Tennis: Australian Open wants five-set women's final: Approval sought for Grand Slam innovation

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The Independent Online
THE Australian Open intends to introduce a women's singles final over the best of five sets next January and will seek approval from the International Tennis Federation's assembly in September.

Unless Monica Seles makes a successful comeback, or other credible contenders emerge, or Steffi Graf retires, the move seems akin to increasing the distance of a one-horse race.

Geoff Pollard, the president of Tennis Australia, disagrees. 'Given the athleticism and professionalism of the elite women players today, the time is right,' he said. The final of the Virginia Slims Championship at Madison Square Garden already is decided over the best of five sets.

After defeating Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in this year's Australian final, 6-0, 6-2, in 57 minutes, Graf said she would not be averse to five- set matches. The world No 1, who currently holds all four Grand Slam titles, was not extended beyond two sets in any of her matches in Melbourne.

'I think the public would have been very happy to see Steffi play another set the way she was playing,' Paul McNamee, the tournament director, said. 'And perhaps someone as strong as Arantxa might have been able to claw her way back into the match.'

Perhaps, though Graf did not lose her first set of the year until 12 days ago when defeating Natalia Zvereva in the final of the Lipton Championships in Florida.

The Australians, in common with the United States Open, pay the women equal prize money. This meets with Billie Jean King's approval, though the old campaigner said on the eve of Wimbledon last year that she wished the men would only play two out of three sets. 'It's boring, five sets. This is the 1990s.'

Mark Miles, chief executive of the men's ATP Tour, agrees. 'I would prefer not to see another best-of-five sets final on the Tour,' he said during the Lipton. Then again, Petr Korda's marathon heroics in Munich were in a non- ATP Tour event, the Grand Slam Cup.

Boris Becker was beaten in the first round of Osaka Salem Open tournament in Tokyo yesterday, losing to the American, Robbie Weiss, in three sets. Weiss, ranked No 113 in the world, recovered from 0-3 in the third to beat the German 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Meanwhile, Becker, the three-times Wimbledon champion who is now ranked No 14, looks set to return to Davis Cup action for Germany, after a controversial break of nearly two years, when the holders take on Spain in July's quarter-finals. Claus Stauder, the German tennis federation chief, said: 'Boris said he was ready to play in the Davis Cup again at the start of the year. We are going to talk to him and I will do everything I can to get him in the team.'