If Wimbledon Were Best of 3, Alcaraz Would Be Out Already

Novak Djokovic in action at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon 2024 has already made history in its first week. A record 34 matches went to five sets in the first three rounds, the most at any Grand Slam since the Open era began in 1968.

This has sparked a debate: should the best-of-five format at men’s Grand Slams be scrapped?

When asked about this, Novak Djokovic offered an intriguing proposal: make the matches best of three in the first week, up until the last 16 or quarterfinals.

But what would this year’s last 16 players list at Wimbledon look like if this rule were applied?

It’s hard to determine, as various players would have faced different opponents in earlier rounds, potentially leading to different outcomes.

For instance, Emil Ruusuvuori, who knocked out World #11 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round, would have lost in the first round, and Tsitsipas’ opponent would have been Mackenzie McDonald in Round 2.

Ben Shelton would have been out in Round 1. Francisco Cerundolo, who has been playing the best tennis of his life this year, would have reached the second round. And who knows? Maybe he would have hit his stride in that round. The list goes on.

But the most interesting and impactful change?

The defending champion, Carlos Alcaraz, would have faced defeat at the hands of Francis Tiafoe in Round 3. That would have changed things dramatically. Assuming Djokovic wouldn’t win again (never a safe assumption), Wimbledon would be guaranteed a brand-new champion in 2024.

So, is Djokovic’s proposal a good idea?

On the one hand, it makes sense. Those epic five-setters and the dramatic turnarounds from 0-2 sets down that have marked the history of the Majors wouldn’t disappear. At the same time, players would suffer less wear and tear leading up to the most important matches of their careers. Many players would suffer fewer injuries and more would enjoy the longevity of the “Big 3.”

But the history books would look a little different.

Take Djokovic, for example. He has won Grand Slam matches from two sets down eight times so far. Some of those, such as the match against Laslo Djere at the US Open last year, happened in the first week. If the rule Djokovic proposes had been applied to that match, he would have been the loser.

One major difference between Grand Slam champions and other pro tennis players is the ability—physically, mentally, and strategically—to win a best-of-five match. Perhaps that’s why the Big Three—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer—possess 66 of the 80 Grand Slams held in the past 20 years.

Were the format different, maybe that tally would be a little lower and other great players would have had a better chance at claiming a Grand Slam title.

Would that have been better for the game? That’s debatable, but it would definitely have been better for many pro tennis players.

Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports


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