Doubles, singles players split on reducing Wimbledon men’s doubles to best-of-three sets

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Weather caused tournament officials to make the controversial change. (AP)

LONDON—While the singles draws at Wimbledon are getting back on schedule following a rain-interrupted week, the doubles draw is still in some disarray.

Unlike other tournaments, the format of the men's doubles tournament at Wimbledon is best-of-five sets, like men’s singles. But inclement weather led organizers to reduce first-round doubles matches to best-of-three sets on Wednesday, and more rain meant the second round was also reduced to best-of-three.

Some doubles players, including Scott Lipsky, did not like the move, protesting on social media.

The circumstances have also created a scheduling imbalance. Entering Sunday—normally an idle day at Wimbledon, but featuring matches for just the fourth time in tournament history—two first-round doubles matches were still to be started, with six teams already in the third round. All other teams were into the second round.

There appears to be more opposition to the change from the top doubles players, while those also involved in singles prefer the reduced playing demands. 

"I know they've got matches to catch up on and that sort of stuff, but it's a very different game when you go from best-of-three to best-of-five," Sam Groth told TENNIS.com, having reached the third round with partner Robert Lindstedt. "One break in a set in best-of-three and the match has all of a sudden swung around. Best-of-five you have time to get in the match. I feel best-of-five, the better doubles team on grass probably a lot of times has a chance to come back.

"Obviously the weather's been bad, but they made a very early decision on the first round and then they made a very, very early decision on the second round."

Groth, who also lost in the first round of the singles tournament, suggested that players should know what they are getting into. "London hasn't got the best weather in the world,” the Aussie said. "You've got to be prepared to play best-of-five singles and doubles if they're the events you enter."

Defending doubles champions Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau were defeated in straight sets in the first round.

While other Grand Slams play the entire doubles tournament as best-of-three sets, at Wimbledon it means changing the rules during the event.

"The other Slams, we go in knowing it's best of three," Lindstedt told TENNIS.com. “It's supposed to be a best of five-of-five tournament, and then you take it away—for us doubles guys, we love to play five sets.

"The reason I love best-of-five so much is in best-of-five you cannot walk off the court and go like, 'I got unlucky.' It's too long of a match. The better team will most cases come with a win. It's a lot of tennis to be played for anyone that's in more than one event, but that's what we think. If you have a best-of-five event, you should stick to a best-of-five event."

That opinion was not shared by Nicolas Mahut, who won his third-round singles match against doubles partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Saturday, but then saw his first-round doubles match postponed for yet another day.

The Frenchman not only likes the reduction across the first two rounds—he would like to see it applied to the entire event. "It's really good for when a player is involved in singles, it's really good to play best-of-three," Mahut told TENNIS.com. "And I think this is something they have to think about in here in Wimbledon, to play all the matches best of three and maybe, maybe to keep the final best of five. I think it's good news for us to start best-of-three."


(Screenshot from Wimbledon.com)

Mahut and Herbert, the top doubles seeds, could play Groth and Linstedt in the third round, if they win their next two matches. Mahut is not sure whether his team will now be at a big disadvantage for the rest of the event, but does know playing best-of-three will lessen it. 

"It might be," he said. "It's best-of-three, so if we play today and tomorrow we have time to recover and be ready for the third round. But also for the team already in the third round, [sitting around] for one, two, three days, it's also not easy."

The format change might hardly have been noticed by Lleyton Hewitt and doubles partner Jordan Thompson, who won a four-hour first-rounder against Nicolas Almagro and David Marrero, 19-17 in the third, in what was more like a best-of-five set match.

Hewitt, who is also helping the other Australians as the country's Davis Cup captain, also had little reaction to the decision to reduce the amount of sets.

"That doesn't bother me," he said. "I was up until 11:30 booking courts for everyone. We can't do anything about the weather."

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