Why the 5-set format is no longer the future of tennis – Match Points #15

In the latest episode of Match Points, Noah Rubin, Ben Rothenberg, and Simon Cambers talk to host Josh Cohen about how Roland-Garros, and tennis as a whole, should do with the five-set rule in men’s Grand Slams.

October 2, 2020
The figures

The French Open now stands as the only Grand Slam event that still uses the traditional rule — best of five sets, no fifth set tiebreak — and it brought upon a number of marathon matches, like Lorenzo Giustino-Corentin Moutet, that could span multiple days of play.

Giustino vs Moutet, Roland-Garros 2020

Of course, every slam still uses the best-of-five format for men’s singles instead of best-of-three. Should it be changed? Novak Djokovic, for one, things it should. He said during the Nitto ATP Finals that he thinks all tournaments — even majors — should be best-of three.

Our Match Points panel also takes a look at this hot tennis topic.

Big issues

All three of the panelists agree on the current setting being too drawn-out, and that could affect tennis in an array of ways. Rothenberg thinks that the endings are riveting and the long climaxes are fun, but they are bogged down by the preceding four hours to get there.

Cambers and Rubin both raised issues from the TV standpoint, be it the viewers or the broadcasters. With long matches, Rubin doubts that a lot of people are watching those lengthy matches, especially in the early round, while Cambers raised the point where they take up too much air time for broadcasters.

Cambers is also concerned about how five-hour matches could affect players’ health, as their performance tend to drop off drastically following those matches, whereas Rubin raised the point where a physicality-based decider might be the culprit of shifting the focus of tennis coverage from shotmaking to anomalies like marathon matches.

How to fix it?

There are successful examples regarding how to fix the five-setter dilemma, and some could be followed, according to the panel.

Rubin suggested the most drastic measures in going straight to best-out-of-three, as well as testing out 10-point tiebreaks and no advantages in this high level, since it’s never been attempted before.

Cambers and Rothenberg both share the idea that there should be a decider tiebreak specifically at Roland-Garros, and the best-out-of-three format should be rolled in, be it for the first week or the entirety of the tournament. This could achieve other goals like making tennis about the best player, instead of “survival for the fittest,” and perhaps revive the doubles game with less burden on the big players.

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