Nov. 23, 2020

Best Of Five Sets

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Hear epic Davis Cup stories to understand the true value of playing best of five sets and what you can learn from longer matches.

Coach: Dennis Ralston, American tennis legend and Hall of Famer.
Bio:Right-handed, former American tennis legend whose playing career spanned the 1960s and 1970s. NCAA titles and USC, five major doubles crowns, and Davis Cup wins for the United States both as a player and captain. Coached by the great Pancho Gonzales. As a 17-year-old in 1960, he and 21-year-old Osuna became the second-youngest Wimbledon Gentleman champions in history. After retirement in 1977, he coached Chris Evert, Gabriela Sabatini, and Yannick Noah, then embarking on a college coaching career at SMU. Joined International Hall of Fame in 1987.

Birthplace: USA

Length: 3 min 34 sec
Theme: Strategy


One of the things I think that the younger players have today and (and) the recreational players, the club players from every level, is that they don't play enough sets.

I see a lot of people practicing and drilling and they may play one practice set and that's it. I think it's important to be able to play more than one set, because in tournaments and matches, you're going to play at least two out of three. And, one of the things that really helped me was playing best of five sets in practice. I learned a lot about my game, I learned about what I couldn't do, I could practice things, I could practice serving and coming in.

A good example that is that I played a Davis Cup match in Spain and in 1965, and I was serving coming in on clay, which is where I thought I should play. And, so I won the first set 6-3 and I'm up 3-1 in the second. And I'm playing a very fine player from Spain, Juan Gisbert. So, at 3-1 I come in, and he passes me four times clean winners. And all of a sudden on finding, I can't come in, I think, and I'm staying back.

So, about an hour later, I've lost the match, trying to beat him from the baseline. I didn't really figure that out (what happened) until much later. But, I changed my whole game because he passed me four times. So, coming down to the fifth match. I was supposed to play their number one player, Santana, and he didn't want to play. And, so none of the other guys on my team wanted to step out in front of that Spanish crowd of 7, 000 - screaming and yelling and having a great time at our expense. So, I said I'll play this guy. They put in a sub name Juan Manuel Couder. He was about 5 (ft) 8 (in), must of weighed all of 110 pounds. A little handlebar mustache. He was a human back board. He'd beaten Laver a couple of months earlier at the Spanish open, he was a very, very good baseline player. So, I start out the match thinking I'm a baseline player. And so I'm down 6-3, 3-love in about 30 minutes. And, then it finally hit me. I said, if I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose the way I need to play my game. So, I started taking every ball that he hit, including his first serve, and coming in. And, in about an hour and a half, I beat him. The last three sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 for the only point we won against Spain that year. And, I learned a lot about that for my future tennis that when I played on the slow court, I could stay back for a while but I had to be looking to attack and get in. That was just my type of game. It would be just the opposite if you were like a baseliner and all of a sudden things you're going to become a net player.

You learn a lot in five-set matches. The young kids today don't play enough of complete matches. I think they worry too much about winning and losing in practice. Practice is practice. And, when you play to win, you don't really practice. It's not easy to do. It was hard for me to go out against somebody that I've said: "Oh, I should beat this guy in practice" and work on things. But, I had to play mind games with myself. And finally, I got to the point where it didn't bother me. Because if I played him in a tournament, I knew what I had to do to win. The young players and tournament players at all levels, I think one of the things we lack today is playing enough sets.