to get from 11 up to 26.  As the top of the list shows, it takes two consistently great players to put together a streak like this.

All is not lost, though.  If they play in the quarters, they’ll just have to shift their focus to a new record: consecutive meetings in quarterfinals or later.  27 straight would put them behind Connors-McEnroe (32), Connors-Lendl (29), and one pair they’re unlikely to chase down: Nadal-Djokovic (29).

How to Fix the ATP’s 25-Second Rule

At the beginning of 2013, the ATP lessened the penalties for time violations, in hopes that chair umpires would call them more often. In a perfect world, that might lead to players committing fewer time violations.

So far this year, the new policy may have sped up the game a bit, but unsurprisingly, it has led to more disruptions of play.  Whenever a violation is called, an additional delay is virtually automatic.  After all, if a player is worn out from the previous point and lagging so much that he earns a time violation, why not take the opportunity to argue with the ump and physically recover for even longer?

Any time-violation policy should take into account three key guidelines:

  1. The game should move along at a reasonable pace. Some kind of time violation rule is here to stay.
  2. Any rule should be applied as fairly and consistently as possible, against all players, regardless of court, tournament, round, or set.
  3. Enforcement should interfere as little as possible with the flow of the game, both for fan enjoyment and player concentration.

The policy may be succeeding on (1).  It might be an improvement towards (2), though based on the unscientific sample of matches I’ve watched, it still seems that violations are more likely to be called on the guys playing the big four (or top ten) than the big four themselves.

As for (3), it’s a disaster.

Keep the penalties; keep the flow.

The solution is simple.  Instead of calling the time violation while the server is readying himself for the next point, call it immediately after the point is complete.  There may still be an argument, but coming right after a point instead of 30 seconds after (and five seconds before the next one would have started), it would be less disruptive.

Sometimes a post-point violation warning wouldn’t be disruptive at all, as when the point finishes a game.  Also, if the offending player has just won a point, he would probably be more in the mood to keep going than to stop and argue with the umpire.

This change would address (3).  However, to ensure that the rule is justly applied, a better system needs to be in place.  While a basketball-style shot clock is appealing for this reason, it would be far too distracting to both players and fans.  As always, the onus is on the chair umpire.

To keep the umpire honest, his record of the match should be made available to both players and their camps.  (Or best of all, to the public, but why suggest something the ATP would never consider?)

The umpire already keeps a point-by-point record of the match–that’s what you see him doing when he taps on the screen in front of him.  We’re talking about a minor technological improvement here: When he finishes entering the previous point, a clock starts.  In this new scenario, he would be asked to tap the screen again when the server starts his motion.  The addition of a clock (a shot clock, but visible only to the umpire) and that one extra tap is all that is required.

This way, the screen in front of the umpire would notify him of every possible time violation.  He would still be given leeway to call the time violation or not, perhaps ignoring the offense because of a long round of applause or a distraction on court.  With those records available after the fact, opponents and ATP supervisors would know whether time violations were called, especially when a player averages more than 25 seconds between points.

With these minor changes, we can hope for men’s tennis that moves along at a reasonable pace, thanks to unobtrusive rules that are equally applied to all players.