© Ella Ling

Federer 2

Should men's matches at the slams be best of three?


The modern armchair sports fan can just about keep his focus for 9.63 seconds. With 1,001 television channels, and then a 1,000 more options on the red button, it is hardly surprising that the 100 metres is preferred to following the drawn-out agonies and fleeting pleasures of the marathon. Few have the time or the inclination to sit around for more than two hours watching 26 miles of running. And you have to consider that tennis has some lessons to learn from the fact that many people – yes, not all – prefer a dash to a grind.

During the tournament, we asked on Twitter whether the grand slams should shorten their men’s matches from best-of-five sets to best-of-three. And while some were vehemently against the idea, suggesting it would cheapen the tournaments, many thought it was an idea worth exploring further. The men’s singles tournament at the Olympics showed that playing best of three sets gives you plenty of scope to create drama; Roger Federer’s semi-final victory over Juan Martin del Potro will long be remembered for that 19-17 final set and a contest which took almost four and a half hours.

Maybe that’s not the best example, because of the running time, but it did show that you don’t need five sets to produce an epic. Maybe take the other semi-final, Andy Murray’s straight-sets win over Novak Djokovic, which showed playing first to two sets brings extra urgency and tension to the piece. Murray knew that he had to be on his game from the beginning. And so he was. There was much to celebrate on Sunday when Murray beat Federer in the only best-of-five match of the Olympics – the men’s final – but it was not much of a contest. Television would, of course, prefer shorter matches. And television matters more than ever before – you only have to look at Centre Court’s retractable, £100 million roof to be reminded of that truth.

One effect of shortening the men’s matches at slams would be to take away the central argument of all those still whining about equal prize-money, that women don’t deserve parity of pay because they’re not on court for as long. That could even be the best reason for considering this move – to end the most tedious debate in the sport. Call this the Gilles Simon Rule Change.


This week’s tournament in Toronto could be the most unloved Masters event of recent times. No tournament director is going to dance like Serena when he takes the calls informing him that Federer and Rafael Nadal aren’t boarding flights. But this year it’s going up against the final week of the Olympics. In a contest between Usain Bolt and Milos Raonic, there’s only ever going to be one winner, and it’s not going to be the man who serves tennis balls at 155mph.


  • Equalpayforequalwork

    Five- versus three-set matches is not the “central” argument, it’s the *only* argument against equal prize money.

    • EqualPayforEqualValue

      No that is not the only argument. Revenue generated by men and women for the Grand Slam events is actually the main argument.

  • findivo

    How about a compromise between best of 3 and best of 5 set matches? Why not make them best of four?

  • matt

    Simon said his argument had nothing to do with length of time on the court.  His central argument was that the men bring more revenue to the tournaments because the ticket prices for the men are higher than the women for the QF, SF,and F of the majors.  In any entertainment business if you provide more revenue for the event, you get paid more.  He also said if the women were more popular than the men they would deserve more money even if they were playing best of three and the men were playing best of five.  I wish people would have read what he said rather than reflexively assuming his argument was sexist.

    • Guest

      The problem with that is that Gilles said the men as a whole should get paid more when some of the women who can demonstrate that they bring in more revenue than some of the men.  If he wants to let market forces dictate, then it would be sexist and arbitrary to base pay on gender or even as a group as a whole (in this case men or women).  If the ATP players want it that way, then get rid of prize money and let individual players negotiate their own prize money based on what they bring to the sport – similar to boxing.  
      Ironically, Juan Martin Del Potro and Na Li would do the best out of that because they pretty much have entire markets to themselves, i.e the South American and Chinese markets.    

  • Anonymous

    I would love to see some situations where the women play five sets and I know some women have expressed an interest in giving it a try. Five set matches generally require more endurance, which is an interesting element to throw into the mix.  I think the world of television works against five sets though, because the networks hate having the matches go on so long. To the extent men (and it’s always men) complain left and right about those awful women getting equal prize money; I would have more respect for their position if they showed an interest in the other 90 percent of the time when women get the short stick.

  • David

    I would propose that both men and women play best 2-of-3 until 3-of-5 in the semis of slams, then ensure a full day off before the 3-of-5 final.  Getting to a final is a big deal, and the semi-final deserves the big stage.  I agree with the comment that equal money should be equal play, for men and women.  Tennis is not an opportunity for equality reparation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.dawson.9026 Adam Dawson

    I absolutely would love the Men’s matches in Grand Slams to be best of 3 Sets the matches would be finished quicker and its easier for the players and before anyone else starts yes the Women do deserve equal prize money just like the Men.