Tough Call: Should men play best-of-three sets at Grand Slams?

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Every week Tennis Channel and will be introducing a Tough Call around a thought-provoking topic, and our panel of experts will chime in both on-air and online. Be sure to join the discussion, weigh in on our polls, or comment on Facebook and Twitter using #TennisToughCall.

Here is this week's edition of Tough Call: During Grand Slams (and Davis Cup), men play best-of-five sets. Should they play best of three in Slams?

Ready, set, go...


- Best-of-three sets would mean every point is critical from first ball.

- Shorter matches would mean less wear and tear, and probably fewer injuries.

- Playing the same format as the women could eliminate the ongoing equal prize money debate.


- Best-of-five sets has given us some of the greatest matches of all time.

- Longer matches mean more tennis for tennis fans.

- It’s tradition.



Absolutely. We’ve seen time and again that best-of-three-set matches can be just as compelling as best of five. More importantly, perhaps, is what it means for the future of tennis. Attention spans have shrunk, and many fans don’t have the patience to stomach a four-and-a-half-hour marathon. The sport needs to take less time, not more. If nothing else, it’s worth experimenting with. Also, the shorter the match, the higher the stakes of each shot.


As Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios showed us in Miami, three intense sets of tennis can be just as dramatic, if not more so, than a five-set marathon. Still, turning the Slams best of three would irrevocably change the sport and render the majors no different than any other tournament. Golf, whose tournaments all play out over the same, four-round duration, can pull that off because courses vary much more than a tennis court can. I’m almost on board with best of three across the board, but not yet.


I'm a firm believer in best-of-three-set play, and not just because it would help resolve the gender equality debate. Getting rid of five-setters would also improve the quality of tennis, and the longevity of the players' careers. The vast majority of ATP matches are best-of-three sets, and TV viewership—as well as the fan experience—benefits from proficiency. It's just stubborn to insist on torturing fans, players and tournament organizers for any longer than 2-3 hours.


If something isn't broken, you don't fix it, and that's true of the Slams. Best of five is part of what makes those events Grand; switching to best of three now would make them feel like shadows of their former selves. As ticket prices rise, we also shouldn't offer less tennis. And when it comes to injuries, worry about the season's length, not the eight weeks when players have to go one or two extra sets (every two days).


A legitimate case can be made for the men to play best of three rather than best of five at the majors. Some fans might prefer that format and stay more immersed in matches from beginning to end. But best of five favors the stronger, fitter and better players. Only Davis Cup and the four majors feature best of five, and the top players thrive under that system because it is the most comprehensive physical, emotional and mental test. Let's keep it that way.


I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that getting rid of the best-of-five format would take away the prestige factor. The best-of-three matches can produce as much drama as the best of five, and vice versa. Switching to the new format would solve the never-ending equality argument since the women are not playing the same format as the men. Also, it would help minimize the wear and tear that the players endure.

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