#360Debate: Do tennis matches need to be shortened?

Sport360 staff 00:00 03/10/2016
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Marathon: The 2012 Aus Open final between Nadal & Djokovic lasted five hours, 53 minutes.

WTA chief Steve Simon rocked the boat by saying the future of the sport lies in quicker formats but several professionals, including Rafael Nadal, disagree.

Today’s #360debate asks: Do tennis matches need to be shortened?

Stuart Appleby, sport360.com, says YES

Steve Simon has put on record what many people inside the game have probably been thinking about for a while – but perhaps they didn’t want to be the cause of a knee-jerk reaction. He did.

The WTA chief executive’s comments on shortening the length of matches in the near future, with the idea of making tennis more broadcast and fan-friendly, have caused controversy.

But I think this is good for a game that has for too long been burdened by its great history and tradition. Tennis needs to stay on the front-foot and the topic is now officially declared open.

This should help Simon to convince the ITF and ATP Tour, with the men’s governing body no doubt listening in intently, to take the discussion to the next level.

He is right that tennis needs to appeal to a larger audience. No-advantage after deuce scoring, with the next point being the winning one, and a 10-point match tiebreak replacing the third set, have worked successfully in doubles for years now. So why not singles too?

Granted, the grand slams couldn’t be convinced to use them but it should be implemented lower down the tennis tiers first to determine how effective it might be – and then take it from there.

We are in a digital age where a lot of tennis is consumed on tablets and online – supplied by the big broadcasters – and people want a fast food diet of the sport, watching it on the go and from anywhere.

I’m not saying a quick-fire WTA singles match in Asia could ever replicate the drama of the recent Andy Murray vs Juan Martin Del Potro Davis Cup singles contest, for example, but tennis needs to meet the needs of the consumer.

And by bringing the idea to the fore, the sport is listening. Ultimately broadcasting pressure and sponsors, effectively tennis’ bill-payers, will have a big say in which direction the sport goes.

But if tennis adopts the same positive approach as it did with technology, then the game can continue moving forward.

Reem Abulleil, Reporter, says NO

The tennis world has been left reeling following WTA CEO Steve Simon’s thoughts on the “need” to shorten matches.

This current obsession with shortening everything in order to appeal to what is supposedly the world’s “ever-shrinking attention span” is becoming more and more of a cliché and we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot the more we encourage it.

It’s like, ‘let’s deliver a shorter version of tennis to grab the attention of those who didn’t really like it enough in the first place, and let’s lose the fans who do appreciate it in the process’.

What do you end up with? Fans who are neither passionate nor invested in the sport.

It’s true that sport, as a business, must adapt and cater to market demands but the focus should be on making it a more exciting high-quality product – who says shorter = more exciting?

Succumbing to the idea that people can no longer watch a three-hour match because they can barely follow a 20-second video on their cellphones, like Simon said, sounds short-sighted and you’ll end up promoting a lesser version of your product.

There’s also a big difference between making changes to adjust to current trends and transforming the game into something that deviates it completely from its essence.

The pressure of break points and the deuce-advantage scoring system is the essence of tennis. Steering away from that is a betrayal of the game. The same goes for the match-tiebreak.

The luck factor is greatly increased when you replace a deciding set with a match-tiebreak. Don’t you want to watch a match which was earned by the player who fought harder rather than the one who was luckier?

As for best-of-three versus best-of-five at the slams, it is debatable but I personally still thoroughly enjoy a five-set match if it is high-quality. The Nadal-Pouille one at the US Open left me on the edge of my seat throughout and it would be a shame to lose the opportunity to watch something like that.

Yes, it is tough to expect viewers to watch five or six-hour matches, but how often do we get those? Not too often. It’s not worth ditching the whole format for it!

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