In a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of event, renowned journalist Ben Rothenberg has come out in support of Novak Djokovic - a player he has never seen eye-to-eye with. The American recently threw his weight behind Novak Djokovic’s call for implementing the best-of-3-sets format at Grand Slams.
That said, Rothenberg's agreement with Novak Djokovic's cause is not too surprising given that he has himself been championing the shorter format for a long time.
Former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli and World No. 249 Noah Rubin also gave their two cents on the subject. The trio appeared together on a video chat show called Match Point, to discuss a few pertinent issues - including the Alexander Zverev domestic violence case.
Ben Rothenberg believes Novak Djokovic’s arguments against best-of-5 matches hold merit, especially since the Serb is willing to sacrifice a format that he flourishes in. The American also claimed that tennis shouldn't advertise itself as an ‘endurance sport’, and that he himself had been drawn to the sport more because of its aesthetic elements.
“I do think having Novak Djokovic be such a good best of five player and want best of three adds credibility to it,” Rothenberg said. “I think it's unrealistic (for people to watch the whole thing). I don't think tennis is popular because it's an endurance sport. That's not what drew me to tennis; I like seeing the craft, creativity, the talent and the skill. I don't think emphasizing the endurance side is important to the essence of tennis.”
Novak Djokovic had cited the supposedly high average age (61 years) of tennis fans as a reason to reduce the length of matches. The World No. 1 thinks that tennis needs to attract a younger audience to broaden its reach.
Marion Bartoli & Noah Rubin unsure about Novak Djokovic’s call for best-of-3 format
Marion Bartoli, however, disagrees with Novak Djokovic’s argument for the shorter format. The Frenchwoman thinks that the fans are being driven away not by the length of matches but by the ineffective broadcast methods.
"To me we have to rethink the way tennis is broadcast,” Bartoli said. “You don't really feel like you're on court with a tennis player hitting a tennis ball. Let's try to figure out a much better way to engage the fans.”
Noah Rubin initially seemed more open to Novak Djokovic’s suggestion. The World No. 249 began by calling for best-of-3 matches in the first week of Majors, and best-of-5 at the business end.
However, Rubin then recalled the high viewership that the Slams have commanded during the pandemic. The American concluded by stating that the longer format should remain untouched.
"I agree that the first week should be three sets, the second week can be best of five,” Rubin said. “But in the pandemic, the Slams are the (only) ones who are doing well. I think this is kind of thing that's the last thing to (try to) change. I'd say keep best of five and let's worry about something else."