Paes: 'Best of 3-sets is great for Indian tennis'

Zeeshan Ali, the coach of the current Indian Davis Cup team, reckons that the new rule of reducing singles matches to best of three sets will suit the Indian team.

It aches the faithful followers of one of the oldest team competition in the world, that Davis Cup singles gets abbreviated.   -  Getty Images

The proposed reduction of singles matches in Davis Cup to best of three sets, from five, may not exactly fit this observation, as there are too many factors involved. It was fascinating to view the pros and cons through the eyes of some of the country’s best tennis players.

‘’It certainly is to encourage the top players to play Davis Cup. Whether they do it or not is another matter’’, said Ramesh Krishnan, who was part of the team that made it to the World Group final in 1987.

One of the best Davis Cup players ever, Leander Paes, who has competed in 55 ties since 1990, with a 90-35 win-loss record, including 48-22 in singles, viewed it as a positive change.

‘’It is really interesting. Tennis is the only sport with equal prize money for men and women. It is a wonderful thing. Women have been playing best of three sets, and now it is equal for men’’, observed Paes.

Going one step ahead and peeping into the future, the 43-year-old Paes said that it would be interesting to see whether the Grand Slams follow the healthy pattern.

‘’It is very good for the game’’, said Paes.

He recalled the battle between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in 2012, which stretched the longest in history, for five hours and 53 minutes. 

‘’It was ridiculously long. Of course, it was a phenomenal battle. But, they can do that in three sets as well’’, Paes remarked.

Djokovic, had in fact, played for 4 hours and 50 minutes to beat Andy Murray earlier in the semifinals.

A positive change

The slow starters may have trouble, and Paes suggested a ‘’jump start’’ to make the best of the three-set format.

‘’It is to try and popularise Davis Cup by getting the top players to play. If the better players start playing, competition will get tougher and this could be disadvantageous for Indian tennis’’, was the pragmatic observation of Ramesh.

‘’I think it is great for Indian tennis. The minute we get to the World Group stage, we were competing with players regular in the Grand Slams and used to best of five sets. We are not exactly made to play five sets’’, said Paes.

Actually, Paes has played some fabulous five-setters, including the one over Aqeel Khan of Pakistan in his last Davis Cup singles rubber in Mumbai in 2006.

He would have won the matches against Greg Rusedski, Yong-Il Yoon and Jonas Bjorkman, had they been best of three!

Of course, nobody can forget the 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory of Paes against Goran Ivanisevic in 1995 against Croatia at the NSCI grass courts in Delhi. Or for that matter, Mahesh Bhupathi bouncing back from being two sets down to beat Gabriel Silberstein 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the decisive fifth rubber against Chile in the World Group on grass at the RK Khanna Stadium in 1997.

‘’The top players are harder to beat over five sets. This format should give way to more upsets. The physical aspect is not relevant anymore. That definitely benefits India’’, said Mahesh Bhupathi, the current captain of the Davis Cup team.

Even among the less known singles exploits of Rohan Bopanna, the latest entrant in the list of Indian Grand Slam winners, his 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-7, 10-12 battle against the French Open finalist Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands in their backyard in 2003 stands out.

Great for Indian Tennis

Zeeshan Ali, the coach of the current Davis Cup team puts things in perspective.

‘’I definitely feel that three sets in Davis Cup will suit us. The current crop of players we have in the team are not used to playing best of five set matches. They are mainly playing on the Challenger circuit which are all three set matches’’, Zeeshan said.

The coach made another interesting point about the decision of captain Mahesh Bhupathi to have three singles players in the squad, which necessarily means one of them doubling up for the doubles.

‘’There is a possibility of the singles player playing on all three days. Moreover, in the last year or two, our players have been struggling with fitness. So, keeping that in mind, the decision of playing best of three sets definitely plays to our advantage at the moment’’, was the candid observation of Zeeshan.

Leaving the practicality of the idea apart, it aches the connoisseurs and the faithful followers of one of the oldest team competition in the world, that Davis Cup singles gets abbreviated.

‘’I am sad to see this initiative. I think this takes something away from the tradition of Davis Cup. There is a big difference between best of three sets and best of five sets’’, Ramesh opined.

In the fast evolving world of sports, change to a shorter format is often felt as the key to keeping the youth glued to the sport.