| By Miguel Cervantes III
Credit: Ryan McVay

So you are in a USTA League here on Long Island and you have split sets. Now comes the dreaded 10 Point Super Tie-Break and you're thinking to yourself, “Ugh, this is so stupid, it's anyone's match now.”

Changing my attitude, I looked at the Super Tie-Break from a different perspective, and recently, I've found that it's really a dynamic challenge of mental toughness that, if embraced, has the potential to be the best part of your match. A lot of people have come to say that they would rather win or lose a match in a third set than to play a Super Tie-Break, but I would argue that a third set is not only undesirable, but going further … detrimental.

First of all, there is the issue of time. On more than one occasion, I have played a match where the second set has not even been decided, yet my opponent and I were already past the two-hour mark. After finishing a second set, is a third set really what we need? Adding a third and deciding set to a match where the first two sets are split would increase a match's time conservatively by at least 30 min., and realistically, 45 min. to an hour, and that's if the set should prove to be a regular set, not one that goes to a regular tie-break. People playing in USTA Leagues have lives outside of tennis and the idea of playing a three-hour match is just shy of crazy. When you add on the time it takes to travel to the venue to leave the venue and move on to the next thing you are doing in the day (or evening) you're looking at a very commitment of your time. People have places to go, people to see, and things to do. On the other side of the coin, I am not sure that the club hosting the match is going to be thrilled about giving up that extra hour of court time. A third set adds a lot of time to a match which hurts both the club and the player in more ways than one.

Second, we have the fitness issue. Playing a third set would lead to far more injuries on court. The longer you play, the more of a beating your body takes, and being out there for an extra hour (very often on a hard court) means a great deal more pain. USTA Leagues are a recreational endeavor, no one is out there playing for a wild card to the U.S. Open, so is the third set really necessary? Adding a third set to match play would also have a large negative result to the USTA Leagues' older players. One of the things that makes League play so great is that it allows for so many people, young and old, to get together and play competitively with each other. The addition of a third set though would become a welcome asset to the arsenal of the younger player.

Going on court, I am always wary of the older players on the other side of the net, mostly because I know that their experience will allow them to be competitive and make for a great match. The experience of the older player is shown in strategy and guile, stealth and finesse. Those are things that I want to see stay in League play. But with a third set, much of that will be diluted. I am of the opinion that, although fitness should be a factor in USTA League match play, it should not be the deciding factor. In professional play and at Open events, fitness is something that separates those who want it and from those who don’t, because at that level all of the pros have great technique. In recreational play, no one should win a match just because they were able to still be swinging hard in the third hour of a three-setter. Let the folks go out there and play their game using what tools they have, and let the winner be the one who did it better.

The 10 Point Super Tie-Break does several things well. At first glace, we must recognize that the Super Tie-Break is much shorter than playing a third set. This means the elimination of the time issue (after all, we all have other things going on in our lives as well), and the fitness issue as well. The Super-Tie Break allows everyone to be competitive without the pressures and detriment of a long third set.

Aside from this, the Super Tie-Break is extremely dynamic. One of the things I like most about the Super Tie-Break is that it's different from set play. Set play gets repetitive and boring. You serve, you hold or don't … they serve, they hold or don't … wash, rinse, repeat. But wait, here comes the Super Tie-Break, it's different and exciting. Part of the dislike of the current system is the same reason why I like it … because it's different.

Players have been habituated to play using the scoring system of the set format and are unable to change their strategies to compensate for the scoring system of the Super Tie-Break. But, where does the fault lie? The fault lies with the player for not making the mental change necessary to adjust their game. In the same way that players will sometimes not make the mental change in their head to recognize that they cannot play at the net the way they do at the baseline, players will play the Super Tie-Break the way they played the split sets. After enough match play, you start to forget your sets. You'll win or lose a set 6-0 or 6-1 … it was a blowout. You'll win or lose a set 6-2 or 6-3 … it was a fairly easy set. You'll win or lose a set 6-4 or 7-5 … it was a competitive set decided by a break or two. You'll win or lose a set 7-6 … it was a very close set that could have gone either way. Sure, there are exceptions where a 6-2 set will be very competitive, but for the most part, there is not a lot of fluctuations in scoring, these are the possible outcomes. In a 10 Point Super Tie-Break, there is very much more room for different outcomes … 10-1, 10-2, 10-3, 10-7, etc., etc. A Super Tie-Break is dynamic because every point is like a game in itself; even the language suggests this as when we lose a point on our serve saying we gave up a mini-break. Think back to your Super Tie-Breaks … speaking honestly, can you suggest that walking off the court, you were unable to remember every point in vivid detail? Why then do we hate it so much?

Mental toughness is the answer and also what the Super Tie-Break is all about. It would be a bad idea to try to make the more professional three-set match a recreational tennis standard for the reason of fitness. What element of the game can we add though, where all parties, regardless of age, would be able to participate on even ground to win a close match. Mental toughness … it's what separates good players from great players in those times when the match is close. Hours at the gym, youthful vigor and a brand new set of string won't help in the arena of mental toughness, and in a Super Tie-Break, that's what you need. In the much-hated third set Super Tie-Break because it is so short (although when points are counted, you would need at least two-and-a-half games won at love worth of points) every point is important; will your team stay in it mentally or will they break down. If you are down in the beginning of the tie-break, will you fold or will you fight back. If you are up in the beginning, will you stay mentally strong or will you allow your lead to slip. When presented with a match point, will you have the mental fortitude to win it there or will you allow your opponent back into the match by choking. Will the team that won the second set win the tie-break on momentum, or are you going to stop them? Was your first set win a fluke or can you repeat that success in the tie-break? The emotions, the thoughts and the adrenaline causing your heart to pump faster are all factors, will you be able to use your mind to control it all and succeed or will it get the best of you? If it gets the best of you, will you give the credit to your opponent or will you blame a play mechanic that you don't like?

Friends, when that third set Super Tie-Break comes, focus, because if you do, you'll find a positive conclusion to the exciting and dynamic mechanic called the 10 Point Super Tie-Break.

Miguel Cervantes III

Miguel Cervantes III teaches at Carefree Racquet Club and privately outdoors. Miguel specializes in teaching beginners, training juniors and coaching doubles. He may be reached by e-mail at UnderstandingTennis@gmail.com.