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Curse of the five-setter

Friday, 18 January 2013 - 2:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
It’s just a matter of who ups the ante at the right time. Like Boris Becker once said, 'The fifth set is not about tennis, it’s about nerves.'

Fight to finish or five to finish, both can be equally taxing when it comes to tennis. Five-setters are a very tricky proposition. It’s not often that we come across marathon matches these days as they are restricted to the three Grand Slams, Olympics and Davis Cup. But when we do get to witness one, it is intoxicating to the players and viewers alike.

There is very little that separates the players when the scores are level at two sets each. It’s just a matter of who ups the ante at the right time. Like Boris Becker once said, “The fifth set is not about tennis, it’s about nerves.” It’s the ultimate endurance test for a player and the one who commits the least mistakes wins.

And it’s not surprising that in an era when tennis is all about brute force and physical game — serve and volley is as good as extinct — the hard-hitters have a better winning ratio when it comes to these monstrous five-setters. Rafael Nadal tops the list with Novak Djokovic not far behind.
So, should the five-setters be removed altogether? That’s been a debate for long. They drain you out mentally and physically and leave you with little or no energy for the next game. And for some players, it has always been a bane, or a streak of bad luck. Last year, John Isner registered five-set losses in all the four Grand Slams and didn’t get past the third round in any of them.

For Indians, too, five-setters have been nothing but a curse. Be it Vijay Amritraj in the 70s and early 80s or the budding Somdev Devvarman. The marathon games was Amritraj’s major obstacle in his career, especially in Wimbledon. And Somdev is following suit. On Wednesday, he squandered a two-set lead to Jerzy Janowicz to bow out of the Australian Open.

Only Amritraj can talk about his shortcomings, but where Somdev is concerned, the cause can be identified. From a skill-dependent sport, tennis is now all about power, fitness and endurance. This is where the Indians are caught napping. As Amritraj says, “Indian tennis players are not ‘big enough’ physically.” While the average height of the top 10 players in the men’s circuit is 6’3, that of the Indians is just 5’5. This is just one of the many drawbacks. A study reveals that our tennis players also lack the physical strength that the sport demands these days, especially when it comes to the lower body and endurance.

So, what’s the way forward? Three-setters giving way to five? That’s up to the big bosses to decide. Till then, it’s over to Isner and Mahut. The court is all yours!


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