Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
In 1938, after winning the Australian Championship, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, American tennis great Don Budge needed only to win Forrest Hills to capture the first-ever “Grand Slam” -- all four majors in a single calendar year. Budge accomplished the historic feat, but it took a week longer than he expected. After cruising to the final of the US National Championships, a Category Three hurricane struck the metropolitan area and washed out the final match for six days.
I suppose that the rain that washed-out the US Open men’s singles final Sunday at Flushing Meadows -- like the last two men’s finals in 2008 and 2009 -- might be seen as an extended 70th-anniversary commemorating Budge’s unprecedented achievement. Unfortunately, no amount of rain could have saved the women’s final which was played under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday night.
The time has come for the women to play best-of-five sets in the final of the US Open. This year’s championship match between Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva was over before it began. And, sadly, this sort of outcome is not that out of the ordinary. The USTA and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour need to start thinking about ways they can increase the entertainment value of this prime-time event.
There hasn't been a women's three-set final at the Open since Steffi Graf defeated Monica Seles in 1995. There hasn't been one tiebreak in a final this entire decade. And if you add up the total women's final scores from 2000-2010, the average match score is 6-3, 6-3. The average match time for these finals simply isn't worth the single ticket price. Fans should at least be able to see three sets of lopsided tennis, and who knows? Maybe the tennis might get better.
There are numerous examples of great US Open men's finals that got off to a sluggish start. In the 2002 final between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, Sampras won the first two sets handily, 6-3, 6-4, before Agassi made a match of it. Ivan Lendl had a comeback, too, in 1982. After Jimmy Connors shellacked the Czech, 6-3, 6-2, Lendl stormed back to make the match one of the more memorable finals in US Open history. And, of course, who could forget the iconic US Open final of 1980 between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg? It’s one of the most replayed tennis matches in history.
In that classic five-setter, McEnroe dominated Borg, 7-6, 6-1 in the first half of the clash, but then the Swede dug-in and snatched the next two sets with brilliant play, though McEnroe ultimately wrestled the trophy away from Borg 6-4 in the final set. (Borg never won the US Open.)
And while the men are certainly not immune to final flops -- Roger Federer’s 2004 thrashing of Lleyton Hewitt: 6-0, 7-6, 6-0, and the year before that Andy Roddick pummeled Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 -- at least they are forced to play three sets.
I understand, of course, a best-of-five set format for the women in the early rounds of the US Open would be a logistical nightmare for the tournament administrators, television and probably the women as well, but why not in the finals? Personally, I believe the only way to test a true, blue Grand Slam champion is to play first to three sets.
Considering the cost of a ticket for the “Ultimate Women’s Match,” they should at least throw in an extra set and make it interesting.