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Tennis Confidential
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Articles & Essays by Paul Fein

Copyright 2001

What They're Saying about
Tiebreakers Replacing Third Sets . . .

Mark Woodforde: “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?”

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, particu-larly 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: “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 : “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): “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): “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 -- period.”

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 thirty.”

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 withdraw-ing 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): “It’s a shame that tournament directors and many others involved at the highest decision-making level look only (italics) 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 traditional best-of-three.”

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): “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 [tournment] 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.”

Dwight Chapin (tennis columnist, San Francisco Chronicle)."This latest scheme is wrong-headed on almost every level. People are always trying to shorten the length of baseball games, too, but, to me, not having a clock on it is a major part of its attraction. As a writer, I seldom cover doubles matches of any sort, but that's mainly because they're scheduled immediately after singles matches, when I am furiously trying to cope with deadlines. A change in format thus is not going to entice me to cover more doubles play."

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