Intrigue, Drama, and Suspense
The Cleveland Cavaliers trail the Golden State Warriors 1-3 in the 2016 NBA Finals. What does that mean? Well, in a “best-of-seven” series, the Cavaliers need to win three games IN A ROW to win the series while the Warriors only need one. As it turned out, the Cleveland Cavaliers would do the unthinkable, winning 3 in a row, and taking the series 4-3 over the dazed-and-confused Warriors.
The Cleveland Indians lead the Chicago Cubs 3-1 in the 2016 MLB World Series. At this point, everybody wants to know if the Cubs have what it takes to turn things around or can the Indians hold on for ONE MORE GAME to win the World Series? Believe it or not, against all odds, the Indians would blow that lead, allowing the Chicago Cubs to break a 108-year-old “goat curse” and pull off the unimaginable. “Unimaginable” in the sense that throughout the history of Major League Baseball, there have only been six teams to come back from a 1-3 deficit to win it all.
While these are tremendous accomplishments for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs, what does it mean to the FANS of these two teams? How does it feel to be a fan of the winning team? Of the losing team? How does it feel to be a fan of the team that is down 1-3? Or up 3-1? Imagine the intrigue, drama, and suspense of watching this best-of-seven series. And what does this have to do with tennis?
Best-of-Seven versus One-and-Done
I’m glad you asked. And the answer is “not much”; other than the idea that pro tennis would be infinitely more enjoyable if it was a best-of-seven series rather than a one-and-done tennis tournament. The reason: in a best-of-seven series there are more opportunities for momentum to swing in both directions. “But who would want to play a best-of-seven match” you say? “Isn’t a best-of-five match long enough? Who would want to watch/play THAT?!? It would take forever!!!” And to that I have to shake my head at the short-sighted, myopic view of most tennis “fans”. Many of them are unable to see beyond the tennis tournament (or the top 4 players in the world) to realize there’s a lot more to tennis that they know nothing about. I’m referring to what I like to call exciting tennis, or Team Tennis.
American Universities employ this best-of-seven Team format where every player on the team contributes to the end result and, honestly, I find it infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, entertaining, and exciting than tournaments. Seeing players working together to accomplish their goal speaks to me instinctively. No one person can be good at everything and asking one player to carry the entire burden of winning is unreasonable. Besides, what good is winning if you have no one to share it with? And no one should have to suffer through a loss alone, either.
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
Tennis Tournaments Lack Real Signifigance
From a spectator’s point-of-view, watching a match between two peripheral players, where the outcome is of little significance, is boring. And unfortunately, tennis tournaments are chock full of players on courts 5 thru 14 that couldn’t be identified without a name badge and in
introduction, just waiting to be eliminated. Just pull up the draw sheet for any recent ATP or WTA tournament and you’ll see what I mean. They aren’t bad players, there just isn’t enough room in the winner’s circle, or in the Game Day program, for more than two people. On the other hand, the best-of-seven series, combined with a full Season of matches between Big 10, SEC, ACC, and Big 12 schools, gives the audience a compelling story that is not only significant… but easy to follow.
See, in Division 1 College tennis, games are often conducted in a best-of-seven format. Meaning, they will play tennis on 7+ courts simultaneously and the team that wins 4 courts wins the match. In the First, of two Rounds, players will pair up to play doubles on courts 1, 2, and 3. The team that wins two-out-of-three courts wins the Doubles Point. Then the teams move on to the round of singles and doubles teams will split up to play singles on courts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Here, each court is worth one point apiece. Together, with the doubles point, the team to win four out of the seven available points is the winning team. In Div. 2, 3, NAIA, and JUCO each doubles match is worth a point, resulting in 9 total points, so teams play best-5-out-of-9.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the World Series or the NBA Finals, doesn’t it.
Now, the team that wins the doubles point has the advantage going into the round of singles, but that does not guarantee a win because there are still 6 points remaining. So much drama leaves the audience guessing as to who will come out on top. And that’s exciting! What if one team is full of individuals who don’t play well together? What if one team is made up of primarily doubles specialists (aka. Team Players)? What if one of the doubles-winning teams is being carried by one of the players, so when they split up and play singles, they win one and lose one?
The Coach’s Contribution to Best-of-Seven
All of those are things that can factor into the end result. And we haven’t even talked about the Coach’s contribution yet! In College tennis, the Head Coach is responsible for determining the lineup for each team. That means some players will play both doubles and singles while some will play ONLY doubles or singles. It depends on how they perform in practice, how well they work together as a team, if they are injured, and who the opponent will be that day and the following day.
The Head Coach, along with the Assistant and Graduate Volunteer Coaches, must take all of these things into consideration. And on Game Day, all 3 Coaches monitor their players’ performance making corrections and adjustments when needed. And it is that complexity that makes College tennis an infinitely more intriguing product than tennis tournaments. By the way, ever wonder what a professional tennis coach does for a single player when the draw is pre-determined and coaching is ILLEGAL at tennis tournaments? It doesn’t sound like they have much to do!
On a side note: why is Coaching illegal at tennis tournaments? Name another sport where this is the case. What’s wrong with giving/receiving advice during competition? Is this why kids avoid tennis like toxic waste? Is this why so many lopsided tennis matches end 6-2, 6-1? Is winning not important? Is it really better for a player to carry the entire burden of competition by themselves? Is tennis a superior game and are tennis players superior individuals because they endure such torment (tennis coaches believe this)? And what kind of people are we producing as a result (If they last more than a month)? But I digress.
In terms of excitement, things like unpredictability, uncertainty, and facing adversity factor into a spectator’s enjoyment of a sporting event. Predictability, sameness, and a lack of creativity are what makes something boring. I believe College team tennis falls into the first category. Granted, when the #1 team hosts an unranked opponent, on paper, it can lack some of the flash. But when you consider a College tennis match is best-of-seven, every match is compelling. For example….
Watching a Best-of-Seven Tennis Match
Let’s say that the #45 Miami Hurricanes women’s tennis team were hosting the #17 Duke Blue Devils in Miami, and AATT had planned a field trip for some of our players to see it. What if the Duke Blue Devils were riding a 4-game win streak while the Hurricanes were on a 2-game losing slide? And the game was being played in Miami which means the Hurricanes have “Home Field Advantage” (there are no “Home teams” in tournaments).
On paper, this looks like a sleeper match. I mean, it’s #45 versus #17. But remember: College tennis is best-of-seven. Now you have to wonder: Can the Blue Devils continue their dominance, or can the Hurricanes turn their negative momentum around? Which team came ready to play? Is every player on the roster ready to compete? With the fandom of both Hurricanes and Blue Devils hanging in the balance, this is much more than a “sleeper” match. Because they are playing for more than themselves.
Duke would win two of the three doubles matches to take
the doubles point and go up 1-0. Duke would also win in straight sets on Court 3 to go up 2-0. And then on Court 1, the Miami player would roll her ankle and be unable to finish the match. Duke now leads 3-0.
On a side note, if I were in charge of tennis, and a player was unable to finish a match or was just playing poorly, I would substitute them. I mean, we want to win, right?
Anyway, with a 3-0 lead Duke would only need to win one of the 4 remaining courts to win the match. And the Hurricanes would have to win ALL 4. Miami would win in straight sets on Courts 2 & 5 making the score 3-2 in favor of Duke.
The Hurricanes would need three sets to win on Court 6 and now the score is tied 3-3 and it all comes down to Court 4. Court 4?!? You mean the fate of the entire team comes down to the #4 singles players for both squads?!? Wouldn’t you rather have your superstar in that position? How much faith do we have as Hurricanes/Blue Devils fans that #4 can win his match? Will the pressure of the situation get to either player? Or have they been preparing their whole lives for this moment? The remaining players from both teams are now watching from Court 3 and encouraging their teammate in this critical moment. And all of the fans are crowded around Court 4 to watch the final match play out. This feels a lot like Game 7 of the World Series! And we’re only 3/4 of our way through the SEASON!
When the Hurricanes player scores a point, the Hurricanes fans cheer.
When the Duke player scores a point, the Duke fans cheer. This is intense!
Everyone in the stadium is experiencing a wide range of emotions. When your team is ahead, there’s confidence that she’ll get the job done. When they’re behind, there’s fear. Fear that your player is beginning to press, to get in her own head, unable to block out the sound of cheers for the other team, and groans from her supporters when she misses. Hundreds of eyeballs are watching her every move, hoping the ball stays in, second-guessing that last shot, waiting for one of the Hurricanes or Blue Devils’ shots to land in the net. We’re up, we’re down, we’re inside-out! (Fans don’t do well in handling their emotions.)
And then the final ball is struck, it sails beyond the baseline, and players from the winning team come pouring onto the court, arms held high, shouting at the top of their lungs, to embrace their teammate, and share in the feeling of joy at having won the match for their team. It really is a sight to see.
While players from the losing team walk slowly onto the court, arms open wide, not in celebration, but to console their teammate after having lost the match. They know their teammate may be having a difficult, five-stages-of-grief, time dealing with the knowledge that they lost it all for their team; that theirs was the game to determine the entire match, but let’s be honest: everyone shares in the loss. It was a best-of-seven match which means no one has to carry the burden of winning/losing alone. That is what makes the Team so valuable.
There are a number of reasons why players join teams, and why spectators gravitate towards team sports. Team Sports satisfy the need for companionship in ways that tennis tournaments do not. As a fan, I may not be able to play at that level, but I can experience the highs and lows of competition through my favorite Team. And when my friends and neighbors are fans, too, I have someone to talk to about it. I am not alone when I belong to a Team. Ever wonder why sports fans “live and die” with their teams? Because the wide range of emotions that can only be experienced through competition are what make life so exciting. And those emotions are more readily experienced at a College tennis, best-of-seven, team-versus-team tennis match where my favorite Team is playing. One-and-done doesn’t do it for me.
And that, my friends, is why College tennis is infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, and entertaining than professional tennis tournaments.
What do you think? Which would you rather watch, best-of-seven or one-and-done, and why? What are your thoughts on the best-of-seven format? Who are your favorite teams? Have you attended many of their matches? Where is the best place to watch? Which teams have the best chance of making it in the NCAA Championship? I would love to hear your thoughts.