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Explained: Why does Djokovic want only three sets at the Grand Slams?

The World No. 1 says tennis audiences are old, and the matches need to be shorter in order to grab the attention of younger people who are more restless. But the premise of the ‘old’ audience may be faulty.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
November 19, 2020 7:14:48 am
Novak Djokovic, Djokovic on 3 sets, 3 sets at Grand Slams, Grand Slam tennis rules, Djokovic on Grand Slam rules, Indian ExpressWorld No. 1 Novak Djokovic. (AP Photo: Frank Augstein, File)

World No 1 Novak Djokovic has again split the tennis world over an opinion. This time however, his call to modify the Grand Slams into a best of three-set contest for men’s singles has been a topic that has come under much discussion for years now.

Tennis, a sport that values its age old traditions — be it wearing all-white at Wimbledon or the required silence in the stands during play — has held best of five-set men’s singles matches at the Grand Slams ever since its first ever major, at Wimbledon 1877. Djokovic however, has opined that it’s time the majors make way for a shorter format.

“I am more a proponent of two-out-of-three everywhere, even though of course Slams have always been best-of-five,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said after his opening match win at the ongoing ATP Tour Finals in London.

“It’s historically been that way, so I don’t know whether there is a chance at all for it to change. We have been one of those sports that has stuck with the tradition a lot, which I respect, and I feel like this is something we have to keep, but at the same time we haven’t been really exploring some changes.”

It’s an opinion that has been supported by one section of players, but there have been perhaps an equal number of voices that have been against it as well — including 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.

“I am completely against change in the Grand Slams. We have a day off,” Nadal said after his match in London. “I think best-of-five makes a difference in these tournaments, on the Slams and at the same time is part of the history of our sport.” 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What is Djokovic’s main argument for shorter matches?

The Serb explained that the average age of tennis fans has been high and that the sport must make changes to attract younger audiences.

“Unfortunately we had a stat that was a bit shocking — the average age of a tennis fan worldwide is 61,” he said. “I just feel like the attention span, as well as the fans, especially the younger generation, is shorter. So in order for us to really improve the product, so to say, of tennis I think commercially and marketing-wise, I feel like we have to adapt to that younger generation.”

Interestingly enough, Nadal’s opening match at the ATP Tour Finals in London against Dominic Thiem lasted 2 hours and 26 minutes despite being a straight sets win for the Austrian. That match time was longer than Stefanos Tsitsipas’ three-set win over Andrey Rublev by 30 minutes.

Novak Djokovic, Djokovic on 3 sets, 3 sets at Grand Slams, Grand Slam tennis rules, Djokovic on Grand Slam rules, Indian Express At the Rod Laver Arena of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia. A study has found that the average age of people tuning in for ATP matches has increased from 56 in 2006 to 61 in 2016. (AP Photo: Andy Wong, File)

Is this stat about fans being old accurate?

The figure is based on a 2016 study by investment and media research company Magna Group. The study found that the average age of people tuning in for ATP matches has increased from 56 in 2006 to 61 in 2016. Interestingly, the viewing age of WTA matches decreased from 63 in 2006 to 55 in 2016.

The numbers however, include only that category of people who consume sports via television broadcast, that too only in the United States. The study did not consider the number of viewers watching matches via a digital platform — such as online streaming sites — which is arguably where a large number of younger consumers access matches.

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Have changes been made to the scoring system at the Slams?

Yes. The most recent change, as of 2019, is that three of the four majors (except the French Open) now have their own version of a tiebreaker in the deciding set in order to shorten matches.

In doubles matches, even at the tour level where men’s singles is played in the best-of-three format, there is the no-ad rule. This means that if a score is deuce in a particular game, the next point wins the game.

Earlier, there was no concept of a tiebreaker as well, and sets would continue till a player had a lead of two after the 6-6 score had been crossed. The tiebreakers had only been introduced at the US Open in 1970.

There has also been the often controversial introduction of the 25-second shot clock — one that has forced Djokovic’s often-lengthy service routine to be truncated.

Additionally, the final of an ATP Masters 1000 event has now become a best of three-set match.

Are more changes in the offing?

The ATP has dabbled with a few more possible changes, testing them at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals.

This included the no-let rule — where the ball is considered in play even if the serve clips the top of the net and falls over. It also included a new scoring system, where a set is won at four games instead of six, and a tiebreaker ensues if the score is 4-4.

None of these changes have been adopted at tour level though.

Is this the first time Djokovic has called for a change?

No. Just last month, he offered his view that line umpires should be done away with, and calls should instead be made via the Hawk-Eye Live system.

Bringing in that change, however, requires a great deal of investment from tournament organisers, as well as a break in the supply chain of chair umpires.

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