Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association, charter member of PPTR, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff. 

Tennis Club Business
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His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.

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CHANGING TO TWO OUT OF THREE SETS IN A GRAND SLAM

The numbers make sense

By Gary Horvath

Football determines its champion in the Super Bowl, and college basketball does the same in the Final Four. Tennis crowns winners for four events called the Grand Slams.

The Slams attract the top players in the world. Players receive prize money, and ranking points are assigned based on performance. Event organizers create attention for sponsors and the sport. Because there is so much at stake, the tennis governing bodies have determined that Grand Slam competition should test a player’s mental toughness, physical strength, knowledge of tactics, and stamina over two weeks.

 

In addition, men are required to play three of five sets.

 

This discussion focuses on the latter issue.

 

Pros and Cons of Playing Three of Five Sets

It is fair to ask the question, “Is three out of five sets the optimal format for Grand Slam matchplay competition?” For example, should men play two of three sets, three of five sets, or four of seven sets?

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Photo: Filip Mroz on Unsplash

As can be seen in Table I, good arguments exist for men playing three of five and two of three sets.

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Impact of Switching from Three of Five Sets to Two of Three Sets

This section includes an analysis of the 2022 Men’s Grand Slam events. A switch from playing three of five sets to two of three sets will have a minimal effect on the outcome of the matches. Many matches may be entertaining, but they are technically not competitive.

Photo: Dylan Freedom on Unsplash

This evaluation considers the five following scenarios:

  • Matches that were not started or finished (DNF) (3.5%).

  • Three sets played (43.9%). Since the winner never lost a set, they would always win a two-of-three set match.

  • Four sets played (33.1%). The winner lost either the first, second, or third set. Their set score was always 3-1, and they won the final set, i.e., they would always win a two of three set match.

  • Five sets played (19.5%).

The source for this data is the drawsheets posted on the official website for each of the events. It is summarized in Tables II and III.

The data for the U.S. Open is significantly different from the other events. Most likely, it is an anomaly. There are many factors that can impact the outcome of tennis matches in major tournaments.

Analysis of 2022 Grand Slams – By Round

Tables IV and V analyze the number of sets played by each round.

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The data shows there are fewer three-set matches played after the round of sixteen and more five-set matches.

Subtleties of Matches that are Three Sets or Five Sets

As mentioned earlier, all players who won three consecutive sets would have won those matches if only two sets were played.

 

A review of the 223 three-set matches shows that only 53% were competitive (based on UTR’s definition of a competitive match). The following percent of three set matches were competitive:

  • Australian Open (53%).

  • French Open (42%).

  • Wimbledon (52%)

  • U. S. Open (71%). The U.S. open data seems to be an anomaly.

 

Overall, there were 99 five-set matches. In each match, one player was always ahead 2-1 after the first three sets. When that person won one of the last two sets, then playing five sets did not affect their outcome.

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Photo: Alex Motoc on Unsplash

On the other hand, if that person won two of the first three sets, but dropped the last two sets, then the outcome of the match was affected by playing five sets. Table VI shows that this happened 46 times out of 99 five-set matches (46%) or 46 of 508 matches (9%). If 2022 Grand Slam matches had been reduced from three of five to two of three sets then it would have changed the outcome of at most 9% of the matches.

Are industry leaders ready to seriously consider making the change?

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