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Should the ATP Restore Masters Finals to Best of Five Sets?

Tribal TechContributor IIIApril 25, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Adam Helfant, Executive Chairman of the ATP and Anthony Jenkins, Chief Executive, Barclays Global Retail Banking pose for a picture with Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina after the men's singles final match against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 29, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

I am usually a big fan of the Masters tournaments.  I’ve attended Paris Bercy twice over the last few years and have always enjoyed watching Indian Wells and Miami on TV, along with Rome, Canada, and Cincinnati. 

However, since 2008, I’ve found that I’ve lost interest in the Masters tournaments and I’ve been wondering why that’s the case. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that they have lost some prestige due to the current format, and the Slams have more weight than ever before (which will please the ITF of course!).

In 1990 the ATP had a revamp of the calendar and brought in the Super Nine series culminating with the end of year ATP Championships, which took place in Germany from 1990 to 1999. 

The Super Nine events incorporated some of the biggest tournaments in the world outside of the Grand Slams, including Italian Open, German Open, Canadian Open, Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. 

Miami, Indian Wells, Stuttgart Indoors and Paris Indoors rounded out the nine tournaments.  The ATP Championships first took place in Frankfurt from 1990 to 1995 and Hanover from 1996 to 1999.

In 2000, the ATP had another revamp and renamed the Super Nines to the Masters series, awarding 500 points for a win.  Under the old system the winner got 350 points. 

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The contract to show the matches on pay television went to Swiss company ISL, who seemed to overstretch themselves and went bust in 2001. 

Some of the traditional names of the tournaments were also changed, therefore the Canadian Open became the Rogers Cup, Italian Open became Rome Masters and German Open became Hamburg Masters.

To me, the name changes seem to take some of the prestige away from these events.

In 2009, the ATP had yet another revamp with some historical events like Hamburg and Monte Carlo downgraded and new events like Shanghai and Madrid given new status with the winner now given 1000 points for a win.

I used to view the Masters tournaments as great preparation for young players to go on to slam success. 

With many of the finals played as best of five sets, it was good experience for players getting into important matches at slam level. 

Players like Agassi, Federer, Djokovic, Safin, Nadal, Muster and others all won Super Nine/Masters events before winning Slam titles. 

I used to really look forward to some of the finals, some of the best matches ever played were at the Super nine/Masters level in the finals.

However, over the past two years I can’t think of any final I have looked forward to and I can’t remember any final that would be considered memorable...over 20 finals in a two year period.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s due to the fact that finals are now best of three sets only all year round. 

The finals are usually quick straight sets affairs which are over in just over an hour.  The interesting thing is that these short finals have coincided with yet another explosion of prize money. 

So I feel that spectators who attend the finals and television viewers who pay subscription to see these matches are getting short-changed.

Another aspect to this is that Masters finals are no longer good preparation for slam success because they are like any other best of three-set ATP tournament. 

I think one of the reasons Andy Murray plays so passively in Grand Slam finals is because he hasn’t played any best-of-five sets Masters finals where he could find out more about himself and be prepared to try different strategies and tactics at the level just below the slams, for instance how to come back when down in a long match.

I’ve also found that the end of year ATP Championships are also proving a profound disappointment because matches on finals day are finishing way too quickly during the last two years. 

Television viewers are been short changed as well because TV will not show the doubles finals. 

I went to the O2 Arena last year for round-robin matches and the atmosphere was incredible, a best-of-five set final would have been a fitting way to end the event.  The players are strong enough and remunerated well enough to play a best-of-five set final.

If I remember correctly, previous Executive Chairman Etiene DeVilliers pushed to have the Masters finals reduced because of player fatigue.  To me, that’s a hollow excuse and has taken credibility away from the events. 

If Etiene really wanted to make a difference, he should have pushed harder to get the Tennis season reduced to 10 months so players can get a proper break as in other sports, but the ATP took the easy way out in this instance. 

Hamburg and Monte Carlo were downgraded but Madrid was given a rather strange slot just before the French Open, when it appears Madrid would actually like to rival the French Open as a Grand Slam tournament in the future.

I propose that some finals in Miami, Indian Wells, Rome, Paris Bercy, Shanghai, and the end of year ATP Championships be restored to best-of-five sets to bring back some prestige to these events, I wonder if you agree with me?  

To end the article, I thought I would take a quick look at some of the great five sets finals since 1990:

1996 Stuttgart final – Becker defeated Sampras in five sets of great attacking tennis.

1996 ATP final – Widely considered as the greatest indoor match in the Open era, four hours long, a great way to end the 1996 season and Sampras getting revenge over Becker after losing in Stuttgart.

1995 Monte Carlo final – Muster denied Becker in five sets, Becker would never win a clay event.

1998 ATP final – an all-Spanish affair in Hanover with Corretja defeating Moya in five sets

2000 Miami final – although four sets, it was three hours, 30 minutes long between Sampras and Kuerten and the atmosphere was like a Davis Cup tie.   The tennis was incredible too.

2002 Masters cup final – Hewitt defeated Ferrero in a great five-set thriller in Shanghai.

2005 Miami final – Federer came from two sets down to beat Nadal, this was when everyone realised Nadal was going to give Federer a lot of trouble!

2005 Rome – Nadal and Coria played a great five-set final.

2005 Masters Cup final – Nalbandian came from two sets down to beat Federer in four hours

2006 Rome final – Five hours long! And Federer had match point but lost against Nadal; unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for five-set finals at Masters level.

Can you think of any other great Masters finals?  I would be more than happy to hear about them in the Comments section.

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