Men’s singles matches at Grand Slams are played as best-of-five encounters while the same on the women’s side of things continues to remain a best-of-three encounter. Below, we take a look at the possible reasons behind this.
As a tennis fan interested in Grand Slams, it is only natural that you’ve noticed this aspect of women’s Grand Slams and are curious why this is so. The truth is there is no direct answer to this question, even though there is a glaring truth and a socio-political answer/argument.
Why don’t female tennis players play the best of five sets at the grand slams? The simple answer is that the Grand Slams don’t want that.
Also, there have been two rumored reasons why this rule hasn’t been implemented and we will talk about them briefly below.
The first is that there have been fears that a tennis game can last longer than average. Even though an average 3-set tennis match lasts 90 mins, and a 5-set lasts 2-5 hours on average, it has every possibility to last more than the average.
Do you know that the longest duration recorded in tennis history is 11 hours 5 mins?
While the other reason is sexism – a bit controversial, we know.
How Does Tennis Duration Be a Determinant to Women Playing 5 Sets?
Tennis is a sport loved by many, but it is still lagging in terms of global fans in terms of viewership compared to other top sports.
As of 2021, it is estimated that tennis is the fifth most-viewed sport in the world with about 1 billion followers. Compared to the top sport, football, with an estimated 3.5 billion followers, and hockey the 4th place have an estimated 2.2 billion viewers, you can see a huge gap in numbers.
As the general rule of thumb, it doesn’t look all that great for tennis. Unlike tennis with flexible timing, some other top sports have a fixed gameplay duration.
Comparing tennis with football and some other top sports that has a fixed duration of gameplay, you can understand the argument and link behind duration and viewership.
However, this argument isn’t solid because tennis is actually growing rapidly in participation and viewership, though not so much in African and Asian countries.
Have the Grand Slams Tried Enforcing Playing Five Sets for Women?
The answer is no, even though women can play in best of five sets.
However, surprisingly the tournaments have remained adamant on this rule. The WTA and players have repeatedly asked for a set of five but haven’t been successful. It has been alleged that one of the reasons is the sexism rooted in the history of the tournament.
Why Can Women Play Best of Five at the Grand Slams?
Firstly, it should be noted that given the number of days of rest Grand Slams provide, women are more than capable of playing the best of 5 sets. Let’s look at some logical reasons that support this:
Women Can Do It
Tennis is perhaps the best career option for aspiring female professional athletes since very few sports pay enough to have a rich pool of talent; it is the best option for a sports enthusiast who wants to become a professional athlete.
According to Venus Williams, the world’s top sport for ladies is tennis.
The physical smallness of women makes them more tolerant of hot, humid, and other adverse weather conditions.
The female body is designed to burn fewer carbohydrates and more fat during endurance activities like tennis training or match exercise. This means that in long games, the muscle glycogen in women will last longer than that of their male counterparts in long-duration sports.
Also, studies have shown that women are capable of playing 5 sets at the Grand Slams (see this study on estrogen protecting muscles from damage caused by exercise).
Remember that women have higher estrogen levels than men. This means that top players like Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, etc., are capable of playing the best of five sets in a Grand Slam match without issues.
Women Have Played Best of Five Before
In the women’s championship matches, year’s 5th major of 1984 to 1998, the champions played best-of-5. There were 3 epic five-set matches, including a memorable 1990 final in which Monica Seles won from a 2–1 losing position to win in five. This means that she would have lost if it was a three-set match.
From 1891 to 1901, the ladies’ championship match before the US Open was played best-of-five.
A classic example of this was Billie Jean King’s 1973 clash of the Sexes match with Bobby Riggs, which was also a best-of-five affair.
Do you think the entire concept was theatrical in nature? Definitely. Is it farcical? Possibly. Even so, no one fainted upon hearing this suggestion, notably not King, positioned as Queen at the time.
There Has Been Repeated Requests for Best of Five
As a third reason, top tennis professionals and figures have always requested best-of-five matches at Grand Slams (the rest tennis matches on the tour calendar are played best-of-3 with exceptions, such as in the semifinals).
Until recently, Stacey Allaster, former WTA head, voiced out that female tennis players are ready to play the best of five match sets, noting that scheduling hurdles prevent them from adopting the change.
This is something she has repeatedly said.
Also, Billie King, the WTA founder, has voiced a similar opinion.
“Women should be allowed to play best of 5 match sets,” Andy Murray stated in 2013; he added: “it’s not that women can’t play five sets.”
According to Navratilova, probably the best female tennis player in history, always replied, “No, let’s keep it how it is.” to this issue. Also, she has recently stated that the men’s tennis tour should be changed to three sets instead of the five in question.
Also, Serena Williams and other top tennis athletes like Kerber, Venus, etc., have been vocal on this issue, offering their various opinions.
We are pointing out comments by top tennis figures to show you that there have been many vocal calls by many to allow women to play in the best of 5 sets at the Grand Slams.
Final Words on Best of Five Sets at Grand Slams for Women
Finally, the WTA and its players have no control over the situation. The tennis Grand Slams are organized by the ITF, headquartered in London, UK.
The ITF also oversees the sport’s minor leagues, including tournaments for men and women. Despite WTA’s protests and that of the Women’s Player’s Council, the ITF’s Grand Slam Committee has refused to allow women to compete in grand slams in best-of-five matches.
It appears that swaying them on the 5-sets-vs-3 debate will take beyond an internet petition.
And unless something changes, casual tennis viewers will believe those female tennis players are not able or will not play a best-of-five match, instead of the truth, which is they are not allowed to.