London - It was 16 years ago at New York’s Madison Square Garden that the last best-of-five match was played in women’s tennis, with Martina Hingis beating Lindsay Davenport in what turned out to be four sets.
The idea has not been tried since that meeting at the WTA Tour year-end Championships, but in the wake of a crushingly one-sided women’s Wimbledon final, the possibility of women going the same length as the men has been raised.
Judy Murray has suggested that the best-of-five format from semi-finals onwards might be the best antidote to the kind of 55-minute hammering of Eugenie Bouchard by Petra Kvitova, which left some fans feeling shortchanged after paying £124 for a ticket on Saturday.
The comparison with Sunday’s four-hour epic between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer also stirred up the debate about the equal pay that is now a fixture at Grand Slams.
The idea of extending women’s matches was gaining little support as Wimbledon closed down on Monday.
‘I can see that it wasn’t great value for money on this occasion, but it isn’t a change I would like to see,’ said Sue Barker, former French Open champion.
‘Eugenie was blown away a bit as was Sabine Lisicki last year, but then we have just had an excellent French Open final a few weeks ago (Maria Sharapova beat Simona Halep over three hours).
‘I’m hoping that this new generation of players will make it more competitive at the top. Also the three week gap between Roland Garros and Wimbledon next year will make a difference - you are going to see players more comfortable on the surface.’
With women’s tennis fought out from baseline to baseline, the extra pounding the already stressed show courts would take from longer matches was a concern raised by Britain’s former world No 5 Jo Durie.
‘The women have never objected to playing best of five and they are certainly capable of doing it,’ she said. ‘But the women’s game is different to the men’s and women are made differently. Three sets is a good fit to me. There is a danger of a knee-jerk reaction.’
Former British No 1 Annabel Croft agreed, saying: ‘They tried it in New York and it didn’t work. Women’s matches tend to take longer and there were TV scheduling problems.’
While there have been many one-sided women’s Grand Slam finals in recent years it is a myth that they have all been that way. The last two US Open finals have gone to a deciding set, as have three of the last five Australian Open finals.
Yet there is no escaping that straight-set climaxes to women’s championships have become commonplace. Of the combined last 24 women’s finals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open, 20 have been over in two sets.
David Felgate, coach of one of the women’s game’s rising stars, Croatian Donna Vekic, is also against the move. ‘It would alter the whole dynamic of the matches. Someone like Donna is conditioned to play best of three. Playing a potential five is very different. If you do it for two rounds you have to do it for all seven.’
And that, as pointed out by ex- Great Britain player and Sky commentator Barry Cowan, would bring enormous challenges. ‘You would have to start early to fit it all in, especially at Wimbledon, and you could have players walking out to empty stands.
‘The argument about equal prize-money because they play shorter matches is a non-starter for me, as it’s about quality and enjoyment.How could people who like tennis not have been impressed by the quality of Kvitova’s ball striking?’
For most people the calibre of matches and the narrative at the top of men’s tennis has way outshone the women in the current era of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Co. It is why men’s final tickets, with the solitary add-on of the mixed doubles final, were priced at £148 compared to Saturday’s £124 for the women’s, which also included the women’s doubles and an outstanding men’s doubles final. The difference in unofficial prices was far greater.
In five years things may have changed considerably, with the women’s game likely to regain lost ground in public affection as male superstars fade away.
Regardless, any reversal of the equal prize-money policy is never going to happen.– Daily Mail