it’s time for ladies to go the distance


As my girlfriend sat and endured yet another hour of U.S. Open coverage earlier this week alongside me, one of the commentators mentioned, in passing, how the women still only play best-of-three sets in the majors. This pricked up her ears, and she looked up from her laptop.

“Why don’t the women play best of five, too?”, she wondered aloud. “They’re just as fit as men, aren’t they? They’re even biologically built for endurance!”

“Well, because the depth of men’s…”, I started to mutter. I tried again. “Well, in some finals they used to…” Nope, that reason didn’t work either. I was stumped. I had been blindly accepting this state of things without taking a second to think it through. It caught up with me a day later while I was walking my dog. “Yeah,why the hell not?”

When long-time sports commentator Diana Nyad devoted her weekly radio post, The Score, to how the women need to earn it at the slams by also going best-of-five, I could do nothing but agree with her. (Take a listen.)

And while (Christian) conservatives, not surprisingly, say women don’t deserve equal money, period, the ones who are fine with the recent trend in leveling pay want the ladies to work:

This guy, despite expounding his views on, says ladies better go five to earn their keep — otherwise they’re taking from the men’s pockets. And Random Ratiocination suggests it’s a non-issue, but its readers lean towards five sets.

Among the discussion boards, posters seem to agree. At Talk Tennis, MaximRecoil suggests that women getting equal prize money isn’t what the market bears, but rather what political correctness bears.

OK, ladies: let’s go five. What do you think? Tell us!

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.


17 Responses to “it’s time for ladies to go the distance”

  1. ryan Says:

    Yes! This has been on my mind too. It is not as though the men play best of five all year either, it’s a real grand slam test. I see no reason why women wouldn’t be able to do that as well. It might also open up some matches at the slams (I saw a lot of straight set matches among the women), giving folks less reason to bemoan the lack of excitement in women’s tennis.

  2. Mara Says:

    I agree. There’s no real reason to have women play a shorter game than men. Womens’ soccer teams still play the full 90 minutes…

  3. JohnHecter Says:

    are you kidding me?? who wants to see 5 sets of that boring Women tennis??

    just finish those boring/chokefest/one-sided matches as fast as you can and let the real tennis (Men Tennis) begin…

  4. Brian Says:

    I think quality is the reason to vote against the woman going best three out of five. I encourage everyone to go online and look at the winners to unforced errors breakdown and compare them. The quality just isn’t there.

    I think unfortunately it has more do with quality and TV Ratings. Why? (especially after comparing the numbers as suggested above) I have a few thoughts. One is that they are shorter in length. The average American doesn’t have attention span for 5 setter (mens or womens). Another answer is that sex appeal sells. But perhaps the real reason lies in what are the alternatives when it comes to women’s sports? Look at the TV Ratings of the WNBA, the women’s World Cup, Softball, Golf. What other women’s sport is challenging women’s tennis in the US? I would say there aren’t many. In fact, if you ask most people what women’s sport are they most likely to watch, I would argue that tennis would win.

  5. Michael Says:

    Interesting points, Brian.
    A follow-up question would have to be:
    Does the US Open’s advertising blitz hold enough sway over the other slams- where the TV audience is generally made up of tennis aficionados of some level, rather than just general sports fans – to justify whether they all stick with best of 3?

  6. kim Says:

    If women play best of 5, Williams will win every slam. Cause Justine can’t bear to play 5 sets. I think it will be torment. You will see they cramp or retire a lot. And The ticket price is the same both men and women. So women deserve to it.

  7. emi Says:

    i dont understand why women dont get equal prize money in tournaments where both men and women play best of three sets.

  8. Nez Says:

    i dont think people are giving women enough credit… they are all elite athletes whether they play 5 sets in a slam or not. they should change women to go the distance at slams… it will justify the equal pay 🙂

  9. Joshua Says:

    I hate the argument that “men work harder” and thus deserve more pay. For a moment, just look at the men’s game. Federer rarely plays five sets. He lost two sets in this tournament. Djokovic lost three and played what was easily the most grueling match of the fortnight. By the “more time on the court = more money” formula, Djokovic should walk away with more money than Federer, even though Federer won the tournament. Likewise, Venus Williams went out a round earlier than Henin but played only one set less than the champion. So why is she making so much less money at this tournament?

    Athletes aren’t paid by the hour. A big part of the justification for salary comes from the actual level of skill a player demonstrates. Henin won every match in straight sets, which Federer couldn’t do (and before you gripe that that’s because he has to go three sets to do that, remember that he lost only first sets, including one to a wild card after two very easy rounds, well before any “exhaustion” could set in.) Her efficiency in taking out even highly ranked opponents is justification enough for equal prize money.

    As for five sets — Venus Williams famously said several years ago than women would be “happy” to play five sets. I don’t know how true that is. But the overwhelming evidence is that even three set matches are causes chaos on the WTA tour (and it’s not much better in the ATP.) The number of retirements on both sides of the game is frightening. Talking about making players play MORE tennis in order to “challenge them” (the challenge of the majors is, of course, the draw but also the seven match format, which is grueling in itself) is absurd in the face of the endless litany of injuries in both the men’s and women’s game. Five set matches are a big reason why a lot of top players won’t touch Davis Cup. They also tend to put too much value on stamina and strength. Smart players are virtually nonexistent in men’s tennis while they thrive in women’s tennis (despite Courier’s idiotic statements to the contrary.)

    The real question shouldn’t be “why don’t women play best of five” it should be “why do the men play best of five?” If you reduced the men’s matches to three out of five sets you’d eliminate a number of retirements and in effect end David Nalbandian’s career, which to my mind is win-win.

    A possible compromise — save the best of five for the second week and make sure players get a full day off between matches (women could play QF on Tues, SF on Thurs and final on Sat, men the interspersed days) so that players in both draws play best of five only from the QF on.

    There’s another big problem with best of five — timing. Tennis matches are notoriously difficult to schedule on TV. Best of three has a greater chance of conforming to a tighter schedule while also producing, on the balance, MORE and not LESS drama. (although the scores weren’t that different, it’s obvious that Djokovic’s 7-6 2-6, 7-6 victory in Montreal was far more exciting than his 6-7, 6-7, 4-6 loss in New York.)

  10. skippie Says:

    I never bother watching womens tennis .
    I want the- possibility -of a really classic marathon duel between two never-say-dies, and we have had some great ones over the years ,such as the relatively recent Federer v Safin in 2005 .Many other classics as you go back in time .All cherished memories.
    That just cannot happen when it only takes 2 sets to be declared a winner.
    Not blaming the women , of course , if commercial reality was different then obviously women would be playing 5 …or 7 ..or whatever.

  11. Jeff Beal Says:

    “And while (Christian) conservatives, not surprisingly, say women don’t deserve equal money, period, the ones who are fine with the recent trend in leveling pay want the ladies to work”

    What a strange comment… I’m not a Christian or a conservative but I don’t believe women deserve equal money in tennis. While it may be demonstrable that ticket sales and/or television ratings for women’s matches are similar to men’s, I believe this is mostly due to the “coattail effect”. If they held separate tournaments the ratings would be drastically different. One needs only to observe the LPGA and WNBA to deduce this.

    Now, should women play five set matches? Yes, but it’s not going to happen. The networks know that female maches are useful as “filler” (especially during the final stages of tournaments) but too much of it will cause audiences to change channels in droves.

  12. Kristian Says:

    Women should play five sets – even if it’s just for the final. For a FINAL to be over within an hour is ridiculous, maybe give them a tie-break option in the fifth set.

    For women to be paid they same they should work in the same conditions, as with any other job. Having watched the Australian Open 2008 Final today, the game should have gone passed a measly two sets. The game was good, but could have been great had it gone the distance.

  13. Michael Says:

    How about: both men and women play five sets of no-advantage games, like the new doubles rules have it? Or three sets of first -to-twenty-one or something? As long as you could ensure at least 1.5 hours but no more than three hours, I think you’d have the ideal formula.

  14. Chuck Says:


  15. sean Says:

    Michael said it before I could. If you go more sets, go no-ad. I love playing no-ad and enjoy watching it. I also like the match tie-break. There are so many good ideas bouncing around from World Team Tennis, I’d love to see the game adapt – it makes sense to adapt the scoring to match the new technology of the racquets.

  16. CHAD Says:


  17. Ritchiep Says:

    Thank you JohnHecter for saying what has been on my mind for years. I dont even watch womans tennis any more. Fed up. Mens tennis rocks, and I enjoy watching it too!!

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