Something is afoot in the corridors of power at the US Open. At the only grand slam event to have final set tiebreaks in both the men’s and the women’s draws, clandestine meetings between the good and the great are being held to canvass opinion on changing the format of the major championships.
By the end of last year, Andy Murray (hip), Novak Djokovic (elbow), Stan Wawrinka (knee), Kei Nishikori (wrist) and Milos Raonic (wrist, calf, knee) were all on the sick list while Rafael Nadal was simply exhausted. By this time last year, Roger Federer had also run out of puff having won two of the first three grand slams of the year.
As the game becomes more physical and the matches become longer, the toll taken on the players is becoming almost too great to bear.
Judy Murray – whose opinion has already been canvassed this week – believes the time has come to abandon the best-of-five set format to preserve the health and careers of the top men.
“I prefer best-of-three with a full set for the third set,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve watched the game getting so much tougher physically and the calendar getting so much more demanding on the players emotionally and physically. I think that at the end of last year there were so many of the top ten who were out of action with serious injuries – you need to look after that. It’s another reason there needs to be a union for the welfare and wellbeing of the players, just looking after that in all sorts of ways.”
The idea of a player union was mooted by Djokovic in January but his focus was more on the financial reward [or lack thereof] given to the players by the grand slams. But Murray thinks that a joint union between the men and women could have real power. “They are stronger together without question,” she said. “But it’s the top players who have the voices and who will carry the weight. So it just needs some of them to get together to push for that.
“The ATP and the WTA, when they were created, that’s what they were for: they were to look after the wellbeing and welfare of the players. And now, of course, their interests are in different ways so of course you get conflicts of interests. But I think there is more need than ever for something like that.”
Until that happens, the male players must rely on their representatives on the ATP player council. Fortunately, one of those reps is Kevin Anderson who has a vested interest in overhauling the five-set format, starting with the introduction of a final set tiebreak. His six hour, 36 minute defeat of John Isner in the Wimbledon semi-final was the second longest match ever played in SW19.
The longest was Isner’s 11 hour, five minute win over Nicolas Mahut, 70-68 in the fifth set, back in 2010. Should the grand slams change the length of the men’s matches, Isner thinks it should be called the “Isner Rule” as he has suffered more than any other under the current format.
“A lot of sports are having to change their formats,” Anderson said. “There’s a different demographic coming up, so maybe even three out of five set tennis may have to be looked at at some point. So I wouldn’t be surprised if at some stage we do get to that tiebreaker [in the fifth set].”