Is a lack of exposure to best of five sets scenario in men’s tennis a problem for upcoming stars?

To win a major you need to win in a best of five sets scenario.

This is something the younger players are getting less exposure too. The format now only exists in the four majors having been pulled out of Masters 1000 finals, Olympic Games, Davis Cup & Tour Finals.

For a while we have been waiting for the next big breakthrough at a major in men’s tennis for some time.

The last first time winner was Marin Cilic at the US Open in 2014.

Since the beginning of 2004 there have been 63 Grand Slam events and the breakdown is as follows;

2004 French Open – Gaston Gaudio
2005 Australian Open – Marat Safin (second major)
2009 US Open – Juan Martin Del Potro
2014 US Open – Marin Cilic

Out of the remaining 59 the breakdown is;

Federer – 20
Nadal – 18
Djokovic – 16
Murray – 3
Wawrinka – 3

To not have had a first time winner in five years raises questions, why?

We have seen the greatest era in tennis but at the highest level the younger players aren’t up to speed in mens tennis.

Karen Khachanov – 23 years old – 9th in the world – 1 QF appearance in 12
Daniil Medvedev – 23 years old – 5th in the world – 0 QF appearances in 11
Stefanos Tsitsipas – 21 years old – 8th in the world – 1 QF appearance in 9 (AusOpen SF 2019
Alex Zverev – 22 years old – 6th in the world – 2 QF appearance in 17
Dominic Thiem – 25 years old – 4th in the world – 5 QF appearances in 23 (2 SF’s & 2 F)

The challengers, little major experience bar Dominic Thiem who has made back to back finals at Roland Garros and two semi-finals too. Last year he also made the quarter finals in New York.

Out of the five players Dominic and Stefanos have come closest but in they’re defeats they have been blown away, it hasn’t been a contest.

Lack of exposure to best of five format?

Obviously with the greatest three still active it makes things tougher but they have the best of 5 experience over years that these guys who have played plenty of major matches haven’t found yet.

Over the last 12-15 months or so Thiem, Khachanov, Medvedev and Zverev have won Masters 1000 titles too but it’s over three sets.

I do think lack of exposure to the format is a problem.

People will look at it and think the greatest are still at the top but the way they manage their early rounds is key.

There aren’t wasting energy, there is a plan and a ruthlessness about the way they approach it that it is a given they get to last few stages.

I don’t really watch Federer, Djokovic or Nadal in early rounds because they have it nailed down where as with the younger guys it can get messy.

Khachanov hasn’t done anything big at a major yet, he made the QF of Roland Garros this year. Zverev’s form is soo out but even without that he hasn’t caught the eye at a major but won the tour finals.

Thiem outside Roland Garros hasn’t kicked on at a major and Medvedev who has been the form man during the US summer series collapsed quite badly at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year.

I like best of five format but one day I do think we will move to best of three in men’s majors. It’s the only tournaments left that use it now and for example you could get to around 23 in the world like Felix Auger-Aliassime did without completing a Grand Slam match and having that exposure to the system.

The fact that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer can still get through the first three or four rounds at 70% isn’t just down to talent but game and match management. They manage the situations of early rounds well and it allows them to rev up the gears in the latter stages.

To win one of these the gap has to be closed. It will be tough to do it. Some have gone far but Thiem in both his finals and Tsitsipas in Melbourne earlier on this year got blown away and these three don’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

Screenshot 2019-06-03 at 21.29.21

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