Male and Female Tennis Players Should Play the Same Number of Sets

Josey MacDonald, reporter

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I spent part of last weekend watching the tennis US Open, which was exciting, and featured some well known players, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, in the finals. Although I know relatively little about tennis, one thing in particular stood out to me about the tournament, which was the difference in length between the men’s and women’s matches. 

In the men’s final, Nadal won the first two sets, but his opponent, Russian 23 year old Daniil Medvedev, made a comeback in the third and fourth sets and the match had a very close and exciting ending. In the women’s final, Canadian Bianca Andreescu won the first two sets, but Williams had no chance to make a comeback. The game was already over. 

In most tournaments, both men and women play best of three sets, but in grand slam singles, men play best of five while women play best of three. By playing a shorter game, the women have to be more accurate than the men do. They can’t afford as many mistakes. If they start the match off rough, there is no opportunity to come back from it. In a way, they are more responsible for their losses.

There was a time when women did play 5 sets, back in 1891. But in 1901, the all male officials of the National Lawn Tennis Association changed the women’s tournament back to three sets, without consulting the women, who protested the decision. The debate didn’t come up again until the 1970s, when women were fighting for equal prize money. Many of the men who resisted pointed to the fact that women played shorter games, so in response the Women’s Tennis Association voted to play 5 set matches. But no tournament owners adopted the change.(thinkprogress.org)

Present and former top women’s players, including Maria Erakovic and Serena Williams, have said that they would be happy to play five sets. Or maybe instead of lengthening the women’s matches to 5 sets, shorten the men’s to 3. That would help prevent players from getting injured and could lengthen their careers. 

The largest problem I have with the current format is that it sends the message to viewers (and especially kids) watching around the world that men and women are inherently different, and that women are weaker. There is no good reason why there has to be a difference. Men and women are playing the same game and should play it in the same way.