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Not So Super: The Third-Set Tie-Breaker

At junior tournaments throughout the country, it has become common to use so-called 'Super Tie-Breakers' (STBs) instead of playing out third sets. These tie-breakers are being used in spite of disapproval from players, coaches and parents.

Chuck Kriese, JTCC Senior Director of Competition and Coaching
"It teaches our players some very bad habits about competition," says Frank Salazar, the 2009 USOC National coach of the year. "The biggest problem is that it does not instill the qualities of what competition is really all about - most importantly, perseverance! Perhaps this has contributed to why very few young Americans are surfacing in tennis on the world scene. We are the only country in the world that uses this system, and maybe that says something about us falling behind."

Cris Robinson, a coach from Richmond, Va. states, "We might be self-sabotaging player development with its use. Players grow the most when they learn how fight through hard matches and win. The byproduct is learning to think through adverse situations - while developing strength of body and mind along the way. If the player always engages the heart, the pain of losing will have its upside as well." "The third set is where all of that learning takes place."

Vesa Ponnka, the 2011 USOC National Coach of the Year says, "On the outside, the abbreviated matches have been viewed by tournament directors as a solution for playing many matches in a short period, but they have had a negative effect on youngster's development. It is through tough, close, three-set wins and close losses that players usually make breakthroughs to a new level. Easy matches seldom pave the way for growth."

Winning and Losing are both tools for growth. A player who wins does not earn full credit by winning a third-set tie-breaker; likewise, losing a tie-breaker instead of a third set makes it easier to shrug off a loss. As Salazar states, "The losses are supposed to hurt and the wins are supposed to feel really, really good. Both of these emotions are critical incentives for player improvement."


Players Agree with Coaches

Likewise, many players like recent graduate Collin Johns, have spoken out against third-set STBs. "I take a lot of pride in my fitness and in the program of training that I do," said Johns as a 17-year-old. "The ten-point breaker allows players to get victories without paying the full price. The skill and toughness that I gain though hard work should be my advantage, and the STB system doesn't allow the work I do to make a difference."

ATP professional Ryan Young holds a similar opinion. "The ability to carry leads throughout a long, tough match - and ultimately to finish off an opponent - are incredibly hard skills to learn," he says. "There is no substitute for having to learn how to do this over and over again. Our sport has no clock to do the dirty work, and it is unlike any other when it comes to learning how to win. The third-set STB system is unfair to the favored player when the underdog knows from the start that it is a smaller mountain to climb in order to win. Tennis is a lot like boxing. You often don't really gain small advantages on the lesser player until 45 minutes or an hour into the match. It is unfair to stop at the point when you finally gain control of the match and have to play a tie-break."

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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