Should Tiebreakers Replace Deciding Sets?
by Paul Fein
"O! many a shaft, at random sent,
Finds mark the archer little meant!"
-- Sir Walter Scott
A radical scoring change is spreading across the tennis world. Tiebreakers replaced the entire traditional third sets in the mixed doubles events at the 2001 Australian and U.S. Opens.
Will this highly controversial reform become the norm in singles and doubles events at all professional tournaments?
Is it a brilliant innovation whose time has come, or a well-intentioned but bad idea destined to damage or even ruin tennis?
From the same land Down Under come two diametrically opposed viewpoints.
"It's tragic to see where doubles is headed," says Paul McNamee, director of the Australian Open and a former doubles champion. "We want to get doubles back in front of full houses where fans can appreciate it, and we can make stars out of doubles players. We want to do it in a way that adds value to tournaments and does not hurt the integrity of doubles. It seems that two sets and a super tiebreaker is achieving all of those things."
Equally concerned about our sport's future, Todd Woodbridge, doubles great and president of the ATP Players Council, predicts: "If we start implementing a tiebreaker [instead of a third set] in mixed doubles, eventually it's going to go to men's doubles and women's doubles, and in the long term, singles as well. And then tennis is no longer a true test of skill, and nothing like we've known it. We have a successful scoring system, and we're changing that. What they're doing to mixed doubles now is the beginning of the downfall of the whole game."
The question of whether tennis should adopt a tiebreaker in lieu of a third and deciding set -- a revolutionary rule change by any standard -- has unfortunately engendered little public debate so far. Let's examine it from several vantage points, using the most important criteria, and determine which position holds up better under rigorous analysis.
THE SINE QUA NON TEST -- Professional tennis must always be a fair test of
skill and will. If a scoring system does not pass that "fair test" criterion, then nothing else matters. But what constitutes a "fair test?"
The match must be long enough to determine who the better player or doubles team is. Historically, the only debate had focused on best three-of-five versus best two-of-three-set matches. In 1902 when the leading women players at the United States Championships were told they would no longer be allowed to play best-of-five-set singles battles like the men, they protested vehemently, but to no avail. From 1984 to 1998 the women played best-of-five singles finals in the season-ending Chase Championships to mixed reviews.
At the four Grand Slam tournaments, men's singles matches have always adhered to the best-of-five format. The rationale is that a longer test -- within reason, of course, and the arrival of tiebreakers ended unreasonable marathon sets -- insures that the cream eventually rises to the top. Many champions, most notably Bjorn Borg, used their skill, never-say-die spirit, strategy and stamina to overcome the loss of two early sets and prevail in the end. And memorable five-set duels, such as Ivan Lendl's 1984 French Open final turnaround against John McEnroe and Mats Wilander's comeback win over Pat Cash in the 1988 Australian Open final, rank among the most thrilling matches in tennis history. They could never have happened had mere tiebreakers replaced the deciding sets.
A certain ambivalence, however, has marked the men's doubles event at the Slams. For example, 14 of the 16 Australian Opens from 1969 to 1983 used best-two-of-three sets, and since then the final featured best-three-of-five sets (in 2002 the final will revert to best two of three); the French and U.S. Opens switched to the shorter format in 1990 and 1993, respectively; and Wimbledon has always used the longer format. In six years from 1894 to 1900, women's doubles at the United States Championships played best-of-five sets.
Since its Grand Slam inception at the 1887 United States Championships, mixed doubles has remained a best-two-of-three-sets affair except for 11 times there from 1888 to 1901 when the longer format was in effect.
However, the shocking amputation of the deciding set in a match completely fails the "fair test" criterion. After Woodbridge combined with Rennae Stubbs to win the treasured 2001 U.S. Open mixed doubles crown, both derided the gimmick as a "chook raffle." That's a slang reference from Australia's less cosmopolitan past when football, lawn bowls clubs and pubs conducted fundraising "chook
raffles," or lotteries, with the prize being a frozen chook (chicken).
"If you're playing at the U.S. Open, the pinnacle of U.S. tournaments and a Grand Slam event, you should play it in the toughest circumstances that you can," argues Woodbridge. "And that doesn't mean playing a shortened version of the game. You should be playing [with a scoring system] where the strongest, the
fittest, and the best win."
Indeed, playing a mere 10-point super tiebreaker after splitting two sets would be the equivalent of the NBA playing a 5-minute overtime period after only three quarters of play. Or soccer playing an overtime after 60 minutes, rather than after 90 minutes of regulation.
"The third-set super tiebreaker is not a true test, and the best player or team doesn't always win," asserts Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon singles champion and 1984 Wimbledon doubles finalist with McNamee. "It is usually the player or team with momentum at the time that wins.
"I know from more experience than almost anyone that the third-set super tiebreaker evens the players out," says Cash. "This [shortened] format was introduced on the seniors [Champions] tour so the older players like Connors and McEnroe could win over the younger, fitter players. But two sets and a tiebreaker for an Australian Open or a U.S. Open title and hundreds of thousands of dollars? As one of my old friends used to say, 'You cannot be serious! "
When asked if what McNamee calls the "best of two sets" -- an oxymoronic and blatantly stupid expression -- is fair, McNamee fires back, "Absolutely. Of course, it is. Is the third-set tiebreaker a fair test of skill?"
Of course, it is -- even if three of the four majors choose not to use a 12-point tiebreaker in the deciding set. That's because the tiebreaker was created to shorten and enliven sets, which 30 years ago had too often become protracted, and not replace them. It should be quite obvious that a player must get to 6-all in games in order to earn the right to play a tiebreaker, regardless of which set it is.
McNamee doesn't agree with that, either. "It's where you draw the line," he claims. "To get to one-set-all, you've had two sets played. Is three sets fairer than five sets?"
But isn't best-of-three sets the minimum length required to achieve fairness? McNamee dismissively says, "the historical minimum is three sets. You're being arbitrary."
Arbitrary? On the contrary, tennis' clever and nuanced scoring system was
thoroughly debated and created with wisdom and vision during the 1870s. And it has undisputably passed the test of time. Unlike soccer and ice hockey which suffer from too little scoring, and basketball which stockpiles points at an incredible rate, tennis points count more or less depending on the situation and score. Hence, the exciting, big-point expressions, such as "break point," "game point," "set point," and "match point."
Because of that a tennis player can win fewer total points and even fewer total games and still win a match, but he or she still must win more sets. So winning those sets must fairly and fully test competitors athletically, physically, and mentally. And unduly shortened sets clearly preclude that.
"Doubles isn't a fair test of stamina anyway," scoffs McNamee. Doubles does generally require much less stamina than singles. But traditional-scoring doubles definitely tests a player's endurance on hot, humid days, during long, grueling matches, and whenever he or she is still involved in other events.
"I can tell you that a super tiebreaker would be tougher mentally than a set," insists McNamee. That's certainly not true when a super tiebreaker is compared to a final set where opposing teams battle to 6-games-all and then have to play a tiebreaker -- which is the only valid comparison here.
Does luck -- a net cord, horrendous bounce, vicious gust of wind resulting in a fluke shot, or an incorrect line call, etc. -- become too big a factor when a super tiebreaker alone decides the final set, the match and sometimes a Grand Slam championship?
Compared to a regular tiebreaker (where the first player to win seven points by a margin of at least two points prevails), the super tiebreaker (where the first player to win 10 points by a margin of at least two points prevails) "is a good compromise because the players feel luck is less of a factor," contends McNamee. "The super tiebreaker is like half a set of tennis." Ah, but the correct comparison is not between two different kinds of tiebreakers to replace an entire set, but between traditional scoring and the super tiebreaker for the deciding set.
Woodbridge rejects McNamee's so-called "compromise" and points to his U.S. Open mixed doubles final, his second experience with the super tiebreaker. He and Stubbs comfortably won the first set 6-4 against Leander Paes and Lisa Raymond. "We slipped a little at 6-5 in the second set, they got some momentum, and all of a
sudden, we're down match point in the tiebreaker," recalls Woodbridge. "And we
had to regroup quickly. Had we gone to a normal set, we thought we would have won comfortably.
"So, no, the super tiebreaker is not a test of skill because it came down to a little bit of luck," argues Woodbridge. "We actually got lucky at the end of the [11-9]
tiebreaker. The tiebreaker took away an element so important in our [traditional] scoring system. That element is that you always have a chance to get back into a match, even if you're down 5-love in the final set."
McNamee regards that championship match as "very interesting. There was a lot of media commentary against it. But it actually had 20,000 people watching it and worldwide TV. The U.S. Open mixed doubles final was probably the
most-watched doubles match in the last 20 years in tennis. You have to be fair and look at the positives."
More important, Mac, you have to look at the big picture. The mixed doubles final received unprecedented exposure only because it served as the warm-up act for the eagerly awaited quarterfinal showdown between fiery, rising stars Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick. "Since the mixed doubles final was televised in prime time [7:30 p.m. EDT], I suppose one could claim it was the most-watched doubles match ever. But that's damning it with faint praise," says Lawrence Jeziak, the respected Tennis Week TV columnist. "I don't recall another doubles match being televised in prime time."
And did 20,000 fired-up fans really flock to see a match featuring a dynamic new scoring system, as McNamee implies? "I don't think 20,000 people watched it live," says Jeziak. "More accurately, it was played in front of 20,000 seats. Based on my TV viewing perspective, most of those seats were empty."
What McNamee does acknowledge, however, is that "generally, players have been opposed to it. Doubles players would prefer to play the maximum-length match. They obviously feel it diminishes their court time" -- almost suggesting that everything would be fine if these stubborn doubles players just wouldn't be such court hogs. But everyone can see that's not why players are objecting.
THE RATIONALE FOR REFORM -- On Jan. 16-17, 2001, ATP Tour officers
and staff, tournament directors and players representatives met in Melbourne to
discuss the future of doubles. Since nearly all of tennis' marquee men's players
[viz. singles stars] have abandoned doubles and mixed doubles, the ATP decided
it would reciprocate.
The bottom-line-minded ATP concluded that low-profile doubles standouts
(Jonas Bjorkman, Don Johnson, Woodbridge, Jared Palmer and David Rikl top the doubles rankings) generate little interest and ticket, sponsor and TV revenue, and thus they didn't justify all the prize money, accommodation expenses and court time they were receiving. Henceforth, despite the protests of numerous players, the ATP abolished tour qualifying events for doubles.
The amputation of doubles court time particularly baffles Woodbridge. "The problem we're facing is that tournament directors want less matches on the courts. I thought the more matches you have on court the better for people to watch," maintains Woodbridge. "Keeping the qualies and playing three full sets are vital for
another reason: the development of players' games. If young players can play
doubles early in their careers on the ATP Tour, they develop into much-better, well-rounded singles players, too. You need doubles. That's why every player in Australia has always played doubles."
Far more important than merely reducing expenses and perhaps inducing a few wavering singles players to enter doubles events, the real rationale for reform was resuscitating doubles by making it more fan-friendly, according to McNamee.
"The problem is, in some of the doubles finals, including our own, the stadium is a third full, less than a third full," says McNamee. "What are you going to do about that?"
The McNamee solution is the "best-of-two-sets" format which he'd like to
establish at all levels of the game. "We feel that format has a lot of benefits for tournaments and for the future. And that goes all the way from Grand Slam to grass-roots tennis," says McNamee. "So we were very keen to introduce it in the
[Australian Open] mixed doubles event.
"From the tournament perspective, we could schedule better ... we could value out for the spectators and get more matches on Centre Court," says McNamee. "There are three matches in the day, and then the evening session starts at 7 o'clock.
Sometimes the day session would end at 4:15. Instead of just saying to everybody, 'See you later, folks, tonight's session starts at 7 o'clock,' we would bring in a mixed doubles match that was originally scheduled on an outside court and put it on
Centre Court, so the public would get an extra match. And then the evening session
would still start on time.
"If you put a [traditional] three-set match on, there's no guarantee the evening session would still start on time," explains McNamee. "We've been caught with
this [problem] before. It gives you enormous flexibility in scheduling, which three-set matches don't give you because you don't know how long they're going to last. The great advantage of best-of-two sets is it, effectively, can go only two hours maximum."
That claim doesn't ring true, though. A couple of 7-5 or 7-6 sets, especially
with a lot of long games, plus a 12-10 or 16-14 tiebreaker, could easily take two-and-a-half hours, perhaps even longer. Also, couldn't the afternoon session start a bit earlier to accommodate four Centre Court matches more often?
As it turned out, only eight of the 31 mixed doubles matches at the 2001
Australian went three sets and used "best-of-two sets" scoring. And only two of
those during the Oz Open fortnight became the Centre Court scheduling panacea McNamee fervently touts.
Those facts don't seem to dissuade or deter the bigwigs at Tennis Australia one iota. "It's basically got unanimous support within Tennis Australia," crows McNamee. "It was a recommendation from the Brand Tennis Committee, which has all the directors of the divisions in Tennis Australia represented. We all should be trying to improve tennis, the brand, because we've got to compete with other brands out there, which are other sports, other franchises, other forms of entertainment."
"The 'best-of-two' actually has a lot of momentum," continues McNamee. "It's
being introduced throughout the country. It's being used in national junior doubles competitions and in league competitions in Victoria and Western Australia." (In the U.S. this format has also steadily spread in the amateur game; and college tennis has relegated doubles matches to disgracefully mutilated 8-game "pro sets.")
Geoff Pollard, the president of Tennis Australia, unequivocably supports the scoring reform. "Tennis is probably the only sport where the approximate length of the match is unknown, and the huge variation has many repercussions in scheduling and other factors for the players involved, spectators and TV," Pollard asserts. "The
'best-of-two' is the only scoring method which effectively tackles the length of a tennis match."
The power of television can never be underrated. "They [TV sports producers]
love it," assures McNamee. "The Seven Network does the Australian Open. The advantages are obvious for television."
What's also obvious is that what's best for television -- or what television thinks is best -- isn't always what's best for tennis, either in the short or long run. As noted Australian tennis writer Suzi Petkovski puts it, "Since when is TV a barometer of good taste or ethics?"
Woodbridge warns: "If television producers see this scoring change for mixed doubles and doubles creates a two-hour time frame similar to a basketball game, then it's eventually going to be the same [format] for singles. And then you're not going to have the true champions of the game. You're going to have a lot of good players winning matches and tournaments who wouldn't be winning [as often] if you had the proper system."
THE ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT -- Petkovski perceptively points out: "The tiebreaker-as-third set is like a punchline without the joke. Tiebreakers are dramatic when preceded by a tense, hard-fought set, not on their own."
"I disagree with that because a super tiebreaker is preceded by two hard-fought sets," says McNamee. "It's arbitrary where you draw the line in the sand."
But sometimes both preceding sets aren't close and tense, and other times the second set isn't close. In those cases there's no immediate suspense that a tiebreaker-as-third set would climax.
At the other extreme of the suspense spectrum would be the confusing and
anti-climactic spectacle of two tiebreakers in a row -- a traditional tiebreaker to end
the second set immediately followed by a super tiebreaker to end the match. Just as tennis loses credibility when defective and ill-conceived best-14 and best-17 ranking systems result in undeserving players (most recently Martina Hingis) ranking No. 1, flawed scoring systems self-destruct by such absurd and confusing anomalies.
Woodbridge got plenty of feedback after the 2001 U.S. Open when he did a charity event at his hometown club in Sydney. He recalls: "A lot of club members watched the mixed doubles final and said to me: 'What's this? I hated it. You're playing, and all of a sudden you're finished. I didn't know what was going on. I
couldn't follow it. Why do you guys need to play that format?' At least 20 people told me they didn't like it. We need that feedback from the tennis fan.
"At the U.S. Open I felt it wasn't well-accepted by the people watching either," says Woodbridge. "Some fans I talked to there felt like they were ripped off."
On the contrary, contends McNamee, who cites "best-of-two" trials in the doubles finals of ATP Tour events this year in Bucharest and Tashkent (which, it's fair to note, are hardly the most established and knowledgeable tennis venues). "Both teams were informed during the whole process, there were no expressed concerns ... and both finals were successful and entertaining," according to a report issued by Richard Ings, ATP Executive Vice President Rules and Competition.
Gerry Armstrong, an ATP Officiating Supervisor at Tashkent, gave an even more upbeat assessment. "... We allowed two hours for the match and prize giving which proved to be spot on, which was very important with the imminent arrival of the president and the consequential security issues. The tiebreaker went to 13-11. It was full of very tense and exciting tennis, definitely the highlight of the match. It
was clearly enjoyed by the large crowd, and I'm sure, the players. Even the losers said it was fun. Why not play the entire [doubles] draw in this way?"
McNamee denies reports in Australian and British newspapers that he advocated extending the "best of two" scoring reform to men's and women's doubles at the 2002 Australian Open. "You've got to try it at tour events before you would institute it at a Grand Slam. It has to be accepted on the tour level first," explains McNamee.
"If it is greatly enhancing and promoting doubles, then there's no reason it can't be used at every level, including the Grand Slams. Philosophically, yes, I am in favor of it," admits McNamee.
Whether better fields would also enhance and promote doubles is another
question. Advocates of the super tiebreaker in the mixed doubles at the U.S. Open
hoped the time-saving format would attract leading singles players. As it turned out, No. 34 Wayne Ferreira was the highest-ranked men's singles player in the mixed, and Jennifer Capriati, no threat to go far with her brother Steven, was the
only women's top-10 player to enter.
"The time issue is a red herring," says Petkovski. "If we regularly had the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Anna Kournikova, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick in mixed finals, would officials be so keen to shorten matches? More likely, fans would feel ripped off at not seeing a full, three-set extravanganza."
Wouldn't more fans also fill the seats if big-name players competed in doubles?
"No. No. I can tell you right now [that] promoting doubles matches with marquee singles players is not going to get bums on seats," insists McNamee. "Putting it in a time frame that's friendly to what the spectators' viewing habits are makes far more difference than who's actually playing the match. People buy tickets to watch the marquee players play singles. They're not going to buy tickets to go watch them play doubles."
But wouldn't it make a difference if Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter
played doubles and mixed doubles?
"No, I don't think it would," maintains McNamee.
McNamee, whose four major titles came in doubles and mixed doubles, says, "I love doubles, and I hate to see what's happened to it. There have been mixed doubles finals on the tour and in the Grand Slams where there have been less than 1,000 people watching the match. That is not acceptable. But this trial is not going
to rise or fall on what happens in the mixed doubles. What happens with the trials at men's doubles events is going to be the key to this."
That prospect is just what Woodbridge and many in the tennis world dread. To supposedly save doubles, we would have to destroy the scoring system.
"Doubles is the scapegoat for the problems in tennis," concludes Woodbridge. "A few people see that as the area to attack to look like they're doing something about the game. But you have to start with the singles game if you want to improve television rights and everything else that goes with improving a profile in sponsors' markets. To change the whole scoring of our game for no particular reason is a funny way of thinking about the problem."
Woodbridge is right in stressing that the focus should be shifted to how tennis is faring in those sponsors' markets.
Last year Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal surveyed what sponsors said about sports governing bodies and concluded: "The ATP has not ingratiated itself with the U.S. sponsor community. It did not achieve a 40 percent rating in a single category and came in at 15 percent or below in two key measures -- how well it markets itself and the value it offers for the money.
"The ratings were no better on the women's side of the court. Again, there was not one score above 40 percent affirmative in any of the 20 categories, and the WTA came in below 20 percent in some of the most important ones. Areas in which sponsors say the WTA is in dire need of improvement include how well it
markets the sport, the value it offers for the money and its responsiveness to customers."
A SENSIBLE SOLUTION -- Tennis leaders can both shorten total court time in doubles and increase the ratio of action time to total court time by cutting change-over time in half from 90 seconds to 45 seconds. Doubles players clearly don't need 90 seconds of rest, and spectators don't want to see them lingering on chairs after only two non-gruelling games.
Tennis fans crave action. What annoys them most is the excessive dead time between points, games and sets. In some men's singles matches, particularly on faster surfaces, action time -- when the ball is in play -- amounts to less than 10 percent of the total match time! Compare that to more action-intensive sports such as basketball, soccer, ice hockey and football, where action time is a far more
entertaining 35 to 50 percent of the total game time.
If there are 12 changeovers in the average best two-of-three-sets doubles match, 45-second changeovers would save 9 minutes. In protracted three-set doubles matches that reformers are complaining about, this solution would save about 15 minutes. That's substantial and should go a long way toward satisfying those who seek to amputate deciding sets with tiebreakers.
All things considered, if you believe the traditional scoring system of tennis is integral to its success, or even more important, one of its crowning glories, then this battle is for the integrity and perhaps even the survival of tennis.
Where do you stand?
Paul Fein's new book -- "Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies" -- will be published by Brassey's, Inc. in March 2002.
For more information, visit www.tennisconfidential.com.
What They're Saying About Tiebreakers Replacing Third Sets
Mark Woodforde (winner of 12 doubles and 5 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, and an Open Era-record 61 career doubles titles with Todd Woodbridge): "I think it's abominable that Grand Slams can shorten any match in mixed or doubles with a third set tiebreaker. For what reason? Is this just to keep TV executives happy that a doubles match won't interfere with a singles match? You've got to be kidding me! You're not only robbing the players of a chance to play tennis and the paying public to see tennis, but it's also less of a chance to see the better team work out
how to win. A third-set tiebreaker becomes a crap shoot. Why mess with something so sacred as playing out the third set?"
Mark McCormack (founder, chairman and owner of International Management Group): "I agree with what Mark Woodforde said."
Merv Heller (president of the United States Tennis Association): "The game of doubles at the professional level needs a shot of reality. Less tournaments are featuring the doubles game, and television has virtually stopped its coverage. We must try innovative methods to keep it alive at the professional level, and just as important, to get the top players, particularly on the men's side, to play the game. If we do not try innovative scoring methods, there will be further erosion. Every change in scoring has brought appropriate cries from the traditionalists, and they are not wrong about defending the game. However, I believe only a few would still insist on playing out a set or playing with white balls."
Magnus Norman (2000 French Open finalist and Australian Open semifinalist): "I don't think it's a good idea because one of the elements for being a good athlete and tennis player is to be fit and in excellent shape. To take the third set away would be
very disappointing. Many of the best matches in the history of tennis have been played in the third or fifth set of a match."
Daja Bedanova (who upset Meghann Shaughnessy and Monica Seles to reach the 2001 U.S. Open quarters): "Maybe it's good to give it a try, but I really don't like that idea. It's not only that tennis is great as it is, but, if you do a change like that, it really changes everything. Tennis won't be as fair as it is now. Because if a worse player wins a set by chance, then loses the second set really easily, then in a tiebreaker anything can happen."
Brian Earley (Tournament Referee, U.S. Open, on behalf of the USTA): "The mixed doubles, while entertaining and competitive, has become an event that is played for fun and for some extra money. There are no ranking points, and given that players do not play doubles before singles or mixed doubles before doubles,
matches are often played late in the day or in the evening. If a player is in the singles, he/she often stays late for mixed, then must come back the next day for singles. You often see great players withdraw from the mixed late in the tournament for this reason. Would they stay and play if they were assured that their mixed match would end at a reasonable time? The jury is out, but we thought it was important to give it a try."
Fred Stolle (1960s star and current TV tennis analyst): "As a past Grand Slam champion, I would hate to see the change across the board. However, I agree with Brian Early, the U.S. Open referee, that mixed doubles is played for some fun, some money and some prestige without top [singles] players. So tournaments could use these matches to 'slot in' mixed sessions when time is threatened or for TV. As a tournament director, I support smaller draws in doubles to reduce this problem, but not in Grand Slams where I favor two-of-three-set matches up to the quarterfinals and three-of-five sets in the semis and final."
Francoise Durr (winner of one singles, seven doubles and three mixed doubles Grand Slam titles in the 1960s-'70s, and Fed Cup captain from 1993 to 1996, and co-captain with Yannick Noah in 1997 when France won its only Fed Cup): "Doubles should have more recognition. A tiebreaker for a third set is not going to improve the situation. It may be better for the promoter and TV but not for the players. In all of the team events, Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the others, the doubles is very important. We must show the doubles on TV, and we cannot play only two sets [and a tiebreaker] in Davis Cup and Fed Cup where doubles sometimes is the decisive point. In this case, consistency is a virtue. We should keep the same thing in the Slams."
Jan-Michael Gambill (U.S. Davis Cupper world-ranked No. 21): "The replacement of the third set with a tiebreaker in men's singles would be utter lunacy. It would change the game from one that takes hard work in order to win, to one that could be won with luck. It would also take away from the ones that work so hard to be in
shape for long matches. For doubles, using a third set tiebreaker would certainly add a degree of finality, and most likely, some excitement. However, I am still not convinced that it is the way to go. I play doubles quite often and happen to like it
the way it is now, but many organizers do not. If the meddlers must have their way, then this is less severe then some of the other options that I have seen."
Kevin Ullyet (2001 U.S. doubles champion with Wayne Black): "Doubles is a historical part of the game. Trying to cut it short is sacrilegious. They are saying to us, 'Come on, we'll give you two sets, then we want you out of there. We don't
want you to take too much TV time. "
Tim Wilkison (winner of six singles and nine doubles ATP tournaments, and now a competitor on the Champions Tour and a USTA Director at Large): "My only concern is having a scoring system that produces a fair winner, but I think you get a fair winner either way. People are just used to the three-set format because that is what they grew up with. If they grow up with a super tiebreaker (in lieu of a third set), I am sure they will think that is fair also. Less sets means less injuries, and that is a pretty good goal for any level of play. That, along with more precise timing and more exciting endings, seem to be the main pluses to the shorter system. My main concern is that the USTA keep junior tennis scoring the same as whatever the
Pro Tour uses."
Rennae Stubbs (2001 Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles champion with Lisa Raymond and 2001 U.S. Open mixed doubles champion with Todd Woodbridge): "Why must the tennis hierarchy keep toying around with the idea that the doubles game needs to be fixed? What needs to be fixed is the way the players are marketed! And the way tournament directors schedule! Why would anyone watch
a mixed doubles match featuring the best doubles players in the world when no one has ever seen them play on TV? Think about it. If more people got to watch doubles on TV, then more people would know us and then there would be no need to 'get us off the court in under two hours.' Tennis needs to market better --
Alan Schwartz (USTA Vice President): "The game of doubles is alive and well at the amateur level, but sick physically and emotionally at the professional level. Too few marquee players play doubles. Doubles, with few exceptions, plays to sparse crowds, and doubles prize money is, accordingly, small by comparison. Changes are needed. The status quo doesn't work. Doubles needs more drama. Three tiebreaker sets, with tiebreakers at 4-game-all would help, or, alternatively, a super tiebreaker instead of a third set. The super tiebreaker in the U.S. Open mixed
doubles finals was great theatre. Bring on the drama and let's provide the fans a chance to see great doubles."
Betsy Nagelsen (1978 Australian Open finalist and doubles champion and 1987 Wimbledon doubles finalist): "I have always liked tradition in tennis. However, the real old traditions of tennis have already changed to some extent, and one has to accept that modern technology, and thus the needs, demands and temperaments of modern media and people will inevitably require changes from the old ways. The trick will be to merge tradition with necessary change as subtly as possible. If I were forced to choose one scoring system or the other, I would keep the traditional scoring format and try to find other ways of governing the time scale of matches."
Ian Wight (Director of The Stella Artois Championships): "The super tiebreaker is a bad idea because it trivializes a great game."
Ham Richardson (1950s American tennis star and Rhodes Scholar): "The scoring system in doubles should not be changed for the major championships. However, the authorities clearly need to do something to bring doubles to more prominence in Tennis. After all, doubles is what most people play, at least after the age of about
Francisco Maciel (president of the Federacion Mexicana de Tenis): "In my opinion, a tiebreaker instead of a traditional, complete deciding set would demonstrate that the better player is not always the winner. This proposal arose because the stadiums are not completely full and the public interest is decreasing mainly in the third set of doubles or singles. However, the problem is more complex. The tiebreaker is not the solution in this case."
Pam Shriver (winner of 21 doubles and one mixed doubles Grand Slam titles): "I am for trying new ways to score in cases where it makes sense. It has grown harder and harder to get top players involved in mixed doubles because of the demands of
the other events. A player, knowing that mixed doubles time would be limited to two sets plus a tiebreaker, might be encouraged to play more. A shorter format might keep fewer teams from withdrawing in the mixed. Also, I think the format is exciting for the fans. Mixed doubles is a distant third in prestige at the majors, so it is a good place to try it. Some national senior players are not happy with the
format, but maybe in just doubles it would be a good idea. In junior events the doubles would be more popular if a tiebreaker was played for a third set."
Krishna Bhupathi (director of the Gold Flake/ATP World Doubles Championships
and father of doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi): "It's a shame that tournament directors and many others involved at the highest decision-making level look only
at the bottom line. ATP, ITF and tournament directors can help build doubles stars by insuring the media covers the doubles and mixed doubles and
reports all their results. When those results are published daily, doubles standouts will automatically become household names and attract crowds and sponsors. We should also aim to make stars out of doubles specialists and to entice topnotch
singles players to play doubles. Cutting off doubles to a [deciding set] tiebreaker
scenario is slow poison and diminishes our wonderful game."
Michael Luevano (Director of Heineken Open Shanghai and WTA Kiwi Open Shanghai): "Our Chinese spectators have a fascination and respect for doubles and
would not want the game played or scored any differently than it is now, and I agree with them. The Chinese people are masters at racket sports, such as table tennis
and badminton, and an abbreviated version of the scoring to determine the outcome would be unheard of. The root of tennis' doubles problem lies with convincing more top singles players to team up and play doubles. But with the big money out there in guarantees -- and believe me, I know -- the pressure to perform for
endorsements, and heavy playing schedules, it's tough to get them to play doubles."
Gene Harper (ATP Doubles Promotion Consultant): "The players do not want to go to a super tiebreaker, but almost 100 percent of the other stakeholders in the game
do. Scheduling is a huge factor. Doubles matches get the worst courts and worst times. If the scheduling is bad, no one will watch -- no matter who is playing. Doubles specialists will tell you they are not promoted. They are right. How do you promote someone that no one has ever heard of and changes partners every week? Impossible! Teams that win consistently will automatically attract publicity.
Same as in singles. Winners and stars are what tennis fans want to see. Doubles teams that win events will get people excited over the long run."
Hans Felius (Director of Professional Tennis in Holland): "While I am always interested in new ideas to improve the game, my personal credo is: Do not change any rules or policies unless you are sure it will help move the game forward. We
have tried the no-ad rule, the no-let rule, the short set/best-of-five rule, and the super tiebreaker as a third-set rule, but we all feel that none of those rules made tennis more attractive, and in fact, were harmful."
Johan Kriek (1981-82 Australian Open singles champion and inventor of the Super Tiebreaker): "This format will work well for most senior tour and club players. [But] I don't think it's wise to start using this in any form on the ATP or Sanex WTA Tour. The scoring system for professionals is fine. Leave it alone! Fitness is
a big issue in tennis. I cramped only twice in my entire career, and I prided myself on being very fit and physical on the court."
Jay Snyder (U.S. Open Tournament Advisor): "Tournament Referee Brian Earley and I made the change to the tiebreaker in lieu of the third set in our Masters events several years ago to counter the unusual number of injury or fatigue-related retirements. We advocated the same reform in the mixed doubles this year for three
reasons. We wanted to encourage more marquee players to play mixed doubles and to discourage players from pulling out of the mixed doubles during the later rounds to concentrate on their singles. Also, the 'best-of-two' format allowed us this year to better showcase the mixed event up to and including the final, which never would have been played at night in front of 20,000-plus people had it been a
Paul Goldstein (former Stanford star who finished in world top 100 in 1999 and 2000): "While I am eager to listen to proposals that would bring about positive change for the game of doubles, there is no question that replacing the third set with a super tiebreaker for doubles play would mark a regression for the game. As a player, I feel that it would diminish the value of a win, particularly a three-set victory. Further, adopting the super tiebreaker for doubles only sends the message that organizers of the event, such as the tournament directors and the ATP, view it as inferior to singles. Such an image essentially renders doubles players as 'second- class citizens,' thus making it even more difficult to promote the game."
Peter Johnston (General Manager Men's Tennis, Tennis Australia): "The 'Best-of-2' is the only scoring format which addresses the issue of time at every level. In the pro game a doubles match can be played before a singles match on the main stadium, as it guarantees the maximum time will be less than it was traditionally. At the grassroots levels it's also essential because tennis is competing against other forms of entertainment for people's increasingly scarce time. With 'Best of 2,' parents can plan their day with better scheduling at junior events, and league competitions can offer more time-effective formats. We believe that if the format is showcased at the highest level, it will be adopted at all levels."
David Hall (1995, 1998 and 2000 world wheelchair tennis champion from Australia): "When I first heard of this new scoring system, it really made me cringe. Playing best-of-three sets, not two sets and a tiebreak, is a true indication of the best player on the court. Next thing you know players will be playing best-of-three tiebreaks. Everything seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Everything for TV. With the experience of playing approximately 600 best-of-three-set matches on the Wheelchair Tennis Tour, I am against it."
Randy Snow (10-time U.S. Open wheelchair tennis champion): "The longer the match, the greater the chance the result will tell the truth as to who the better player is. But just as in every other sport has done in this ever-changing world, we must keep in mind the fan who buys the ticket, the t-shirt and the hot dog. We must 'sell' the sport for it to be successful. My vote is for tiebreakers AS the third set. The players will adjust their preparation to this rule change, and the fans will fill the stands."
Pat Cash (1987 Wimbledon singles champion and current TV tennis analyst): "The Grand Slams should not be dictated by TV. Grand Slam tennis is bigger than any TV network. Can you imagine playing for two million dollars at the Paris Indoor [tournament] against Philippoussis or Rusedski and having six aces hit by you in a
super tiebreaker? It will happen. It will make it better for TV [purposes], but it is
not a true test. At the end of the day, money will win out, as always, and the politicians inside tennis will get their way, as always. Unfortunately, the spineless
ATP will capitulate, as always, and Grand Slam titles and millions of dollars, not to mention careers, will be decided on luck, not skill. What a pity!"
Tony Trabert (TV tennis analyst and 1955 French, Wimbledon and U.S. champion): "Should tiebreakers replace deciding sets? Absolutely not! A tiebreaker at 6-games-all in the final set is fine. In my opinion, the scoring system that currently exists in tennis is fine. Let's not mess it up."
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