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Australian Open

Tennis Tumult: 1982 Australian Open

Matt Zemek

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Presse Sports for USA TODAY Sports

You hate the discussions about taking away best-of-5 sets at the majors. I hate those discussions, too.

You think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. We aren’t going to litigate that point here.

What I will show, in the latest episode of Tennis Tumult, is the major tournament from the past in which the Australian Open experimented with the kind of mad-scientist idea which is occasionally floated on #TennisTwitter.

Did you know… there REALLY and TRULY was a major tournament in which the men played some best-of-5 tennis and some best-of-3?

It happened in 1982. Here is the bracket with the results.

Two rounds of five-set matches, then two rounds of three-set matches, then five sets again from the quarterfinals through the final. Not one mid-tournament switch, mind you, but TWO! Full length to small length back to full length.

My goodness — can you possibly IMAGINE the furor surrounding such a move if it had been made today?

So much about contemporary major-tournament scheduling is wayward, imbalanced, and off the mark. This is not meant to let modern schedulers and tournament organizers off the hook. The point of this and these other installments of “Tennis Tumult” is to show that tennis has CONSISTENTLY struggled with formatting, scheduling and organizing. Today’s flaws at major tournaments and other tournaments throughout the year are not new or surprising. They are the lingering, enduring reminders that in the 51-year-old Open Era of professional tennis, the sport has always had a significant collection of problems in creating a tournament architecture which is both stable AND fair to the players. The tournaments might have gotten one half of those two items right for a prolonged period of time, but not two.

The sport — as you have seen in this series — took 15 to 20 years in the Open Era to get 128-player fields at a majority of the four major tournaments and ultimately build toward uniformity at all four majors. When that 20-year project was finally completed, we still had Super Saturday at the U.S. Open, the patently unfair scheduling practice in which the women had to play a final one day after their semifinals, and the men had to play semifinals one day before their Sunday final. Even when Super Saturday finally and mercifully bit the dust roughly two decades later, the French, U.S. and Australian Opens still persist in scheduling Tuesday men’s quarterfinals, which creates imbalanced schedules for men and women alike.

We have covered 51 years of time in the Open Era, and yet we haven’t yet arrived at the FIRST instance in which all four majors have 128-player fields AND also have flawless schedules.

The 1982 Australian Open merely reveals how awful tennis was at its very worst. Recent improvements can therefore be seen not as some remarkably enlightened advancement, but merely as “not being as horrible as before.” The grade for tennis formatting, scheduling and organizing is still not an “A.”

Not even a “B,” either.

At least, though, it isn’t an F… which it was in 1982 in Australia.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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