This week's news of Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the upcoming U.S. Open makes me think -- one more time -- that professional tennis needs both men and women to play the best of three sets, rather than three-out-of-five sets at all professional tennis events, including Davis Cup and the four major tournaments.
There may have been a good reason to play three-out-of-five years ago, but today tennis is different. Technology has changed it and the sport is more demanding. It's about quality over quantity and this is a good recipe to create longer careers for our players. As a fan, I want to see today's players staying around longer.
I am going to miss Nadal at this year's U.S. Open and I think sports fans will as well. I still regret the fact that Pete Sampras quit playing at 31 and Stefanie Graf retired at 30. The sport is so much more dynamic today and it is so much harder on the players' bodies than it was when I played.
Today's players are in great shape, and being fit and healthy is just as much a weapon as a big serve and a killer forehand. But there is a price to pay. As I write this, Nadal has been away from the tour for seven weeks. It is the longest break from competitive tennis in his career and it is a sign that changes need to be made.
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with the best of three sets. All of the tournaments on the ATP Tour, including the elite level Masters 1000 events, play two-out-of-three. All of the events on the WTA Tour play the best of three and even the Olympic tournament is a best of three sets event (with the exception of the men's singles final).
When you play the best of three sets, the tennis is still high quality. Let's look at men's draw at the London Olympics. Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro went 19-17 in the third set in a very exciting semifinal match and even though he was on the losing end of the semifinal, Del Potro came back from that loss to win the Bronze Medal match. Earlier in the tournament Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic went to 25-23 in the third set before Tsonga claimed victory. Then Tsonga still had enough legs to go on to reach the men's doubles final and the quarterfinals of the men's singles draw.
As a fan of tennis, I want our stars to stay around longer and I want our future stars to know that we will protect them and their careers. So yes, I am going to miss watching Nadal play at this year's Open and I do hope he is back on the courts soon. But if we don't get him and his colleagues in professional tennis some help, he won't be the only one sitting out tournaments.
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