I can just imagine how Martina Navratilova would have reacted if, when she was blowing away all and sundry as she racked up 18 Grand Slam titles, she had been told women should play single-set matches. I certainly would not have been brave enough to tell her myself. So why, I wonder, did Martina say this week men’s Grand Slam matches should be cut by two sets? OK, she said playing best-of-three would reduce the risk of injuries. OK, there is an issue with injuries. The top guys don’t have easy matches like they used to, they have to work from match one, as has been proved here. The points are longer too. But cutting Slams to best-of-three is not the solution.
The five-setters are one of the things that makes Slams special. People come for the epics. If we put the Slams down to an ordinary best-of-three, like the Masters, then why would people plan their vacations around them and pay the prices Grand Slams ask? The five-setters at New York to 2.30am, the Isner-Mahut game here that went on for three days! Three days!
What does surprise me is that it is Martina saying this. Martina, my respect for you is the way you raised the bar when it came to fitness. You could not have played that serve-and-volley game if you’d been carrying 20lb. Your physical condition was a big part of your success, as it is with the top guys today. Being a great player is not just about having a blitzkrieg serve, a punishing backhand and a murderous forehand. It’s about putting in the hours lifting weights in the gym, running the streets at five in the morning, and having the willpower to say no to fast food and a night out in the pub. Players have to earn their titles through what they put in all year.
That’s not all. In a three-setter you can get a fluke result. A top player might be slightly off his game, he drops a couple of points in tie-breaks and he’s out. A five-setter gives him the chance to show his cojones, as the Hispanic guys say in Florida, to dig deep and make the other guy really work for victory. And boy, when that upset still happens, as this week, how much more satisfying it is to have done it in a best-of-five-sets match.
Think of the great matches, the 2008 Nadal-Federer final which finished in the dark, the five-hour-plus final the following year when Roger finally defeated Andy Roddick. In those cases the results would have been the same over three sets, but they would not have become timeless classics. Sorry, Martina, bad idea.
Match of the day: Get sandwiches ready for Murray’s match
If you are coming to Wimbledon to watch Andy Murray, pack a few sandwiches, then pack a few more, and maybe throw in some fruit and cake. And if you are planning to follow his game on television, be just as prepared. Fix a dinner you can heat up, or have the pizza placed on stand-by, check there are plenty of beers in the fridge, and make yourself real comfortable, because if there’s one thing in this week of shocks I think I can guarantee, it is that Andy and Tommy Robredo are going to be on court for a long time.
In fact, I suggest they pack a few sandwiches in their bags too, because even if this match is over in straight sets, it is not going to be “one-two-three and you’re out of there”.
Robredo doesn’t make a lot of unforced errors, he gets a lot of balls back, and he never gives up. In Paris, in the French Open, he came back three times from two sets down to win in five, the first player to do that since the Twenties when my old friend Fred Perry was still focusing on table tennis.
Robredo may be Spanish but he has obviously taken to heart the great quote from the famous New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra: ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.”
As you all know, exactly the same can said of Andy, which is why I think the game will go on a long time, but also why I think Andy will win. Just keeping it in play will not be enough, because that is what Robredo builds his game on. Andy has a bit more in other areas. He has improved his serve and he’s not hesitant to come to the net. If the rally has to go eight to 10 shots, Andy can do that as well. When he has a chance to punish Robredo, he will have to take it. I think he will, but it won’t be quick, so don’t forget those sandwiches.
The big match: Robredo v Murray
T Robredo/A Murray
Spanish Nationality British
31 Age 26
Barcelona Residence London
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
5ft 11in Height 6ft 3in
29 World ranking 2
11 Career titles 27
$9.92m Prize-money $27.33m
11-11 Wimbledon record (W-L)32-7
R3 Wimbledon best F (2003, ’09, ’13)(2012)
2 Head-to-head 2
Nick's prediction Murray in four
Coaching report: Garcia knocks the beans out of the ball like Serena
I was very impressed by Caroline Garcia’s performance against Serena Williams today. The French player is a big girl, about 5ft 10, with great first and second serves, excellent groundstrokes and very good movement. She stood close to the baseline to return Serena’s serve, which is unusual.
I believe she will have to add a little to her game, maybe a slice, and I feel she will have to come in after those powerful serves and groundstrokes, but her future at 19 is very bright indeed.
Serena was tested because she was facing another girl who knocks the beans out of the ball. Both of them served fast. Garcia traded blows, so Serena had to focus. She did, and she played a little better than in the first round. There were some tight points, and it was closer than the 6-3, 6-2 scoreline suggested, but Serena kept the pressure on with her own powerful groundstrokes.
Maybe Caroline should have tried a few changes of pace instead of just trading blows against Serena, because Serena is so powerful, but her time will come. Next year she will be stronger, and more experienced, she’ll be one to watch.
My week at Wimbledon: Roger will not want to leave like this
For an Italian kid from the New York suburbs, Wimbledon is a great experience. This morning I gave a lesson at Queen’s Club – now that’s not the sort of place I thought I’d be teaching when I first coached tennis on a pair of broken-down public courts at Victory Park in North Miami Beach in the 1950s. During the day – in between talking to the BBC, ESPN, Danish and German TV, Wimbledon Live and others, plus writing this column, I managed to watch two of my favourite students, Serena Williams and Tommy Haas, play. Then I attended an IMG party in Wimbledon Village.
All the talk was of Roger Federer’s Wimbledon exit to Sergiy Sakhovsky. Holy mackerel! What a result that was. I can still hardly believe it. But Roger’s not through yet. Remember when Sampras suffered at the end? He came back and won the US Open. Roger will also want to go out like that. He won’t want to leave this way.
I think he will have to adjust. He may have to attack a bit more. He was caught off guard on Wednesday and whoever planned Sakhovsky’s strategy did it superbly.