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Miami 2012 - Nadal

Navratilova: Men should play best of 3 at the slams


Martina Navratilova has told The Tennis Space that men’s matches at Wimbledon and other grand slams should be shortened to the best of three sets. “Tennis matches shouldn’t be a physical marathon, and tennis needs to think about the long-term health of the players,” said Navratilova, who will be part of BT Sport’s team covering women’s tennis. 

“People who disagree with women receiving equal pay at the grand slams keep making the argument that women don’t play three out of five sets. But the top women would be willing to play three out of five. But maybe the point should be that the men should be playing two out of three. Why are they playing three out of five at the slams, and the rest of the year they are just playing two out of three? You can’t figure out the winner over three sets?

“Men should definitely be playing two out of three sets, especially as the points are longer these days. They play on hard surfaces – the two slams played on hard courts, they just take so much out of your body. You can’t recover. It’s like running a marathon, and then having to run another one just two days later, or maybe even the next day. And then again and again. And then you might not have anything left when you reach the semi-finals. I don’t think the game should be that much of a question of physical fitness. I say this as someone who put physical fitness at a premium. I wanted to play three out of five sets because I knew the other girl would get tired. But should you win when you’re maybe less talented, but you’re just not as tired?

“It’s not a marathon. Tennis matches shouldn’t be a physical marathon – they should only be a marathon in your head. But not so much on your legs. Two out of three sets put a premium on focus and mental toughness because there’s a lot more pressure. The shorter the format, the more pressure there is. The top players want three out of five because they don’t want some hotshot beating them in the second round when they get hot for two sets – those hotshots usually can’t do that for three sets. Overall, for the long-term health of the players, they need to look at it. It would also be better for TV.”


Coming soon – Martina Navratilova discusses Serena Williams’ future. 


  • Slicer

    “People who disagree with women receiving equal pay at the grand slams keep making the argument that women don’t play three out of five sets.”

    It’s not just that. It costs more to watch the men’s quarter finals, semi- finals and the men’s final, men bring in more money to the tournaments. Effectively people are willing to pay more to watch men than women and money that men bring in to the tournament is being redistributed to women.

    “But the top women would be willing to play three out of five.”

    No one would want to watch the “top” women play 3 out of 5 but there are plenty of people that will pay to watch men play 3 out 5 sets.

    “But should you win when you’re maybe less talented, but you’re just not as tired?”

    Look at the players that have been at the top of the men’s game and you’ll find that they have been and still are phenomenal athletes as well as highly skilled tennis players, which is what the top level of sport is about. Men can play 3 out 5 sets because they can and some of the best matches in the last few years have been 5 set thrillers. The top female players would struggle to play 3 out of 5 at a high level and just serve to highlight how the women’s game is not up to the standard of the men’s game.

    Women can’t compete at the same level as men, women playing less sets and getting the same money as men shows the women’s game as being inferior (which it is) Navratilova wants to bring men down to women’s level to try and increase the credibility of the women’s game.

    • cmac

      I’m a woman and I have to say, you are just speaking the truth, Slicer.

      Also, I would like both the men and the women to play 5 sets in slams to differentiate them even more from the other tournaments. But, I do agree with Martina that they should eliminate “lets” (when the serve hits the net) and play them as serves. I would also like to have men and women get some coaching during designated times in a match to eliminate those complaints. The women in the WTA get that now. Every other sport gets the benefit of some kind of coaching. Golf is the closest sport to tennis in some ways and they have the caddies making suggestions throughout the whole tournament. It doesn’t matter what someone else might be telling the athlete to do. They still have to execute it and that is the difficult part.

  • cmac

    I’m sure you could have found a better photo of Nadal.

  • Bob

    The 5 hours long “five sets thrillers” aren’t always that great.
    The 2012 AO/USO finals were long but it was the same crosscourt rally over and over again.

    Men tennis has become a fitness contest rather than a skills contest.
    If you speed up the surfaces and make it a best of three, it’s a whole new game.

  • Steve Lawnick

    The 4 slams are the most coveted titles in tennis. They are hard to win; and they should be. I’ve always appreciated the fact that the men had to step it it up and win 3 of 5 sets; and I think the women should as well. Should somebody win because they are just not as tired? Fitness is a competitive component of the sport; it’s up to the players to be fit enough to play. They keep changing the game, and the surfaces, to accommodate the players. I say that in this case we should keep the game intact, and put the responsibility on the players to play it.

  • Roy

    5 Set tennis is where it’s at, the idea that the top of the men’s game has become just a fitness contest is a joke. If you can’t do it over 5 sets then you can’t do it period.

    The reason Navratilova wants men to play 3 set tennis is because she knows the classic great matches are in tournaments over 5 sets and they are all men’s matches, simply because the women are generally not up to it.

    This is Navratilova trying to ‘up’ the women’s game by denigrating the men’s – nothing more.

    • Andy

      Five sets would arguably give the physical component a greater weight in the outcome of the match. Granted you have 2 days to rest (not always) but the problem is that if you had an exceedingly long match and your next opponent hasn’t…. Having said that, I recognize that there is also the tradition and the history that suggest that, no matter what, just leave things as they are – this would be a most difficult decision.

      With regards to the question of women playing inferior tennis and not playing five sets etc. I believe there is some misperception here. The absolute level of play is not the point. This is a spectator sport and the players are essentially actors who get paid for their appeal whether technical or personal or what-have-you.

      Lastly I would like to comment on the let court issue which has been a sour point for me personally as a player. Somehow it never made sense to me that if the let court lands in the service box you have to play if over but if it doesn’t if counts against you. I boldly say – either amend it or abolish it altogether!

  • Rob

    I totally agree that 5 hours is way to long for a tennis match. Especially when there are multiple matches in a tournament. Best of three sets is plenty. I don’t care for Martina as an announcer, but she is correct on this point.

  • Anonymous

    Navratilova has been a loud mouthed idiot FOREVER. I will say that her work on the Tennis Channel at the French has been better. Maybe I am just getting used to her, but she even seems to have improved over the course of the week. She started with “I told you so” and “Like I said.” She is now focusing more on the players their strengths and weakness, which she does a pretty good job at. Not to the level of a Brad Gilbert or John McEnroe, but still insightful when she chooses to focus that direction.

    BUT when she starts talking about men’s tennis, she display gross ignorance. The same kind of ignorance she demonstrated when she said she could beat the #100 mens player. Shockingly ignorant, considering she could not beat the #1,000 player. (The #100 player beat Serena 6-1 when he was half drunk after golfing.).