Best of Three Sets vs Best of Five Sets in Men’s Tennis

There have been a lot of discussions around whether it would be better if men’s grand slam tournaments were to use a best of three sets format rather than the best of five sets format that is currently used.

This article will look at the pros and cons of switching to a best of three sets format as well as look at how the results in grand slam finals would have changed if a best of three sets format was used over the past 20 years.

Table of Contents

Best of Three Sets vs Best of Five Sets in Men's Tennis
Best of Three Sets vs Best of Five Sets in Men’s Tennis

Best of Three Sets vs Best of Five Sets in Men’s Tennis

Pro of Switching to a Best of Three Sets Format

  • Players would be more likely to play in the Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles events at the Grand Slams
  • Players will be less likely to get injured as they aren’t pushing their bodies as hard
  • Shorter Matches may attract new fans to tennis

Cons of Switching to a Best of Three Sets Format

  • Would have robbed tennis fans of some epic 5 set matches if it was used in past e.g. 2008 Wimbledon final, 2012 Australian Open final, 2019 Wimbledon final and 2022 Australian Open final
  • The physical and mental challenge that winning seven best of 5 set matches is diminished and grand slam tournaments become more like the other tournaments on the ATP calendar.
  • Best of three set matches can be very short if one player wins the first two sets. Just think how different the 2008 Wimbledon final would have been if Nadal had won the title after he went 2 sets to love up against Federer.

Men’s Grand Slam Winners Over the Past 20 Years If Best of three Sets Was Used in the Final

I thought it would be interesting to see how a best of 3 sets format would have changed the results of recent grand slam tournaments.

If these matches were the best of three set matches then the second and third sets may have turned out very different but for the sake of this article, we will assume the first three sets played out the same way as they did in the actual best of five set matches.

Before researching this, I expected there to be more differences if a best of three sets format was used in the final of each of the four grand slam tournaments over the past 20 years, but it would only have changed the winner a total of 6 times (two times at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open).

Australian Open WInners if Best of Three Sets Used (2002 – 2021)

YearWinner (Best of 3 Sets)Score in Best of 3 SetsWinner (Best of 5 Sets)
2022Daniil Medvedev6–2, 7–6Rafael Nadal
2021Novak Djokovic7–5, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2020Dominic Thiem4–6, 6–4, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2019Novak Djokovic6–3, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2018Roger Federer6–2, 6–7, 6–3Roger Federer
2017Roger Federer6–4, 3–6, 6–1Roger Federer
2016Novak Djokovic6–1, 7–5Novak Djokovic
2015Novak Djokovic7–6, 6–7, 6–3Novak Djokovic
2014Stan Wawrinka6–3, 6–2Stan Wawrinka
2013Novak Djokovic6–7, 7–6, 6–3Novak Djokovic
2012Novak Djokovic5–7, 6–4, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2011Novak Djokovic6–4, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2010Roger Federer6–3, 6–4Roger Federer
2009Rafael Nadal7–5, 3–6, 7–6Rafael Nadal
2008Novak Djokovic4–6, 6–4, 6–3Novak Djokovic
2007Roger Federer7–6, 6–4Roger Federer
2006Roger Federer5–7, 7–5, 6–0Roger Federer
2005Marat Safin1–6, 6–3, 6–4Marat Safin
2004Roger Federer7–6, 6–4Roger Federer
2003Andre Agassi6–2, 6–2Andre Agassi

Only two Australian Open Winners would have been different if a best of three sets format was used in the final, the recent 2022 Australian Open final between Daniil Medvedev and Rafael Nadal and the 2020 Australian Open Final between Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic.

French Open WInners if Best of Three Sets Used (2002 – 2021)

YearWinner (Best of 3 Sets)Score in Best of 3 SetsWinner (Best of 5 Sets)
2021Stefanos Tsitsipas7–6, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2020Rafael Nadal6–0, 6–2Rafael Nadal
2019Rafael Nadal6–3, 5–7, 6–1Rafael Nadal
2018Rafael Nadal6–4, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2017Rafael Nadal6–2, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2016Novak Djokovic3–6, 6–1, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2015Stan Wawrinka4–6, 6–4, 6–3Stan Wawrinka
2014Rafael Nadal3–6, 7–5, 6–2Rafael Nadal
2013Rafael Nadal6–3, 6–2Rafael Nadal
2012Rafael Nadal6–4, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2011Rafael Nadal7–5, 7–6Rafael Nadal
2010Rafael Nadal6–4, 6–2Rafael Nadal
2009Roger Federer6–1, 7–6Roger Federer
2008Rafael Nadal6–1, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2007Rafael Nadal6–3, 4–6, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2006Rafael Nadal1–6, 6–1, 6–4Rafael Nadal
2005Rafael Nadal6–7, 6–3, 6–1Rafael Nadal
2004Guillermo Coria6–0, 6–3Gastón Gaudio
2003Juan Carlos Ferrero6–1, 6–3Juan Carlos Ferrero
2002Albert Costa6–1, 6–0Albert Costa

Only two French Open Winners in the past 20 years would have been different if a best of three sets format was used in the final, the 2021 French Open final between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic and the 2004 French Open Final between Guillermo Coria and Gastón Gaudio.

Wimbledon WInners if Best of Three Sets Used (2002 – 2021)

YearWinner (Best of 3 Sets)Score in Best of 3 SetsWinner (Best of 5 Sets)
2021Novak Djokovic6–7, 6–4, 6–4Novak Djokovic
2019Novak Djokovic7–6, 1–6, 7–6Novak Djokovic
2018Novak Djokovic6–2, 6–2Novak Djokovic
2017Roger Federer6–3, 6–1Roger Federer
2016Andy Murray6–4, 7–6Andy Murray
2015Novak Djokovic7–6, 6–7, 6–4Novak Djokovic
2014Novak Djokovic6–7, 6–4, 7–6Novak Djokovic
2013Andy Murray6–4, 7–5Andy Murray
2012Roger Federer4–6, 7–5, 6–3Roger Federer
2011Novak Djokovic6–4, 6–1Novak Djokovic
2010Rafael Nadal6–3, 7–5Rafael Nadal
2009Roger Federer5–7, 7–6, 7–6Roger Federer
2008Rafael Nadal6–4, 6–4Rafael Nadal
2007Roger Federer7–6, 4–6, 7–6Roger Federer
2006Roger Federer6–0, 7–6Roger Federer
2005Roger Federer6–2, 7–6Roger Federer
2004Roger Federer4–6, 7–5, 7–6Roger Federer
2003Roger Federer7–6, 6–2Roger Federer
2002Lleyton Hewitt6–1, 6–3Lleyton Hewitt

Surprisingly, a best of three sets format would not have changed the result of any of the Wimbledon finals played in the last 20 years.

US Open WInners if Best of Three Sets Used (2002 – 2021)

YearWinner (Best of 3 Sets)Score in Best of 3 SetsWinner (Best of 5 Sets)
2021Daniil Medvedev6–4, 6–4Daniil Medvedev
2020Alexander Zverev6–2, 6–4Dominic Thiem
2019Rafael Nadal7–5, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2018Novak Djokovic6–3, 7–6Novak Djokovic
2017Rafael Nadal6–3, 6–3Rafael Nadal
2016Stan Wawrinka6–7, 6–4, 7–5Stan Wawrinka
2015Novak Djokovic6–4, 5–7, 6–4Novak Djokovic
2014Marin Čilić6–3, 6–3Marin Čilić
2013Rafael Nadal6–2, 3–6, 6–4Rafael Nadal
2012Andy Murray7–6, 7–5Andy Murray
2011Novak Djokovic6–2, 6–4Novak Djokovic
2010Rafael Nadal6–4, 5–7, 6–4Rafael Nadal
2009Roger Federer6–3, 6–7, 6–4Juan Martín del Potro
2008Roger Federer6–2, 7–5Roger Federer
2007Roger Federer7–6, 7–6Roger Federer
2006Roger Federer6–2, 4–6, 7–5Roger Federer
2005Roger Federer6–3, 2–6, 7–6Roger Federer
2004Roger Federer6–0, 7–6Roger Federer
2003Andy Roddick6–3, 7–6Andy Roddick
2002Pete Sampras6–3, 6–4Pete Sampras

Only two US Open Winners in the past 20 years would have been different if a best of three sets format was used in the final, the 2020 US Open final between Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem and the 2009 US Open Final between Roger Federer and Juan Martín del Potro.