Is 5 Too Much?

While there have been some compelling 5-set comebacks at the AO, is that really the best length of a match – for both the players and the viewers?

Match Enders – first a recap of the major’s match enders:

The Australian Open: Tiebreaker at 6-6 in games in final set: First to 10 points, win by 2

The French Open: No final set tiebreaker; Play continues until player wins by two games

Wimbledon: Tiebreaker at 12-12 games; First to 7 points, win by 2

The US Open: Tiebreaker at 6-6 in games: First to 7 points, win by 2

Five is Too Much

I have long lobbied for senior tennis tournaments in the “older age groups” (70+?), to do away with the full third set in singles and play a Match Tie Breaker at one set apiece.  Because it is both dangerous to one’s health (of which I am now acutely aware!) and in most cases, the winner becomes a loser in their next match.

It is also very challenging to sit in front of the TV for 3-4 hours to watch one tennis match.  It would have to be a very compelling match to demand that much time and attention; like trying to watch a low-scoring hockey match (sorry Willy);

So here is a unique proposal from senior tournament veteran Winder Bill:

“In watching the AO, I have come to the conclusion that 5 set matches are not worth it as the winner is often too limited afterwards (Thiem a recent example).

“However, two out of three sets does not give enough time for a better player to overcome a hot lesser player.  There is so much depth in the men’s game to allow the luck or unsustainable high level play determine the match.  My suggestion: 10-point tiebreaker at 2-2 in sets.  This would leave the winner with a little more gas in the tank to representatively play the next match.”

So, what do YOU think of Winder’s “Modest Proposal” (special recognition to anyone who can identify my literary reference WITHOUT Googling it)?  Or how Grand Slam matches should end?

Naples Tournament

According to Ed Kokkila at Naples’ Sterling Oaks, “There is an upcoming tennis tournament next month.

 “Some might remember back when Sterling Oaks held a tournament with Sneaky Pete’s. We’re trying to generate more interest in local tournaments in SW Florida. Since the super senior tournaments have been canceled, this is a great opportunity to get involved in tournament play.”  For more information, call 239-566-1800 and see flyer.

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19 thoughts on “Is 5 Too Much?

  1. I don’t agree ! I don’t recommend returning to the good old days of Isner v Mahut but this isn’t the main problem. Just look back to the golden era of of our heroes when they may not have been as fit as today’s cohort but they regularly played very long Sets & still finished as scheduled. Why do we still remember Pasarell v Gonzales ? They did so without constant towelling, choosing 2 balls from a vast selection from ball kids all around the Court, sitting down every other game, toilet breaks between Sets, & bouncing the ball 17 times ! Wimbledon used to schedule 5 matches per day on the show courts ! Just get on with it. TV spectators can always switch over to wrestling or canoeing if they prefer a quick result.
    The current limits should be unified for each of the Grand Slams but that’s all.

    Howard, you must have much more patience than I do (but then I remember your tennis game where you would regularly wear down your opponents getting everything back in play again, again, and again!) thanks. George

  2. It is actually multiple-deuce-games that string out matches to 4 hours. Why not use the “sudden death deuce” at the first deuce point, with the receiver choosing which court the server should serve to?
    And isn’t it strange that, despite the late 20’s-early 30’s temperatures in Melbourne, players don’t seem to use the towels as much when they have to go and get them!

    Andy, another interesting solution! And on the toweling off, I believe you are right. Similar toAmerican baseball (Andy is from the UK) batters stepping out of the batter’s box after every pitch to readjust the Velcro on their gloves. Thanks. George

  3. Tiebreaker in lieu of 5th set at slams.

    I believe the slams, ATP, and WTA should huddle and agree upon a common format for tiebreakers. My vote…At 6-6 first to 7 points win by 2.

    Fun fact: When asked what change he would make if he had the chance, Stan Wawrinka said standardize the balls for every tournament. Not happening of course. It’s all about $pon$or$hip.

  4. i mostly agree with Alan, above, and keep it at best 3 out of 5….withe the standard tb at 6-6, and use that format in all 4 Slams……and Yes, Jonathon Swift/ Modest Proposal!!!

    Scoot, i think Alan is saying FOUR sets and a tie break in lieu of the fifth. i would make it a ten pointer. and of course, you would know Swift! thanks, george

  5. and the winner of the “Modest Proposal” reference is Dr. Rick Crootof. Who not only knew it was a treatise written by Jonathan Swift (he of “Gulliver’s Travels” fame); but that it was a sarcastic “solution” to the Irish famine by fattening up babies and he gave a variety of cooking recipes!!

  6. I believe, the matches should be shortened, how many of you reading this still drive a car that is very old.Lol With that being said the modern equipment for tennis has changed, as well as the appliances we use. To not update the formats and in this case shorten the matches , to go along with this fast paced world we live in . Also Don’t we play for fun, I don’t enjoy watching my opponent play when he looks totally exhausted but for some reason he stays out there .

    OhioJack, trouble is that all the tennis powers are stuck on “tradition”. You should hear Newk on the subject when he talks at camp. He won’t even let us play the Comman format for tiebreakers, “That is for wimps!” thanks, george

  7. 1. Common tie-break formats at 6-6 in every set. first to 7, win by 2 points.
    2. With so much toweling off between every point do change of sides every two games but only a sit down break every 4 games.
    3. Aggressively enforce time limits between points.

    Tennis matches even at 3-4 hours sure as heck beat the excitement compared to golf or cricket test matches…personal opinion even though I enjoy to watch both…albeit sparingly.

  8. As is *very* often the case, I’m agree with Winder.

    It had to be pointed out to me, though, that _A Modest Proposal_ was satire.

  9. George,

    Thank you for putting the word out about the upcoming tournament at Sterling Oaks. I’m sure that many of your readers are familiar with Sterling Oaks because of Sneaky Pete’s and the Super Senior tournaments held there in the past.

    I hope your readers will consider playing and to pass the word on to their tennis friends.

    Thanks again!


  10. Multiple issues for me that contribute to a subpar viewing and playing experience at the professional level. And I agree there should be different playing formats (i.e. shorter)as you move up in age. At the pro level, improve the pace of play (remove towel delivery, require electronic line calling = no challenges, tie breaker at 6 all, etc). And while it won’t happen most likely, tweak either the balls and/or racquet/string technology to bring back a more complete style of play for the pro’s (e.g. some serve and volley) vs. a base line slug fest. An occasional 20+ hit rally is OK but I’d love to see some players attacking the net again and developing crisp passing shots.

  11. The Majors should be shortened to 3 sets maximum for several reasons:
    …these players are thoroughbreds, and we’re running them into the ground for years into the future.
    …the winner of the 5-set match has tremendous difficulty playing the next match….not good for the player or the fans.
    …not fair to the older players.
    If a player can’t win in 3 sets, maybe he should adjust his game in order to do it.

  12. Max Wilander sounds like what a literate writer would come up with!

    Nick, i have no idea what this means. george

  13. George, I do not see the “+ a new Naples tournament for March”.

    Nick, it is there at the bottom. Look again! george

  14. There are many reasons why best of 5 matches take so long these days. Certainly the players are bigger, stronger, faster and more consistent leading to frequent 25 to 30 ball rallies to win a single game. This is partly due to better coaching, training, fitness and nutrition, and partly due to improved racket and string technology. The part that is sometimes overlooked is the change in the court speeds and the slower balls which has led to the disappearance of the serve and volley game that was inherently less time consuming. Wimbledon uses a slower grass and heavier balls to create a court that is now slower than most hard courts which in turn have added grit to their surfaces that makes them almost as slow as red clay. Changing these courts could speed up the game substantially. Barring that, make the first two non-deciding sets no-ad scoring, with the remainder regular scoring with a tiebreak in the fifth set universally. No-ad sets rarely last more than a half hour with a maximum of 7 points per game. That could save an hour or more in a 5 set match.

    Dan, or make them play on polished wood gym floors (which i had to one time!). thanks, george

  15. TIEBREAKERS!!!!…slowly i walk, step by step…speaking of tie-breakers i detest the 10-point third set instead of playing it out rule that is forced upon us in USTA team league matches. It is so frustrating when you lose the first set, start figuring them out and win the second and the then they smile at you knowing the ground is level again because of the crap-shoot nature of a tie-break.
    We are playing to get exercise, playing it out is getting more exercise and the right determination of which team is the best team! In years past we have even petitioned our local USTA, unfortunately our requests have been met with a deaf ear.

    Terry, I can understand your frustration. But I am more focused on seniors playing singles (especially in the heat). Thanks. George

  16. George, unfortunately traditional roots run deep at all the Grand Slam tournaments. It would take a determined and persuasive organizational body of individuals to convince major tournament committees to change their formats concerning duration of matches.
    It took a Coronavirus pandemic to switch to electronic line-calling at the Australian Open.
    Will other Grand Slam and major tournaments follow their lead to do the same?
    So far, the feedback, that I have heard has been positive in many ways. Look at Wimbledon, where games are still strung out to 12-12 in the fifth set before a tie-breaker is played. The idea of playing a 10 point match tie break after reaching 2 sets all makes good sense. It would definitely help players recover better for their next match rather than playing poorly and/or become injured. Hopefully, the ATP, WTA and tournament committees will take notice and make some significant changes to enable the pros play their best and also make it enjoyable for the fans as well. There is nothing more hollow than empty stadiums. I believe pro athletes truly enjoy playing before a live crowd, be it tennis or any other sport.

  17. Good topic… as a kid I watched laver vs rosewall play a marathon… I think 3 out of 5 set for a final, women included with coaching, would be a great lift for our sport today!

  18. After reading all the others, how about this hybrid. Best 2 of 3, with the first 2 sets a 7 point tiebreaker at 6 all. The 3rd set would be a 7 point tiebreaker at 12-12 if it got there far. Plenty of opportunities to break in the 3rd set and claim the match. Less tennis in total, which it sounds most prefer.

  19. I have been pondering this subject for a few days now, and I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what I and your readers think. We seniors are the ones who are still watching tennis in person or on TV, and many of us are still willing to sit through the occasional five-set, five-hour match. The problem is that, for tennis to have a bright and prosperous future, the game needs to find a way to draw in the younger generations and deal with their shorter attention spans. The statistics show that something like 80% of dedicated tennis fans are over the age of 55.

    I’m not even sure there is an answer because millenials don’t seem to be interested in any professional sports. Viewership is down for the major sports by as much as, or more than, for tennis. What I do know is that longer matches are not part of the solution. For me, the most exciting tennis event of 2020 was the World Team Tennis event held at the Greenbrier. The championship came down to one deciding point. It was as exciting as a field goal attempt with no time on the clock. With tennis still being looked at as an individual sport, though, I’m not sure WTT is a viable alternative long term.

    Another issue is that, like all of the major sports, tennis may have priced itself out of existence. A very large percentage of the attendance and profits are concentrated at four events. Most other tournaments lose money, and yet prize money continues to climb, along with ticket prices. This is obviously not a sustainable business model.

    I apologize for my very bleak assessment. I hope I’m wrong. In the meantime, you and your readers can live the rest of our lives playing the game we love.

    PS I hope your recovery is going well.

    Jim, sorry to say that i have to agree with you… the tennis audience is aging itself out of the market. Even many/most of my senior friends are not willing to sit thru a long five-setter. the best they will do (like me) is fast forward their recording to the critical game in a set/match. tks, george

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