Andy Murray on the best-of-five-set matches debate: ‘People often mistake long matches for epics’

ATP Tour
Andy Murray Davis Cup press conference

As a player he prefers best-of-five set matches at Grand Slams, but Andy Murray admits he is not an admirer of the format when it comes to watching tennis as an ordinary fan.

The debate around best-of-five set matches at Grand Slams was brought back into the spotlight at the ATP Finals last week when world No 1 Novak Djokovic and world No 2 Rafael Nadal offered contrasting opinions on the subject.

Djokovic felt it was time to change and cater for the younger generation by reducing five-setters at majors to best-of-three.

“I don’t see the reason why we play best of five, even if there is an historical reason. I just feel like the attention span of the fans, especially the younger generation, is shorter,” he said.

“So to improve the product of tennis, commercially and marketing wise, I feel we have to adapt to that younger generation.”

World No 2 Nadal on the other hand was “completely” against changing to three-setters as he preferred to stick with tradition.

The question about the different formats came up during Gael Monfils’ latest stream with Murray.

Frenchman Monfils is also a man for tradition and prefers five-setters at Grand Slams.

“I prefer best of five definitely, because we are used to it and we are born to see best of five setters,” he said. “I think to win a five-set match is different as it asks you something different. To win a Slam has always been five-setter.

“You have to prepare different, you have to have a different mentality. It’s more physical, but you also need to be smarter about the way you go about your match.”

As for three-time Grand Slam champion Murray, he still likes the longer format as a player, but admits as a fan the sport should consider changing.

“As a player I have always preferred best of five. Physically it is a lot more demanding, mentally it is more demanding,” he said.

The former world No 1 added: “I don’t know, it’s a difficult one. I think sometimes the matches are just too long. Obviously for the traditional fans best of five is something they like, but for younger kids, the way that people are consuming their sports are a little bit different than what it was 10, 15, 20 years ago.

“A lot of other sports have changed their formats to try and make it a little bit quicker. It’s a difficult one because as a player I have always enjoyed playing the best of five-sets as it has always rewarded the people who have put in the hard work.

“As a fan, I personally would never sit and watch a best-of-five-set match from start to finish. I am sure there are people out there that would. If there is a four-hour match if you are at home, you would probably go out and have some food, come back and check the scores on your phone. I don’t know how many people actually sit and watch a four- or five-hour tennis match.

“I often read headlines from matches that say ‘Monfils wins five-set epic’ and it is based on the time that the match has taken, but not always on the quality of the match. Sometimes with the best-of-five-set matches the first two sets might be very average, it’s not always good tennis, but people mistake a great tennis match for a match that was just very long, so people say this was an epic match, but actually the level is not always that good for four hours of the match.

“People feel shortchanged if it’s a best-of-three set match and it’s over in one hour and they feel it’s not enough, but you get brilliant level three-set matches because the players know they can give everything for every point in best of three.”

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