Thursday, September 15, 2016

Therapy with TWA: Is 3 better than 5?

Because I cannot contain my nervous energy during high octane matches, like the U.S. Open men's final, I consulted the tennis-mad population on Twitter to vent/discuss/analyze/discuss fuchsia. Ben Rothenberg, a tennis writer for the New York Times (nope. Not at all jealous. Not one bit.) began tweeting out his support for men playing best-of-three set matches at all times. He's pretty consistent -- he's been ringing this bell all year round. The idea is that playing less tennis can help ensure a quality match and protect the health of the players. It's generated some traction, because many tournaments outside of the Slams have a best-of-three format. 
Who wouldn't want tennis players to have fewer injuries and play high-quality matches late into a major tournament? I want that! And as much as I trend towards bucking most stuffy tradition, I can't do it here. Most of it is sheer selfishness. I want to see heavyweights like Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic play tennis for five sets. Hell, I'd like to see a five-set match between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. 
That's the other wing of this best-of-three argument -- that the women don't have to do it. We're wading into the territory of a previous therapy session, so I'll just say that yes, female professional players should be able to do best-of-five easy, given that current matches, especially early rounds, only last about an hour. 
Rothenberg is right about one thing, though -- tennis players are having a hard time holding up physically. Just ask Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, etc., etc., etc. But what really gets me about this whole debate is that if you want to ensure quality matches and healthy players, you don't need to alter match formats. You need to alter the tennis season. Because it's too damn long! 
There are tournaments all year round. If you are an up-and-comer, you play these tournaments to improve your ranking. Then you go into majors running on fumes. If you are a top-lever professional, you know you have to play the Slams. Then there are the top-tier events, such as Miami, Indian Wells, Rome, that you get fined for missing. The first Slam of the year is in late January. The year-ending championships are in November. Sure, you're training in between, but where's the down time? When do you get to recover, safe in the knowledge that you can also maintain your ranking?
Let us consider the schedule of newly crowned U.S. Open champ Wawrinka. What's he been up to this year? Glad you asked because this handy-dandy table can tell us.
Stan started his season the first week in January and has played at least one tournament a month since. Fifty-one matches, and it's only September. You might argue that his body seems OK with this -- he just won the U.S. Open. But look at the inconsistency. He wins Chennai and loses early in the Australian Open (by his standards) in the fourth round.
And then there's Djokovic, the world No. 1. If you're world No. 1, you gotta hit the courts to keep that ranking. And he's been faithful -- 62 matches to date. Unless he shuts it down due to injury, there will be more because it's only September, everybody.
What's the answer? Even to a tennis junkie, it's obvious that the season needs to be shorter. How do you do that without pissing off all the rich people who pay for these tournaments and want to make that paper? Well, that's the hard part, and the part for which I have no answer.
But you know who does have an answer, or even a say? Tennis players. Remember back in the day when the doubles players sued the ATP? I think a legal fight might be the only thing that causes the tennis powers that be to stop and consider that a season that is essentially year-round is a bad idea.
So the best-of-five v. best-of-three debate is a premature one. First, take care of the larger issue at hand.

That's the end of your therapy session and that'll be $75. I accept PayPal.


GLT said...

Its an argument that has serious merit. How many times have we seen a great, five set battle over many, many hours...and then whoever wins that battle meekly gets his booty whipped in the next round? Too many.

Tennis has changed. It is not the polite serve and volley game of past.

Personally, I think it should all be best of 3. And should have been a long time ago. Nobody really benefits from those marathon matches, least of all the players themselves.

And I'm glad you pointed out the disparity of matches throughout the whole season...yeah, Nole had it easy up until the final, but overall his body is probably pretty whipped with the amount of tennis he has played this year. People forget that cumulative effect.

Naf said...

Right, and that's why you target the larger issue of an 11-month season. It's very hard to remain consistent even in best-of-three matches (whether you go to a third-set breaker or not) if you are obligated to play at least one tournament a month. It's probably worse for those mid-ranked players who are trying to get their ratings up -- they'll play those small tournaments. I wonder why the tennis powers that be don't target that problem. And another thing that has always bugged me is having the Aussie Open in January during the hottest time of the year out there. If you tried to move it closer to the French, you'd have the added benefit of not having players trying to die from heat stroke every single year.
I mean, you can look at the match format, but it's not the main problem that I can see.
OK, rant over.