Why We’ll No Longer See Best-Of-5 Set Men’s Matches At Grand Slams
by Sean Randall | September 12th, 2013, 8:59 pm

I touched on this yesterday, now I’ll expand. For the record I love the best-of-5 Grand Slam format. In fact, I’d like to see best-of-7 or heck, best-of-11. Why not? The added length puts a premium on fitness and only heightens the drama and tension making it truly the ultimate test in tennis. It does, as the saying goes, separate the men from the boys.

Unfortunately, the days of the best-of-5 are numbered. Watching the US Open the last few weeks made that clear to me at least. Four-hour plus matches like Hewitt-Del Potro, Wawrinka-Djokovic, Gasquet-Raonic and even the four-set men’s finale were just tough to sit through at times, and I’m one of those diehard tennis fans. Now imagine the casual viewer who checks into tennis a handful of times a year. Are they really going to glued to the TV for that long?

A few days after Hewitt’s incredible comeback against Del Potro, a reporter on one of those ubiquitous ESPN talkshows (I forget the name and the title of the show) actually made a reasonable point. Because the Hewitt match ran so long the real star of the night, Serena Williams, didn’t take the court until just before midnight. To paraphrase, the reporter asked, “How can a struggling sport like tennis wheel out its very biggest star at midnight? You can’t do that! Fans want to see Serena just not at 12am.” And he’s 100% correct.

How many children or even adults could actually stay up that late to watch their hero Serena play?

Let’s not forget, the US Open is the marquee tennis event in America. It’s when the sport reaches its biggest audience and yet here was a opportunity to make new Serena/tennis fans but a midnight start time torpedoed that.

And if it were reversed with let’s say Serena on first followed by the Hewitt-Del Potro match, how many casual fans would stay to the end of thrilling Hewitt win? A handful at best.

In this ultra-competitive age, tennis just can’t afford to make it this hard for fans to follow the game, follow the stars.

If the sport of tennis is to grow it has to get a stronger toehold among the younger generation. Trotting out Serena at midnight simply isn’t going to get it done. That’s pure stupidity.

So change is needed to put the best tennis has to offer in front of the most people at any given time. To me, that means showcasing the biggest stars in our sport in a primetime 4-hour TV window (in NYC and in Melbourne where we have night sessions, French to follow later) and to get there the men will have to play best-of-3 and not best-of-5 sets.

And it’s my guess is it’s going to happen by the end of the decade starting with the US Open.

Of course such measures are not without protest, so let’s examine at the arguments against.

But Sean, the biggest events should demand the best from the players. This diminishes their achievements.
Again, I love best-of-5 but please tell me, what other major sport changes its format, its rules for their very biggest showcase events?

Does golf add an extra round or extra holes to their majors like the Masters? No.

Is the length of quarters longer in the Super Bowl than those during the NFL regular season? No.

Does baseball add extra innings to World Series games just because it’s their penultimate prize? No.

Is the 100-yard dash longer in the Olympics than at your standard track meet? No.

So why does tennis allow this to happen at its Slams? Just because that’s how it’s been done?

True, such a change would hit the tennis historians hard. And many in the older generation would gripe, rightfully so I think, at any reduction in sets would put an asterisk on future Slams. “Well in my day, we played…”

But haven’t the tours reduced doubles matches already switching to no-ad/super breaker system without much, if any, rebuke. While the Slams haven’t fully embraced that level of reform, they have moved toward the best-of-3 direction for doubles.

And the result?

During the Bryans recent run at the record books I didn’t hear a single peep of how the twins are dominating in a doubles era that requires less than when say McEnroe/Fleming were on top of the game, did you? In fact, because they were just best-of-3 they played on Ashe a few more times, otherwise had they still been best-of-5 as they were in the 80s it’s very doubtful they would have made center until the finals.

To add, when I grew up I recall Miami being a full best-of-5 tournament in the late 80s, and that was start to finish, first round through the finals. What happened? Is Miami now less of a tournament, less of a crown since the switch? No it isn’t. The same goes for all those best-of-5 clay finals that were played 10 years ago – Kitzbuhel, Stuttgart, Rome, etc. Are fans at those events really missing the days of longer finals? Are the players decidedly still upset about that? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

So yes, the record books will be shaken a little but heck, life will go on and tennis tournaments will be won and lost, regardless of the format.

But Sean, I’m a purist, we’ve been playing best-of-5 for a hundred years!
Great! Then you must also read the newspaper, watch movies off VCR and listen to The Who on the 8-track! Get with the times, adapt or die. People, kids especially, don’t have the time anymore to fully invest in a 5 hour entertainment event, especially not tennis!

I love the band U2, but I honestly don’t think I could take a 5 hour show, could you?

But Sean, we’ll lose those great early round 5-set matches!
That’s true, but I think we’ll enjoy better overall matches, especially those involving the elite players.

One thing I hate about the Slams is the seeding of 32 players, a change that went into place just after the turn of this century or thereabouts. And it’s really put the kibosh on the excitement during the first week at the majors.

Ask yourself, how many good first week matches have you seen involving Top 4 men this year in the Grand Slams? Maybe a couple at Wimbledon? Anything at the Australian or the US Open come to mind immediately? Nope, me neither.

You can mostly thank the 32 seeding for that and sadly that’s not going anyway anytime soon. But there’s more to the story of those first week whippings.

When a hack ranked No. 102 is drawn to face Nadal there is little to no chance going in for the upset at say a standard ATP event. Yet at a Slam the problem is compounded because that same longshot hack now has to win not two but THREE sets. Good freakin’ luck!

And once he loses the first set, knowing he still has to win THREE, he’s just fighting for some kind of respectability out there. The result, of course, isn’t pretty, in fact it’s almost painful to watch as these players struggle just to win games on these massive showcourts with thousands of fans wondering if this is what tennis is really all about: 1-sided demolitions.

However, reducing the match to best-of-3 gives these lower ranked player a better shot to win or at least make it competitive. It gives them hope and that hope should translate into better tennis and in turn a better show for that casual fan checking in via TV or in the stands.

If I’m a lower ranked guy or a qualifier, I know I just have to get hot for a few hours, give it my all, and maybe I can get lucky and force the action.

Plus, did we really need to see another set of Djokovic-Berankis, Djokovic-Sousa, Murray-Mayer or Nadal-Dutra Silva? Was there a overwhelming clamor for more from the audiences of those matches? Had they been stopped following the second people would have likely cheered. I know I would have. Instead I just changed the channel.

But Sean, the players will revolt?
Oh really? Sure, some players, especially those with a finer historical appreciation of the sport, will initially voice their disapproval, but privately i think just about everyone will partying like rockstars upon hearing the news.

Get paid the same for doing less? Who wouldn’t want that deal? It’s a dream.

Plus, I would have to think we’d see a decrease in injuries with shorter matches, maybe a reduction in illegal drug use and the women might even applaud the move because no longer would they be stuck in limbo scheduled behind a 5-set men’s marathon.

So it’s a win-win for everyone!

But Sean, 5-set matches are so entertaining, so full of drama!
That’s 100% true and I love the format for that very reason. What’s better than watching two guys this close to death slug it out at the 5-hour mark on a hot, humid day! That’s awesome TV!

But let’s be honest, are there no good 3 set matches? Of course there are. The Djokovic-Nadal, the Federer-Nadal 3 sets matches this summer were thrilling. For those of you watched those matches live, did you feel cheated afterward or were you unsatisfied? Did you really want a fourth, maybe a fifth? I know my tennis third was quenched for the night.

But Sean, the men need to differentiate themselves from the women!
Why? Is the Olympic women’s marathon shorter than the men’s? Is the women’s Olympic swimming pool a different size than the men’s?

If you want to make this sport truly equal just have everybody play by the same rules, same format. What’s the big deal? Because guess what, the women are never, ever, every playing best-of-5 and if the men drop to 3 then that tired argument finally dies. And while I agree that men’s tennis players should earn more than the women, well, it’s just never going to happen in the Slams so let’s just make it all even and be done with it.

But Sean, the US Open average match time is the same as other sports!
So it’s okay that nearly HALF of the men’s matches last longer than an average NFL game? That’s a good thing? Um, no it isn’t. Because that’s football and this is tennis. And remember with the NFL, NBA and even the NHL, they have built in breaks (halftimes and period changes) during those games allowing fans and viewers a breather.

Unless John Isner is playing and needs to do that 30-minute clothing change, there are no extended breaks during a men’s 5-set match. Nothing!

NFL games are limited to 3 hours or so for a reason. because that’s limit fans can consume the sport and that’s what TV wants.

Now so more benefits…

Added TV Flexibility and Interest
As you know or as you should know, TV runs sports in particular the big sports. Because they pay the big bucks their concerns carry significant weight. And I would guess if TV execs were told the men would be reduced to best-of-3 they wouldn’t mind it too much. And not just the American outlets.

Most top tier sporting events run for 2.5-3 hours here in the U.S., that’s pretty much the limit. Baseball tends to go over that mark as does college football. Tennis’s big problem is when you televise a best-of-5 match, it could go 90 minutes, it could go five hours. And that’s not good for big networks like CBS who like to have an idea when their sporting events end, not a range, so they can program accordingly.

Shorter matches would ease those concerns making tennis that much more of an attractive product. And it would allow for greater scheduling flexibility plus there would be a much less chance of the matches running long and postponing other programs.

I know internet streaming is all the rage, but network/cable TV is still the No. 1 way to reach the masses out there. And tennis has make it easier to get on in front of them. Best-of-5 doesn’t help the message.

No More 5 set Carryover Fatigue
Is there anything worse than waiting for that big match in later rounds at a Slam only to have it ruined because one of the guys just played a 5-setter? We’ve all seen it and said, Oh well, my guy has no chance, he just went five sets in the last match. With the exception of maybe Djokovic, that’s often mantra. Players who win 5 set matches are often too depleted for their next match. I don’t know why that is now, maybe it’s just an excuse, but I read it on these boards and I hear it on TV.

“So and so just won a brutal match in the last round, he’ll have little chance today.”

If these guys are competing for the ultimate prize, one long match shouldn’t eliminate you from the event. But as tennis becomes more physical and more punishing, that’s how it seems to be the now reality.

Better Schedules
Count me among the many who think those first week day session schedules on Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver are underwhelming. Usually they consist of one men’s match sandwiched between two women’s matches. With men;s tennis now at the forefront, it’s not a good deal for those ticket holders and the matches largely stink, especially those in New York.

Tournaments like the US and Australian Open are too afraid to put a second men’s match during the day out of fear that their precious night schedule would get destroyed. Best-of-3 solves that and allows tournaments to put better matches where they belong: on the main courts!

And at night no more worrying about matches extending well into the morning preventing kids from enjoying the best our sport has to offer. A 7pm start with two best-of-3 matches should be over by 11pm. The US Open opened with a Williams sister double a few years ago, now imagine what a blockbuster it would be if they could do a Federer-Nadal night session? Unfortunately under best-of-5 they can’t!

So those are some of benefits of moving to shorter men’s matches at majors. If you are still not convinced, then just ask yourself, what’s the downside?

Will you stop buying tickets?

Will you stop watching on TV?

Will you stop following you favorite players?

And will players really be that upset?

Ask yourself, how does tennis lose if this were to pass?

Sure, the greatest matches in our sport have mostly been of the 5-set variety. But guess what, they’ll eventually be replaced by 3-setters. Don’t worry.

Again, I don’t want to this change to happen, I’m just saying that it’s going to happen, so get ready, be prepared and don’t be surprised when it does. My best guess is the US Open will be the first to adopt this and they’ll do it by the end of the decade, maybe sooner. And you know what? Tennis will be better for it.

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113 Comments for Why We’ll No Longer See Best-Of-5 Set Men’s Matches At Grand Slams

skeezer Says:

Shhaamoom! U nailed it ;)

The Great Davy Says:

These sayings I have made for years. Why play all of 5 sets? When we can make just the much money for 3? Good deal for me.

Ben Pronin Says:

Sean, what about the fact that playing best of 3 over 14 days makes a slam, the most prestigious and what should be the ultimate test in tennis, easier than a Masters event? Or even a larger 500?

And doesn’t the NFL have different overtime rules during the playoffs versus the regular season?

And isn’t the issue more with the slower surfaces? Del Potro and Federer played a 4 hour 3 setter at the Olympics. Ok, there was no tiebreaker. Nadal and Djokovic played a 4 hour 3 setter in Madrid. And didn’t Nadal play Moya for 3+ or 4 hours in Chennai way back when?

I still think they should bring back best of 5 to Masters finals. I also don’t care what anyone on ESPN says because they can barely analyze their own sport, let alone tennis.

James Says:

Hopefully best of 3 format in Slams after Roger Federer’s retirement. Nadal in his 30s will need this short format to win more and more slams. Great idea :)

Gregoire Gentil Says:

The problem is not 5 sets, the problems and solutions are:

– stop the bathroom between each point. Nadal carries two towels!!! Let’s enforce even the 20 seconds with a hunk like in basket ball.

– Accelerate speed of courts. Then you will have more net rushers à la Llodra. You will get 5 sets in one hour and half like it was 20 years ago at Wimbledon…

SG1 Says:

I actually kind of like the hybrid approach. 2 out of 3 sets up to and including R16. 3 out of 5 after that. 3 out of 5 is a test of endurance. Endurance and fitness should be part of the makeup of a GS champion. By going to 2 of 3, the more fit player loses some of their advantage which doesn’t seem entirely equitable.

Polo Says:

Might as well get rid of the majors. It will be just like any other tournament, only easier because of the rest days between matches.

How about separating the men from the wome’s events? That would make it easier to organize the matches.

SG1 Says:

Sean does make many good points though. No doubt about it.

SG1 Says:

I wouldn’t have a problem with the women playing 3 of 5 from the quarters onward either.

James Says:

I hope we see a best of 3 format in slams from 2015 on or 2016. I don’t think Rafa’s knees can take back to back 5 setters in his 30s. I pray this happens so Nadal can have 20+ slams, 3 or 4 more than Federer.

hawkeye Says:

@skeez, again, tough to argue with your oh so self-described knowledgable and substantive T-X posts as always BUT…

Again, no ad points and enforce the serve time limit would go a long way (much better than best of three, but they should just leave well enough alone).

Also, no, the average time of 2:44 is LESS than the average NFL game at ~3:10. If the standard deviation of match duration is say 30 minutes which is probably not far off maybe even a bit high (assuming a normal distribution), then only 15% of matches would typically exceed the average length of an NFL game.


Sean Randall Says:

Polo, the Masters are arguably already tougher to win than the Slams.

Ben, the first week at Slams are a sham anyway. Top players don’t face anyone in the Top 30 until the weekend, if that. And by then they have their games revved up. So in my book it’s already easier than a Masters, so what?

Plus, reducing the sets would ward off LONGER slams. Why does Wimbledon play 13 days when the US Open and French are scheduled for 15. Just dumb, just greedy.

As for the NFL, that’s overtime, right?

And slower surfaces? Does it matter? Guys aren’t coming to the net, period. Racquets make it too easy to pass. I know this from experience, because I can pass!

With respect to 5-setters at Masters finals, no chance. Zero.

SG1, women playing 5 sets will never happen. No overwhelming need for it. Why should they? What benefit do they get other than the match is even less appealing for TV.

Gregoire, I think the serve/volley days are over. Technology says so and you can’t put that cat back in the bag.

hawkeye Says:

Let’s get some laser effects and explosion sounds to make it more accessible for the kids too!

Maybe some MMA action instead of tiebreaks.

Rafa vs Roger:


Sean Randall Says:

Hawkeye, how many NFL games this century have gone 3.5+ hours? How many go 4+? How many go 5+? Please tell me. I’m guessing 0 non-overtime games have ever gone 4, and only a few have ever gone 3.5+.

While I wouldn’t mind it, I don’t see no-ad scoring happening in singles anytime soon. We’d see a reduction in sets before then. That’s just too radical.

hawkeye Says:

Not my point. My point is that 4.5+ hr matches are by far the exception and that there is no perspective.

I think it’s an opinion only held by Americans. Don’t hear about it in European media.


Paradox Says:

let us get rid of the concept of grand slams altogether because it looks like TV people in USA does not care much about it and make it a world cup which will be held once a year,but it should be held in a rotatory fashion where different countries host it ,like football world cup.It will be better for the TV people as well as the casual fans.Let us also make a time limit for each set like not more than 30 minutes ,it will be more attractive and match should not go more than 1 hour.Let us make tennis totally a nonspectacular sport for TV people in USA. Better way should be to strip US open its grand slam status and substitute it with a new slam in South America or Asia.

Darla Says:

Then what differentiates a slam from any other tournament? Do they simply eliminate the slams completely?

I love the 5 setters but certainly not the long drawn out slug fests that now pass for tennis .

I totally skipped the US Open mens final because to me it was going to be just another long drawn out bore of long rallies and towel wipes. And guess what, it was!

I don’t know the answer but sadly tennis has become tedious to watch .

Frankie Says:

Then why not scrap the ranking system,and the WTF as well.

Jo Says:

Because so many tennis fans like me opt to just follow tennis in internet news and highlight videos

metan Says:

USA people too busy gossiping Hollywood that’s why no time for tennis, hehehehe,,,,move to China better.. support your post @paradox.

Just saying, for Rafa sake, 3 sets , I am OK, no. And it would be better set 3 is tie break….. You know who is the best in all the crucial moments????

Skeezer Says:

Oh yeah, lets listen to Pair a ducks solutions. Such a ignorant response, in line with these types are accusing others opinions that it USA based. LOL! Now its all about the USA! Can it get any more ignorant? Yep, its Tennis X.

@darla & Jo,

I hear ya. ;)

Tennis for Life Says:

Sour grapes everywhere.
I hate grapes.

Steve 27 Says:

money, money and money. Corporations dominate the world and and we have to please the “Boss”, after all, he has the power.
Oh, and journalists will become next to the “truth” always.

James Says:

LOL say what you want, I don’t think it’s gonna happen any time soon.

Skeezer Says:

Here we go further. Its the USA, the “Boss”, anything else the armada wants to add? L M A O.

Michael Says:

Three set matches at Grand slams ? I do not think that will happen. May be it would be interesting just for a case study and debate.

montecarlo Says:

Sean is on drugs recently.

montecarlo Says:

And there are more chances and talks of Best of 5 Finals returning at WTF then GS adopting a Best of 3 Format.

Skeezer Says:

We’ll see, no?
After all your fav thinks Masters are more important than Slams, no?

Margot Says:

What on earth is going to happen to us Andy fans….he seldom gets out of bed till the second set…….;)
Really interesting read Sean, and I was wondering if reducing slams to best of 3, would result in fewer injuries?

Paradox Says:

Best option is to just downgrade US open to masters series and continue with other slams as it is now.In the place of US open a new slam should come somewhere outside US which cannot be manipulated by US TV honchos who can twist anyone in such a way that it favours their purpose.It is very easy for US TV bosses to buy people off with their dollars.

billyboy512 Says:

This column is too long. I stopped reading half way through. Too busy to finish.

Tennis for Life Says:

I agree with Paradox.
I don’t see anyone other than a few Americans complaining about 5 set matches. So move it out of US to some other country. I guess many will be there to lap it up.

But wait a minute …
I don’t see anyone outside tennis-x discussing about doing away with 5 setters.

Interesting times indeed whenever Rafa wins.

Paradox Says:

Ya, just for US open why bring all other grand slams down to masters level.If US open wants to be a 3 setter let it be.But it should be stripped of its grand slam status.An international consensus is needed for selecting a new venue for a slam in place of US open.

Giles Says:

So, wait a minute. Fed racked up 17 slams in best of 5 scenario. Is it fair to him, for example, if this format is changed to best of 3? We will be seeing the unfit guys winning GS’s that they would otherwise not dream of winning. We can have players like JJ, Isner, Delpo et al scooping all the slams every year. I don’t think this suggestion of best of 3 has been given sufficient thought!!

James Says:

“But wait a minute …
I don’t see anyone outside tennis-x discussing about doing away with 5 setters.”

@Tennis for Life, good observation. I noticed it as well.

Humble Rafa Says:

It is always a bad idea to consider the “length” of matches after the Humble-Egg Lover match.

Each of us has to bounce the ball 20 times, more if it is a break point or something like that. Then we play 54 shot points. Towel our face. Look at our uncles and lovely girl friends. Lots to do between points.

I am glad the American Bald One has retired. His service games usually lasted about a minute…irrespective of whether he won or lost the game (advantage of having no game other than a serve).

Humble Highness would have won 40 slams if it was 3 sets. Just saying. Easy on the body, especially the knee.

Giles Says:

@James. I wonder why Tennis -X opened this subject. There must be murmurings elsewhere. If not, this is a non- issue and should be left as such.

Brando Says:

This is- quite frankly- a ridiculous idea. It makes the slams redundant of their prestige and virtually no better than a MS: is that what any true tennis fan wants? Hell no! It would be a mockery, a farce of a change and ALL to appease: 1- Money hungry US networks 2- fans with the attention span of a fish. Well I’m sorry but that just ain’t good enough a reason to change something that is adored by many universally: the best of 5 sets GS theater. It seperates the men from the boys, the best from the rest, adds prestige to genuinely great players since they have won on the highest level of the game as opposed to 500pt best of 3 tourny. Sean: you say it’s an inevitable change- I completely disagree on that point. Where exactly is the evidence for such a change being even a consideration right now? Nowhere! So I’m sorry but: 1- this will never happen 2- it’s a farce to even want to reduce the slams to such a level!

James Says:

LOL Humble Rafa! Nole and Rafa are so great. When I take more than 15 seconds to serve, I feel like it breaks my rhythm and concerntration. Also I don’t get it why people bounce the ball more than thrice before serving. I sometimes don’t even bother bouncing it even once before the serve.

James Says:

@Giles, no idea, man. When I googled best of 3 slams tennis, I came across this article below:


Ben Pronin Says:

Sean, I agree the 15 day thing is being greedy. Keep it 14. And yes, the first week is a sham (especially nowadays) so I’m all for having best of 3 in the first 3 rounds then best of 5 in the second week. The second week is what matters, right? So it should remain the toughest part of the sport.

We can compare it to other sports all day, but it’s not those other sports. It’s tennis. It’s always been like this. This is what separates it from other sports.

But to counter, what about the NBA? The playoffs are almost a different league from the regular season.

I think you’re blowing things a little out of proportion. Like I said, there were maybe 5 matches that went on longer than 4 hours. Not a single one was 5 hours. Big deal? Enforce the time between points rule. Speed up the courts. Even if passing is easier, if the courts are faster, then hitting a winner or an approach shot with a lot of pace will be easier.

I’m just not buying this to be the ultimate problem.

Giles Says:

@James. I read the article, thanks. It seems an American, Patrick Mac is bandying this idea around. American tennis is in the doldrums, their players are unfit. Does he think they will win GS’s with a best of three format? Probably. But the whole concept is totally wrong. How do we differentiate between the Masters and the 500’s and 250’s? Totally bald idea IMO!!

Polo Says:

Let’s just get rid of tennis all together. Nobody has the time and patience to watch a long match, and nobody wants to watch a short slam-bang-point done match either. Get rid of all the tennis records especially those slams because they don’t really mean anything because supposedly, the masters are tougher to win than the majors. We, the spectators, have been getting fooled all this time, then. I think I’ll stick to golf and football.

Polo Says:

The real sham in tennis is the TV coverage in America. They have the worst commentators and the worst coverage. As long as they is an American playing, regardless of his/her ranking and how terrible the match is, TV will insist on showing than where there are several very interesting matches going on. Hence, most viewers lose interest. It a match is truly interesting, it will attract viewers regardless of its length. I have seen many sports go into overtime (football, baseball, hockey, even golf sudden death playoffs and they are very interesting and keep me glued to the TV).

Skeezer Says:

“I really enjoyed the Olympics last year. I thought the dynamic of the [best-of-three-sets] matches was good and the intensity level was higher, earlier. The better players pretty much won anyway.”



Polo Says:

Oops, several typo errors but you can read through them, I’m sure.

holdserve Says:

Only Fed fans would be interested in the grand slams being reduced to best of 3 because they think that will give their man a chance to win more slams.

I think all players including Fed would consider changing grand slams to best of 3 as nothing short of sacrilege.

Besides Grand slams are stretched over 2 weeks, Masters are not.
Also Masters are considered less important and doubles are considered even less so. So reducing them doesn’t mean that next slams would be trimmed.
Slams have evolved to become the most prestigious and no one is going to dare to tamper with their 5 set format.
Unless tennis is in the doldrums in which case they could throw out sets to save the sinking ship.
But while tennis is not popular in the USA, it is popular in China and India. So maybe US Open could move there for the good of tennis.

Brando Says:

Well that’s an idea isn’t for the ATP: move the USO open from the USA where networks and impatient fans struggle to appreciate the game to somewhere that neither is an issue. Problem solved then isn’t it: the game goes on continuing to find appreciation and prosperity and the US networks get to gain viewers by showing 90 minute programmes to appease viewers who reaching a breaking point beyond it.

Giles Says:

@Polo. 10.17 am. Lol.

skeezer Says:

i knew this would downgrade to a rafafan blaming fedfans piss fest. pathetic….

SG1 Says:

Ben’s 8:28 post makes sense to me.

SG1 Says:

I will say this about the first of this year’s USO. Look at the match between Federer and Mannarino. Was it a turkey shoot? Yes. But, it also gives you the chance to see just how good the top guys are. It can be fun to watch as well. I just don’t think we need to see 3 sets of it. 2 seems to be enough.

madmax Says:

To paraphrase, the reporter asked, “How can a struggling sport like tennis wheel out its very biggest star at midnight? You can’t do that! Fans want to see Serena just not at 12am.” And he’s 100% correct.

Tennis a struggling sport? I don’t get it? And no explanation either.

Thangs Says:

Nadal’s win makes few people mad..No wonder to see such stupid article…

Ben Pronin Says:

Federer has won 1 title all year. In Halle. In other words, he’s struggling every where regardless of the format or surface. What does this article have to do with him?

Here’s another thing: let’s be honest, this year’s US Open was, for the most part, a dud. Yes we had good storylines with Nadal and Serena (somewhat). But at the end of the day, sports aren’t about storylines, they’re about sports.

Hewitt-Del Potro, Wawrinka-Djokovic, Gasquet-Raonic were not the source of the problem, they were the shining stars of the event. The men’s final was no classic. The women’s final was the only good match of the event. If the tournament was best of 3, this slam would’ve been even more atrocious. Is that what we want as tennis fans? To show the sporting world just how boring tennis can be?

Hamza Says:

I suppose turning 5 setters to 3 setters is one way to get more upsets. If the slams were 3 setters, Stan would’ve beaten Djokovic if you ignore the last two sets. Isner would’ve beaten Rafa in 2011 at the French if you ignore the last 2 sets. Federer would’ve beaten Delpotro in US open 2009 if you ignore the last two sets. There will be countless number of matches which will have a different winner, not necessarily the better one. 5 sets raise the bar. You’ve got to to be the better player for a longer period of time.

If at all, 3 set grandslams would diminish tennis.
If 3 setters are a sprint, 5 setters are a marathon. How many 5 set tourneys do we have in a year ? 4, yes only 4, with each one of them in different countries. Barring these 4 tourneys, every tourney has 3 sets. I don’t see an overdose of 5 setters at all.

As Rob Koenig says, You’ve got to to be kidding me.

Sean Randall Says:

Besides saying it’s a dumb idea, does anyone actually have any compelling reasons to keep matches at 5 sets? I haven’t heard any.

And what benifit would the Masters events get from going back to 5-set finals?

Ben, I guess another way to look at is to ask, what other sport has their greatest games (NFL, NBA, etc) last beyond 4 hours?

While the majority of the greatest tennis matches exceed that mark, am I right?

And there lies the disconnect.

If I tell a casual fan you have to see that Wawrinka-Djokovic match from the Australia, that might be tough for him to invest 5 hours to do it.

But I tell that same person to watch the Federer-Nadal from Cincinnati this year, it’s online and it’s only 2:14, that’s more reasonable.

hawkeye Says:

Those are the greatest of history (i.e, they are rare exceptions).

Compelling is a subjective term and I think there have already been many such reasons expressed.

I haven’t heard any compelling reasons to go to best of three IMO.

Your data is anecdotal without perspective.

How long is too long and what percentage of matches exceed that time.

Seems like we are talking about the exceptions and not the norm.

Again, IF something was to be done, I think having majors go to best of three is much more radical than moving to no ad tennis and enforcing the time limits.

Hope this post sticks! ;)

Ben Pronin Says:

“Besides saying it’s a dumb idea, does anyone actually have any compelling reasons to keep matches at 5 sets? I haven’t heard any.”

LOL Sean, welcome to Tennis-x, no?

But was the Cincy match one of the better matches that we’ve seen? Tennis is simply a sport where, a lot of times, the longer the better. It’s just how it goes. Are we supposed to not get great matches then?

Wawrinka-Djokovic at the USO was not a great match. Wawrinka-Djokovic at AO was a great match. I’m not going to rewatch a 2 hour either. But I’ll watch the 5-15 minute highlights.

The benefit for Masters is we get more epic matches. Naturally :)

Tennis Vagabond Says:

I also think the Tour de France should be shortened to 3 hours.
The Olympic marathon can be cut to 150m, with a commercial break.
And Simona Halep should play naked.

More viewers all round.

Okiegal Says:

How about this……You get your money’s worth!! I think the five sets are more exciting…..Your fav can be down two sets and could come back and win it. What is more special than that? The worst thing is wear and tear on the body. They shortened the matches with tie breaks…..so play 5 sets..
That’s a slam…….bam thank ya ma’am!! I love tennis. If a match goes 5……You have been entertained. Okiegal’s 2 cents worth.

Hamza Says:

Sean, I think compelling arguments have been given here. 5 set tennis is a different sport. 3 set tennis is not the same as 5 set tennis. Sure 3 set tennis gives you thrilling matches, but it’s not the thrill that concerns me. It’s the fact that we’re getting rid of a sport altogether. 5 sets test aspects of a player’s game which 3 sets probably don’t.

Would Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of all time, win a 1600 meter race ? If you’re into cricket, is the best T20 cricket team necessarily the best Test cricket team as well ? I know that in cricket, the authorities are finding it hard to preserve test cricket whilst everybody is in agreement that it is THE most important format of the game.

If tennis has come to such a point where 5 setters cannot capture the viewer’s attention span, then some of the Master tournaments should be dropped from the tour. May be there is too much tennis being played ?

The whole argument about 3 set grandslams is based on capturing viewer’s attention span so that money keeps coming. I feel it’s a much real debate in cricket with the rise of T20 but everybody is in agreement that test cricket needs to be preserved even if it requires sacrificing ODIs. Hence, the reason I say that if the problem is real, we should do away with some of the Masters tournaments to enhance the value of the grandslams.

Alex Says:


Couldn’t agree more, great post.

Skeezer Says:

“If the tournament was best of 3, this slam would’ve been even more atrocious.”

Like how? You mean like then could have played a final on Sunday? For sure the ratings would have been better!

I don’t buy the argument that Stan would have beaten Djoker(as an example). When they know they have only 3 sets to play, the urgency would pick up, and strategy. You most likely would have seen a different match. Just sayin its a different animal in a players mind in when playing out over 3 sets vs 5.

Alex Says:

Although a better option would be to speed up the courts and do away with the double-handed backhand…

Now then we would have a gem.


On another note im very happy Putin has finally put a stop to all this nonsense. Worth mentioning is the(ongoing) expansion of military presence in the Mediterranean to 10 Warships.

Well done Putin,

The recent open ended letter in the New Yorker made sense to me and awoke new fear of what might befall us all if we don’t take action.

I might just sleep without worry this evening.

What a crazy world we live in.

Kimberly Says:

Agree with Ben’s post at 9:38 pm entirely.

lol Margot comment re Murray late wake up.

I am with Ben 100%. I have two kids, a job, a busy tennis/workout schedule, community activities and I have time to watch a lot of sports. As long as they keep showing best of five I will keep watching.

Trust me, true tennis fans were delighted to watch the Delpo Hewitt and no one absolutely no one was holding their breath waiting to watch Serena Williams put an 0 and 0 beater on someone.

SG1 Says:

Ben Pronin Says:
Federer has won 1 title all year. In Halle. In other words, he’s struggling every where regardless of the format or surface. What does this article have to do with him?


My only point was in regards to the statement that the first week of majors is sham. While the matches may be one sided, it’s still an opportunity to see guys like Federer in their comfort zone and showing the full breadth of their talent. I wasn’t singling out Federer. I could have easily said Rafa, or Murray or Novak.

In terms of the first week being a sham, let’s remember that both Federer and Rafa were dusted in Round 1 at Wimbledon. Stuff can happen, even with 32 seeds. Conversely, during the 80’s, when Lendl dominated the USO and there were only 16 seeds, he routinely handed out bagels and bread sticks.

It’s tough to come to any definitive conclusions about what’s good or bad for tennis. There are arguments that go both ways.

andrea Says:

i think getting rid of 5 setters is a great idea…especially the way men’s tennis is going these days: who can outlast who from a fitness standpoint.

when year end champs were best of 5 in the final only, that made sense. offering best of 5 in a GS final would reduce the wear and tear on players in matches leading up to the final. there could still be gripping best of 3 sets, which is what we have at the masters events anyway.

i’m a rabid tennis fan but even i don’t have the time, or interest, to watch every minute of every match. even if i had the time, i wouldn’t. i don’t want to be in front of a screen for that long. when you’re watching it live at a venue like the US Open, sure it can be fun for a 5 setter (especially at a night match with a few beers in you), but it’s just as compelling to watch people duke it out in a 3rd final set it its only 3 sets.

fans would only be outraged because humans hate change. (check out all the posts here!) once they got used to it, it would be a non issue.

a 5 set final would be a great way to end it all.

while we’re discussing change, how about all the other GS’s adopting the fifth set tie breaker? how interesting is it (other than from a sheer spectacle and record book situation) to watch isner/mahut go on for 3 days?


SG1 Says:

Sean Randall Says:
Besides saying it’s a dumb idea, does anyone actually have any compelling reasons to keep matches at 5 sets? I haven’t heard any.


It’s no dumber than making a football game go 3 quarters or a baseball game 7 innings instead of 9 for regular season games. All of these things could be done to football/baseball without affecting the mechanics of how they’re played. The games are 4 quarters and 9 innings by definition. Definitions aren’t smart or dumb. They just are what they are.

By definition, tennis has been a 5 set affair at the slams. It’s not dumb for it to be 5 sets. If the matches are changed to 2 of 3, this isn’t dumb either. But, most sports are symbolized by certain characteristics that define them. 3 of 5 set matches are what define slams.

Steve 27 Says:

Ask Sampras is a good idea. The reality, since 2003 american tennis male players suck. Their performnces are horrendous, this is the truth.
the American people want to see always winners, not guys who lack the category of champions. No idols own for people to admire, companies lose a lot of money and the show find it boring now. They argue that the games are too long, everyone seems to have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Buy-known figures have to explain the “goodness” of the new format and journalists that are sold to the highest bidder trying to explain that the idea is good and would be better for everyone. You have to make money as quickly as possible and at the moment, you have to give a twist to “good business”.
Long live Uncle Sam!

Alex Says:

I know it sounds biased but, is this perhaps the blow back coming from Feds decline and slowing down of the courts?

As a big Fed fan I understand that Fed is close to the end, at least age wise. Yes Nadal has the h2h.

The point is, Fed always *had the awesome aggressive style vs the awesome Nadal defensive style.

All im trying to say is that if the tennis was still like it was in Fedal days we maybe wouldn’t have this discussion.

Two opposites on either side displaying different skill sets

Fed the aggressive player + Nadal the ultimate competitor, monster topspin etc was fine.

Today’s environment allows no place for a rivalry like Fedal.

Its more ball bashing and boring rallies that never stop.

Now once Nadal is also gone I think things will get very boring.

*gosh, speaking in the past-tense, its already become a case of referring to the old Fed.

Hamza Says:


Very good points Alex. I actually agree with you that Fed’s decline has contributed immensely to this debate. Federer fans see Murray, Djokovic and Nadal as players who display the same brand of tennis. Because Federer hasn’t been making a deep run in the second week of the slams, people who prefer Federer’s style over the others find the second week of the grandslams painful. On top of that, those who do make it deep into the slams other than the big 3, exhibit a similar brand of tennis. Although, I must say that Wawrinka made the US open pretty interesting this time around. He played an attacking game and his QF and SF matches were great to watch.

If Federer’s decline is truly the cause of this debate, then I hope 2014 sees a rejuvenated Federer who makes deep into the slams (wouldn’t want to see him winning though because I’m a Rafa fan :) ). A rejuvenated Federer can probably keep the Fed fans interested in the slams.

hawkeye Says:

Fed wouldn’t have a French Open title if it was best of three as Haas was up two sets and Delpo was up 2-1.

Benneteau would have taken him out at ’12 Wimby too! No strategy would have saved him that day. His back was bad and he was reeling.

Also Izzy would have taken out Rafa at the FO.


skeezer Says:

^Again your tennis knowledge is weak. Just because you do the math on “IF” they didn’t play 5 so they would have won in 3 doesn’t compute in the real tennis game. If the player knows he is playing a 3 setter ahead of time its a whole different mentality in strategy and play.


skeezer Says:

Some are starting to skew Seans proposal. The amount of sets played isn’t nearly as important as the time nowadays to play a tennis match. Its just not the 5 sets, its the length of time also……like some of us have been saying….5-6 hours? And that is where we are heading in the modern game.

So of us have the luxury to see 5-6 hours of tennis in a day, do all the other stuff we want to in a day and its all good. I don’t think the average sports fan has that time anymore..( ok MAYBE on a Sunday…but with DVR nowadays why would you watch it live when you can make better use of your family and personal time? ) but not the whole weekend.

btw, nobody chimin in on the disaster decision of the USTA USO Finals of a Slam on Mondays now? Blasphemy!

Kimberly Says:

I don’t know if its a whole different strategy but one does not dig deep if one knows it is a long match. Nadal wasn’t panicking at all against Brands when he dumped a set at roland garros and he almost dumped two. Still in his post match he said it is a long match.

Obviously best of five rewards the better player. Isn’t that what it should be? I see no need to change this and frankly I think masters finals should go back to best of five!

skeezer Says:

“Obviously best of five rewards the better player.”

Really, in what way besides endurance?

skeezer Says:

^ I mean..why not 6 or 7 sets then?

Steve 27 Says:


Kimberly Says:

If two players ar etl tired after a five set final of masters then they can sit out the next tournament and give someone else a chance who is fresh. I think doubles is eroding with super breakers and too little play.

Usta leagues now requires a super breaker if the first tow sets are split. I think it’s lame! If you don’tthave the time to play 3 either win or lose in two or don’t play! It takes away the advantage over cramping opponents who feel a ray of hope that the match will be over in ten points rather than having to suffer another hour in the heat. Also leaves more to luck

Kimberly Says:

Skeezer, because one can play out of their shoes for one or two sets but its hard to play above yourself for more than that, during Roddicks gazillion losses to federer it always seemed Andy’s level dipped after one or two sets and fed was still there, because he was better, his level was always there. I am notnexpressingnthis very well but I know what it mean,

Why not six or seven? Best of six could split even at 3-3 and best of seven two long,

Tennis for Life Says:

Still this nonsense is going on ??

Skeezer Says:

I do think it is lame with the usta leagues. In our league the players on court can decide to play 3 or ST, and most of the time everyone wants to play 3.

But this is money Tennis, and the sponsors want fans to pay to watch.

Doubles on the Tour is like the hand me downs of tennis. at IW they played Supers on all doubs matches :(.

Skeezer Says:

I get that of course, meant 7. Just makin the point it shouldn’t all be about last man standing either ( remember Rafole AO? ) both guys could hardly stand up after. But, great match I admit :-), although didn’t watch from the beginning…

hawkeye Says:

skeezer, only your reading comprehension skills are weak. Please read more carefully.

Also, the Monday final was planned this year and next as a TEMPORARY measure (if you knew anything about tennis). It is also for purely selfish business reasons to maintain the lame “Super Saturday”.

All other majors have a Friday semi and Sunday final.

Once ESPN takes over from CBS in 2015, the USO will do the same.

I will spell it out for you a-g-a-i-n…

Fed had no plan for the first two sets at Wimby. He was simply hurt and outplayed until his MTO. At the ’09 FO sans Rafa, he might have escaped one of Haas or Delpo in best of three but very likely not both.


Skeezer Says:

I don’t give a rats a$$ about your “plan” about Fed nor was it the topic, and if you continue to make personal attacks it will be duly noted “dude”. Read the guidelines.

Stick to the topic, and quit the Fedal sh!t, it don’t apply here.

hawkeye Says:

^You mean like these “dude”?

Skeezer Says:
“Such a ignorant response,
Skeezer Says:
Again your tennis knowledge is weak

And you might read the guidelines regarding offensive language.

Anyhow, my sincerest apologies if you were truly offended. I’ll lay off.

However, Rafger certainly DOES apply here as best of three in majors may very well have affected their respective legacies.

At the very least, going to best of three would put an asterisk next to any current records broken under such a format. I can hear it now: “Yeah, but it wasn’t best of five.”

Skeezer Says:

“At the very least, going to best of three would put an asterisk next to any current records broken under such a format. I can hear it now: “Yeah, but it wasn’t best of five”
Already been discussed..next? Re read….

Is that it? Getting some Zzz’s soon..

Who’s your pick in the seachick niner game wherethe NFL averages 3 hrs?

Miami might surprise tke league this year, hope theydo for Kimberlys sake ;).

Slice Tennis Says:

Hey guys,
Enough of this nonsense.
Lets get back to tennis.

A request for Sean.
It would be better if you come up with an article to touch up on the technical improvements/adjustments Rafa has made to beat the field and also to avoid injuries, what Nole needs to do technically to get back his confidence, how this rivalry is going to shape up (technically) in future, etc.

Please Sean….I want a pure tennis article.
You are capable of it.

Skeezer Says:

^yes but Rafa has been talked out by the rafa ites here, why more flooding on stuff that is already talked about over and over? talk about re tread. How about how Stan and Gas improved and got through?


Slice Tennis Says:

hawkeye Says:
^You mean like these “dude”?

Skeezer Says:
“Such a ignorant response,
Skeezer Says:
Again your tennis knowledge is weak

And you might read the guidelines regarding offensive language.

Great response.
Leave that guy alone. He is still bitter and it will only get worse in future. Lets enjoy the good times.

James Says:

Most of the matches at this year’s USO were quite short. Nadal and Djokovic were serving bagel after bagel and most of their matches didn’t take more than 2 hours. Fed did the same before going out in straight sets to another veteran Robredo. The final between Nadal and Djokovic was what 3 hours 20 minutes? I didn’t see no long matches. Which match was 5-6 hours long????? Nadal-Djokovic in Oz was nearly 6 hours and these two have never played anywhere that long again. 5-6 hours matches are not and will never be the norm. It is and will always be 2-3 hours long matches in Slams.

Sean Randall Says:

Thanks Slice Tennis.

Since I guess I’m a DJ now, anyone have any other requests?

James Says:

The best thing the USTA can do at this point is move the USO men’s final from Monday to Sunday. That’s how more people will watch the sport, on a day they are not to be at work.

Slice Tennis Says:

“How about how Stan and Gas”

Stan is not so great. He has been a consistent top 10/20 player for years, but still could not manage even a single davis cup even though he had another decent player who was ranked higher in his team.

Gas…the one who got banned for drug abuse ?

Slice Tennis Says:

Thanks Sean.
Looking forward to it.

Slice Tennis Says:

“The final between Nadal and Djokovic was what 3 hours 20 minutes? I didn’t see no long matches. Which match was 5-6 hours long????? Nadal-Djokovic in Oz was nearly 6 hours and these two have never played anywhere that long again. 5-6 hours matches are not and will never be the norm. It is and will always be 2-3 hours long matches in Slams.”

Valid point James.
Someone wants to change the basic traditional game just because 1 out of a million matches went for 6 hrs. Funny and nonsense.

WTF Says:

In response to the Serena argument where she didn’t go out until midnight, the same thing happens in Australia.

This argument only works in Australia and New York where there are floodlights and no closing deadline. In Paris and London, matches have to be postponed due to darkness, so that problem will never happen.

AO and USO can fix this by putting Serena on a different court at say 9:30 tops, and have a second channel to cover the game running concurrently. People who bought tickets expecting to get both should get a partial refund, and be told they can move to the new court if they want.

Polo Says:

Personally, I would like a separate majors for the men and the women’s. Let’s see if there is equality in attendance between men’s and women’s. At the US Open night matches, I am happy when the men go first. I can sleep right after that.

Zeljko Says:

Your arguments for shortening the game are stupid.

Maybe we should turn tennis into Disneylend amusment park fun for seven years kids?
Maybe every sport should last 15 minutes because after that people concentration lowers rapidly?

Masters turnament finals WERE PLAYED IN THE BEST OF 5 SETS format and because of that we have had one of the greatest clay court matches of all time. It was Rome ATP Masters 2006 Final between Rafa nad Roger.Even WTA tried to bring womens tennis to higher standards bringing the 5 set format to Masters Final event so we had 5 set EPIC between Seles and Sabatini. Those were the days of high competition and great quality of womens game.

Fastening the things won’t bring anything. It will completely ruin the game. Kids should watch cartoons and older people should sleep and watch higlights or replay.

tenis Says:

1. Separate the men’s and women’s events at the Slams.

2. Start the matches earlier in the day. Everyone needs to get out of bed and get going anyway. I am sure that most of the players are out of bed early in the day. If not, they need to fire their coaches and reexamine their practice schedules.

3. The organizers of the Slams should set the schedule for the events instead of dictating to the desires of the television networks.

Chico Says:

Thank you Sean & Co for this passion that has happened to take the form of a blog that covers the pro tennis scene.

Usually I just follow the ebbs and flow´s of dialogue with a subtle blend of admiration, amusement, wonder and disgust :), but now you hit a nail with the 5 to 3 topic, that I can not help but comment on it. I would brake it down to two things:

Evolution, and Time.

Survival of the fittest. We would not have the tennis we have today if those running on the courts would not have to grind to build a stamina, mental and physical, to last through a best of five contest. It is the competition and the environment that decides the outcome in the end. Mankind needs examples of individuals overcoming themselves and hurdles, why ease the task?

The time we have is restricted, so what we tend to try to do, is to maximize the value of that time. It has already been documented that in today’s time of split information, the human brain has specialized into coping better with multiple sources of information, with the cost being the lessening of the maximum entity one can fathom. If we continue on that path, we’ll get more and more bits and pieces, but the amount of value will be less.

It is true that the early rounds make up for less drama and excitement but on the same time it builds on the drama for the final rounds, and it works as a tougher school for the journeymen learning the trade.

Jatin Says:

The good thing about us Indians is “we are used to it “. I mean , if we could enjoy test cricket which lasts for 5 straight days (and most of the time with no results ) then why would we have any sort of problems in watching a tennis match which only last for 4 to 5 hours ????
Too short for us LOL.

Maybe people in USA are not used to it but we certainly are. Plus , best of 5 sets are the LIFE of tennis. Without it , tennis is nothing.

Andrew Miller Says:

I can’t see the set numbers changing but the court surface.

This problem wasn’t around in the 1990s and early 2000s – then in the mid 2000s the courts started to get slower, the technology better, the rallies longer. The debate used to be about preventing big servers from dominating. Now it’s about preventing the rally die hards from dominating.

Pick your poison.

Fast courts play more to U.S. players temperments and strengths. Slow courts more to the fittest and survival of same.

Personally I think it was a mistake to slow down the game – this has creates a core of players who, despite being the best in the world, have to win 54 ball rallies. Sure, a two bally rally is not good. But the game didn’t have this in mind. There is no diversity of styles, and we all know there should be.

Mike Says:

IF they do away with 5 setters then I am done. I LOVE THE 5 Set match. I think the women, if they want to be paid the same as the men, need to play 5 setters as well.

We have had some of the greatest tennis ever in the past few years because of the 5 sets.

Were you thinking clearly when you suggested this?

Ty Says:

The progression of T-X:

1. An idea is generated.

2. The idea is discussed.

3. A poster brings up Rafa.

4. A poster brings up Fed.

5. Rafa > Fed.

6. Fed > Rafa.

7. A poster brings up head-to-head.

8. A poster brings up slam count.

9. Discussion dies.

10. Rinse.

11. Repeat.

hawkeye Says:

You forgot the personal insults.

hawkeye Says:

Cilic suspended for nine months retro to May 1 means he won’t be able to play AO ’14.

How can he be suspected of PEDs when he didn’t beat Federer?


holdserve Says:

“How can he be suspected of PEDs when he didn’t beat Federer?”

Doping is a necessary but not sufficient condition for beating Federer ( or should it be Pederer?)

In other words, if X beats Fed it implies X is doping. Hence all the brilliant blogs ruansfederer, perfectennis, tennishasasteroidproblem etc

However if X dopes, you cannot deduce X beats Fed. Therefore Cilic could be suspected of doping even though he didn’t beat Fed.


skeezer Says:

“You forgot the personal insults.”
Your “especialidad” el hawknose!
The talk on this blog has turned into bad breath, with no listerine in sight. Too bad, it was a pretty cool site once upon a time.

hawkeye Says:

Uhmm, yeah, you just proved your own point.


Top story: Nadal Dominates In Monte Carlo Clay Debut, Dimitrov Next; Djokovic Returns Thurs.