COMMENT: Novak Djokovic is wrong, but tennis should be open to the discussion

Novak Djokovic seems to have upset a lot of people for suggesting Grand Slams be reduced to best-of-three, but read past the headline and there is merit to his argument.

Sometimes, no matter how much we don’t want to, we all fall into the trap of responding to an individual instead of their argument.

This week that phenomenon has played out in tennis in the same way that it usually does – outrage at Novak Djokovic.

It is fair to say that Djokovic’s comments about possibly reducing Grand Slam matches from best-of-five sets to best-of-three did not really go down all that well.

While some backed the idea, the majority have disagreed with Rafael Nadal saying he was ‘completely against’ the notion while Dominic Thiem said it was already ‘perfect’ as it is.

Just to be clear: Our opinion at TennisBuzz is that it is not only preferable that Grand Slams remain the best-of-five, but absolutely essential.

Without that element to it, it would be very hard to see what would actually make them special. Yes, they’d go on for two weeks rather than one, but they’d not the same ultimate test that they currently are – and tennis would suffer for that.

Just our opinion.

However, our opinion is neither really here nor there. The point is that it feels like people are criticising Djokovic for having an opinion rather than examining exactly what that opinion is, and then taking the argument on its own merits.

Novak Djokovic smiling

Because, in all fairness, Djokovic does make some interesting points. Tennis perhaps does need to look at how to modernise and appeal to a wider younger audience. I mean, tennis should at least be open to the discussion, yes?

“I just feel like the attention span, as well as the fans, especially the younger generation, is shorter,” Djokovic said.

“So in order for us to really improve the product, so to say, of tennis I think commercially and marketing-wise I feel like we have to adapt to that younger generation.

“Obviously we have been one of those sports that has stuck with the tradition a lot, which I respect, and I feel like this is something we have to keep, but at the same time we haven’t been really exploring some changes.

“Whether it’s score or less sets or whatever. We have not really looked into that. Every time someone mentions that, I feel like there is not much of a support, not much of a willingness to really address that and strategically think about the things that could attract a younger audience as well to our tour, to our sport.”

Tradition is one of the greatest assets of tennis, but that doesn’t mean it must be held hostage to it.

You think of the example of cricket, which 20 years ago was in a very similar position to tennis: Older audience, seeped in tradition, wrestling with a long-form format of the game that was not capturing the imagination of younger viewers the way it used to.

Their solution was the start of Twenty20 cricket – a much faster, much more aggressive form of the game. It’s fair to say that cricket has thrived as a result, so the idea of modernising is one with serious merit.

They key difference, though, is that cricket introduced Twenty20 alongside the longer forms of the game, not at the expense of them as Djokovic is suggesting.

Novak Djokovic 2020 year end world number one

Tennis has the longest season of any sport, and there should be room within that to introduce a new unique format. The Laver Cup is unique. The ATP Cup is (relatively) unique. There is room for more and, more importantly, there should be room for a discussion about it.

Sometimes it feels like too many people find disagreeing with Novak Djokovic no matter what is more important than listening to what he’s actually saying, and I’m not sure that’s either fair or helpful.

Djokovic is, after all, the top player in the men’s game. He has earned his right to an opinion on it more than most and, love him or hate him, it’s impossible to deny he is a very intelligent man.

More importantly, though, as this topic highlights, more often than not he speaks in, what he believes to be, the interests of tennis, not himself.

After all, without five-sets in Grand Slams he would have considerable fewer of them and he is much more vulnerable over three sets than he is over five.

None of that means you should agree with him. We don’t ourselves. But the points Novak Djokovic raises are at least worthy of discussion, and tennis should be open to it.

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