Thursday, October 08, 2015

Should Grand Slam matches be best of 3 sets?

With the best-of-three formatted ATP World Tour finals fast approaching, it's time to take a direct stance on the query. Thus, here are five reasons why men SHOULD NOT play best of three sets at Slams.


Not a year, nor a single Slam, has failed to deliver the timeless, adrenaline-rich, highly-intense, devastatingly emotional contests that have gone the five set distance – and will go down in history. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final makes an argument for greatest tennis match ever played. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's heartbreaking five-set loss to Novak Djokovic at 2012 Roland Garros encompassed ridiculous tennis, incredible fight, inner anguish and fierce patriotism simultaneously. The aforementioned Serbian's 2014 Wimbledon final duel with Roger Federer also had it all: From stunning tennis to constant drama, to fighting back from the brink, to one ultimate, shattering game.

There are countless tales. And that is just this era. You can rewind further, to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and further back still, to the legends whose names now represent trophies and famous courts. Would those men stand in such honour now, had they not staged those five set battles? And would tennis have ever ramped up such a devoted, hard-core following, had the marathon matches not drawn viewers to tears and provoked incomparable emotion?

The questions are rhetorical.


And since when did we become the campaign to make it so?

Sport is about endurance. About fighting through pain. About showing what you're made of. Many of today's present champions – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal – are champions because, consistently, they are showing that they are able to play quality tennis – and, when relevant, summon quality fight - for hours on end. They do not complain. They can do it multiple times, lifting multiple trophies. And it earns them reverence.

If you sign up for tennis, you sign up for what is already in play. Any soldier who turns up to enlist and asks for the toughest challenge to be downscaled may as well turn around and go home. Because he's going nowhere else.

If it has been done, it can be done. And it will continue to be done. It's as simple as that.


A popular, valiant reasoning for the best-of-three argument is to give players a longer career... although, it is true, 34-year-old Roger Federer is playing some of his best tennis after over a decade of five set matches.

Constant pleas for the shrinking of major matches is something of an overreaction. Of the roughly 46 weeks a year that the tennis tour is rolling, only four tournaments are played in a best-of-five format. And they are the four biggest tournaments on the tennis calendar. With the biggest field. The biggest stakes. And the biggest need to prove oneself.

The demanding set-up makes perfect sense.

“But it doesn't give the lower-ranked players a chance!” you might protest.

Read on...


It's not rocket science. Those who can conquer the toughest challenges are the toughest guys.

The likes of the Big Four, and Stan Wawrinka, and Tomas Berdych, don't just do this consistently for one major. They then do it at the next major. And again. And again. And again.

And has any one of them been sidelined prematurely yet? No. Injured or healthy, each player is still going. And for every physical pain experienced, a chock-a-block tournament schedule is as much to blame as a few extra sets at a handful of intervals throughout the season.

If you want to bring the barrier down in order to give the poor unfortunate Slam-quarterfinal-less souls an opportunity, you may as well put that idea to bed. Because if they want it, they've got to work for it. And if they can't reach it, it simply means that the achievement is not for them.


If you're heart is still tugging for the world no. 50-something whose moment of glory will be lost among the pages of history, then apologies - but there is nothing we can do. Only they can make a move. But the champions of today are making that almost impossible.

A reduction of five-set matches to best-of-three actually won't do anything to aid the players further down the rankings ladder.

Consider it. Which players currently win all the Masters 1000 events? And many of the 500-pointers, too?

All an adjustment would do for the elite is make their wins quicker, and save them more energy for later. Therefore, when they came to the lower-tier events, they would take them even more consistently than they did before – thus shredding the one hope that the lesser-talented, inconsistent players had of a big achievement.

The majority of the time, the best will be crowned victorious - whatever the scenario. Cut the five-setters, and we're updating that to an inch off all the time.


Rewind to point one, and ask yourself this question:

Do you really want to lose some of the most incredible, the most poignant moments that tennis gives, and that help to make our sport what it is?

Because the likelihood is that many players – our champions included – would far rather have a shorter career defined by these moments, than 20 years of competition which lack the biting pain, exhilarating joy, and utterly sweet taste of victory that these moments bring.

I couldn't agree more! (with all of it).

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