Should Women Play Five Sets?

Last week, in his review of Wimbledon, Mert Ertunga proposed that the women's semifinals and final at Slams should be best-of-five sets. As you can see from the comments, I was a little apprehensive to come round to the author's way of thinking.

So, it got me thinking. Should the women play best-of-five sets?

The usual argument when advocating a switch to five sets is solely based on money. The phrase "equal play, equal pay" is often thrown into any debate about the subject. On the one hand, I would be inclined to agree with such a sentiment; however, the "equal play" part of the phrase refers only to time on the court. It neglects the hours put in off the court, the place where the vast bulk of a tennis player's work takes place.

Thankfully, and to Mert's credit, he didn't mention money in his article when suggesting the idea. He merely stated that a longer match would offer better value for money for spectators, which in some ways is true, but perhaps value for money shouldn't be measured against quantity.

Quality should really be the barometer by which we judge matches. The men's final was between Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal lasted over an hour longer than the women's final, yet they were both tame affairs, though I will concede the quality of the men's final did just about beat that of the women's.

My concerns stem from the fitness of the women. I have doubts as to whether the vast majority of women could last five sets. If they can't, then the quality of tennis in a fourth or fifth set could drop considerably. In which case, I'm not sure that's worth doing, especially from a spectator's point of view.

I imagine that the top female players, like Serena and Venus Williams, could probably last for five sets, but with the women's game wide-open at the moment, anybody could make the semifinals — something demonstrated very clearly at Wimbledon. There were three surprise semifinalists and I doubt all of them are fit enough to play five sets of tennis.

All of that has been said from a spectator's point of view, but from a competition point of view, then I have very few problems with a switch in a Slam's latter stages. The four Slams are the pinnacle of the sport and the fact that the format on the women's side in no way differs from that of other tournaments can detract from the prestige of the Slams.

Making the women play five sets in the semifinals and final would go some way to ensuring the very best wins. It will require greater fitness and much greater mental strength. The cream will almost certainly always rise to the top and essentially, as fans that love the game, that's what we want.

My comments on Mert's article were a little abrupt and perhaps I hadn't thought it through then, but I'm slowly coming round to the idea. I still harbor some doubts and as Mert says, it would be nice to see someone in the game seriously put the idea forth. Frankly, I get the feeling I can rest easy with my doubts for the foreseeable future, knowing the game will go on unchanged.

Comments and Conversation

July 13, 2010


I am a woman and one of the things I like about tennis is that it is one of the few sports that treat the female athletes almost as well as the men. First off, their matches are televised on the same stations and times as the men matches - not true for basketball, cycling, softball, etc.

Having said this, I found myself looking forward more to the mens matches than the womens matches…and I have to say I felt disloyal about this. I started to think about why this was the case. Then I started to watch the masters cup in tennis - where the men now play best of 3, and this is when I had my epiphany. I found I got to respect, like, be interested in seeing a player play after I had seen them play a 5 setter. And since it is only the men who play best of five sets, I felt more “invested” for lack of a better word in the male tennis players.

I also love the fact that so much can change in the longer matches, players that can do no wrong for 2 sets, can suddenly start to falter, or their opponents can figure out what they need to do to beat them. I love watching the match evolve and evolve again.

As for being fit enough - balderdash! She said vehemently. Women are the ones who are built for endurance, boys. It’s not like in iron man triathlons they say - oh women can’t swim 2.4, bike 144, and then run a marathon, we’ll make the triathlon shorter for them. If some of the female tennis players aren’t fit enough to play 5 sets presently, as some men aren’t, then they can get in shape. And, I think Samantha Stosur could be added to your list of women who are fit enough to play 5 sets, among others.

Raise that bar, women will rise to it. And though I know that Wimbledon has finally been shamed into giving women equal pay - I do like the sound of equal play and equal pay- sounds fair to me.

July 13, 2010

Luke Broadbent:

Thanks for your brilliant insight. You rightly point out that there are men that can’t play 5 sets, but surely the amount of women that could last that long is lower than the men.

“Raise that bar, women will rise to it.”

I think you probably hit the nail on the head with that comment. I really like the comment and I only wish I had said it now.

July 23, 2010

Mert Ertunga:


Sorry I have been wanting to write something for a while, but I am constantly traveling for the last three weeks. Even though I am still on the road, I can’t help but write a bit today :)

Thanks for a wonderful article on a much needed topic, and thanks for your kind reference to my article. I am not so sure about the quality issue if women play 5 sets. Women play in every sport just as long (ex: marathons, soccer) and the quality during the competition, meaning from beginning to end, has no wider fluctuations than the men do. Sure, at 5-5 in the fifth set, they may move a bit slower, they may get a step slower, but that probably happens in men also in a grueling 5-setter.

Great points, sorry I wish I could write more.

August 19, 2010


As a strong supporter of women in sports the simple answer is YES, YES, YES. The US Open for one should have the quarters, semis and final best of 5 sets then we would see who the real tennis champions are. The 3 set thing is not working to find the best. Bring it on USTA.

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