The Irvine Protocol

Is it “fun” to play a two- or three-hour tournament singles match?  Is it healthy/wise to do that?  I no longer think so.

View From the Sidelines

With my recovering hip replacement, I have resisted the temptation of entering the singles division of this year’s USTA tournaments; but have watched several of my peers playing their matches.  And watching some long and grueling matches, I have rethought priorities.

Especially with the tournaments using the third set tie breaker only in the doubles, but forcing 70, 75, 80+ year olds to play a full third set in singles, in my opinion, it creates a real health hazard for seniors.

The Irvine Protocol

My February doubles partner, former touring pro Hank Irvine, says since he is coming back from health issues, he now uses his singles matches as a “warmup” for his afternoon doubles matches.  He knows that his life-long tennis play has him follow instinct to go for balls he shouldn’t; so GENERALLY limits himself to a maximum of two hours on the singles court.  (He has violated that principle recently to win two three-set singles matches in Naples).

A couple of years back, I was playing a tournament singles match (coincidentally vs. my now January doubles partner, Noble Hendrix).  He won a close first set; but at the end of about two hours, I won a close second set.  I then walked to the net and told him I was “retiring” to save myself for doubles in the afternoon with partner Chuck Kinyon.

Time Takes its Toll

How many times have you seen the winner of a grueling three-set singles match not have anything left in the tank for the next round and get beaten easily?  Or see them injure themselves and have to default the following match?

Is it worth it?  I do not think so.

One solution is the install the 10-point Match Tiebreaker as the third set in “senior singles” (75? 70? Younger?).  At the Palm Air tournament in Sarasota in February, Hank was playing the singles finals vs. his afternoon doubles partner Evert Jonsson.  After two hours, they had split the first two sets 7-5, 5-7 … and got permission from the tournament director to just play a deciding Ten Pointer (which Hank won).

Another action could also be installing the “Lucky Loser” rule, where the loser of a long match, where the winner has to then default due to injury (or travel plans) gets to move forward in the draw to take his place.

Conditioning Counts!

But there are those select players who are in phenomenal shape and can use the long matches to their benefit.  Those athletes feel that conditioning is a critical part of tournament play – at any age – and would be deprived of their advantage if matches were shortened.

What do YOU think?

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7 thoughts on “The Irvine Protocol

  1. George, certainly a number of factors must be considered: am I healthy enough to play a long singles match to possibly be followed by another long doubles match; how will long matches impact me the next day; is playing singles “fair” respective to my dbls partner.
    I can’t answer for others, but my guess is most of us in mid 70s use a prudent one match per day only approach

    Gary, and maybe then we will live to play in the 80s! Thanks. George

  2. George, The pros use deciding point (no add) scoring, super tiebreaker 3rd set in doubles. With the new round robin format this would shorten doubles matches leaving a little more in the tank for those who still are playing singles. Shorter matches would probably reduce injuries and encourage those of us who are 80+ to play in more tournaments!!
    Tony London

    Tony, good thinking. Thanks. George

  3. George, I filmed that match and will have it up on my YouTube channel in a couple of days. They were working each point and it was hot. To have done a 3rd set, with or without doubles following, would have been cruel and unusual punishment for such valiant play. Glad they did the tiebreaker!

    Mike, the wisdom of old age?! Thanks. George

  4. No thanks! I’m in pretty good shape and will still play a couple of sets of singles from time to time. However, I’m not sure I’d want to do something I really enjoy for 2-3 hours, no less playing a competitive match. I value my health too much to put my body (and mind) through that. I used to be really competitive, but now I feel fortunate that I can play 3-4 times a week and enjoy the game. God bless those who can and want to!

    Steve, signs of maturity? george

  5. George, I like the idea of Match TB for the third in 75 and up. Maybe up to semi’s and then three sets. It would help also to keep tournaments on schedule better. All it takes is a few long three setters to get matches backed up.

    Larry, right, the TDs should like it! thanks, george

  6. George, Since this is a “physical/conditioning” issue, I felt I needed to respond to this great question. The one thing we can’t stop is the “aging” process. However, we can certainly delay it by good nutrition, proper rest, good conditioning and smart selection of playing schedule. Unfortunately, the most difficult part is good conditioning. To reduce the chance of injury and withstand the rigors of competitive tennis, it requires time and effort off the court. That is not easy to do and takes time that we may not have or do not have the desire to do. Do men and women tennis players in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s want to do strength training, proper warm-up, and post match cool-down/stretching that is the gold standard of healthy competition?

    I hope this doesn’t come across as being critical of what this great group of senior players have achieved or that they have not given everything to the sport that we all love. However, after working with athletes at all levels from middle school-high school, DI and DII college, professional levels and now senior tennis players and other sports (endurance athletes, etc), when you don’t do the “little things” something will suffer – either performance or injury. But in reading the many postings and comments on this site, George, I think you guys and gals have maximized your efforts as any I have ever seen or worked with. The bottom line is to work hard but listen to your body and it will make those decisions for you.

    Larry, the challenge we face is NOT listening to our bodies, but listening to that internal ego that prevents us from saying “No more.” One of my “proudest” moments as a runner was when i was running up a hill in 90+ degree summer heat, with my heart pounding in my chest … and i STOPPED running and walked. As always, good advice from you. thanks, george

  7. why not just flip a coin to determine the third set. when the game was invented there were 70 and 75 year olds playing the game. you must get your body prepared to participate, not adjust the rules to suit your fitness level.

    Bobby, first of all, great to finally get a comment from you! And for others to know, this view comes from one of the most fit 75 year olds on the circuit! thanks, george

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