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What is the most memorable tennis match you’ve ever seen? The best ever? The classics.
Chances are you answered with an epic five-set match or a marathon three-setter in the women’s.
The question is often raised in the lead-up and during grand slam tournaments, should we keep five-set matches? We play best of three-set everywhere else, even the Davis Cup has done away with five-set tennis.
But keeping this format of the game is crucial and a key part of the tennis fabric.
What makes tennis great is the one-on-one battle between two players across such a length of time, there are not too many sports that combine both these factors.
Five set tennis allows for multiple momentum swings within matches and creates not only a battle between skillsets, but physicality and mental.
How many epic matches have we seen where players have come back from two sets to love down or we sit there watching the match-clock tick over the four-hour mark as we head deep into the fifth set.
We’ve all watched on with a player two sets to one up and find ourselves barracking for the player down a set, simply to see the match forge into a fifth and defining set – it’s tennis at its finest.
So why the debate? I guess we aren’t all traditionalists and some players and media commentators have raised points such as it would be less gruelling on the players and aid longevity in the sport while some have suggested the younger generations prefer a faster pace when consuming their sport.
Well-known tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg tweeted his opinion only a couple of weeks ago, Rothenberg expressing his views against the five-set format.
“In men’s tennis, look at the glorious 2012 Olympics, which featured some classic marathon third sets … modern best-of-five singles has also killed hopes of getting men’s stars to play doubles at Slams.”
Also sharing a similar view was American journalist and Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim, sharing an article over Twitter supporting a move to three-set tennis 12 months ago.
“Men’s grand slams must be three sets – it is the only way to save Roger Federer and Andy Murray.” Wertheim commented.
On the other side of the debate, Aussie tennis great Pat Cash said four years ago he thinks women should also play five-set tennis, coaching Coco Vandeweghe at the time.
In January of last year, grand slam champion Amelie Mauresmo threw her support behind women also playing five-set matches.
“I am in favour of women to play in five sets, initially in grand slam finals … it would take women’s tennis to another level.” Mauresmo told Eurosport France.
As recently as last month, world number 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas offered his view on the five-set game.
“For Grand Slams, best-of-five, I like it … I think it gets more physical, it makes for a great show as well,” Tsitsipas said when speaking at the Miami Open.
It is a hot topic that rears its head as we enter grand slam events, and as you can see, opinions are often divided.
I think cricket provides a quality comparison, while being completely different sports, it has a range of formats, each with its own purpose.
Twenty20 cricket certainly has its place and has grown the game significantly around the world, but test cricket remains the pinnacle of the sport amongst the majority of cricket lovers, and importantly the players.
Tennis has dabbled in a similar way with the Fast Four format, but in my humble opinion, I believe nothing can compare to best of five sets tennis, from a viewing standpoint and fairness.
It makes sense to play best of five at the four most important tournaments in the sport, doesn’t it? It’s the best representation of who is the better player across all aspects of the game. In other tournaments throughout the year, a player might be able to hit the lights out for 60-90 minutes and knockoff anyone in the world by winning two sets, but the best of five format challenges players on a deeper level.
Perhaps the real question is, should women’s matches be the best of five set format as well at grand slam level?
The debate can often rage about equal prize money between men and women yet the formats are different. Equality is what we’re searching for and I think if it was possible, best of five sets for men and women would be ideal.
The only counter to this that I see would be tournament scheduling. Nothing quite throws the run sheet out like a 9-7 fifth set that puts matches behind on a given court. Could tournaments find a way to fit everything in if there was the possibility of a lot more five sets matches? That would be my only query.
From a fairness and spectacle point of view, I think it would be great, as well as truly putting men and women on a level playing field, silencing the sceptics.