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How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Tied Set?


Nick Kyrgios knew he could possibly be a top tennis player when he won his first principal draw match on the French Open in 2013.

“It was memorable because I beat Radek Stepanek in three tiebreakers,” said Kyrgios, who has twice reached major quarterfinals and been ranked as high as No. 13 on this planet. “To have all of them go my way, that’s after I fell in love with tiebreakers. I believe they’re pretty special.”

When the French Open begins on Sunday, the tournament will feature one more latest tiebreaker rule that can, for the primary time, see the 4 major championships — Wimbledon, and the French, United States and Australian Opens — using the identical tiebreaker policies.

When a match reaches 6-6 in the ultimate set, which is the fifth set for men’s singles and the third for girls’s singles, the players will contest a super-tiebreaker. The primary player to win 10 points by a 2-point margin will win the set and the match. The rule change is getting used as a trial within the three majors this yr and in next yr’s Australian Open.

“Our challenge is to guard the soul of [the French Open ] while entering a latest era,” said Amélie Mauresmo, the tournament’s latest director and a former world No. 1. “We’re attempting to modernize things on a every day basis.”

Tiebreakers, or tiebreaks, as they’ve inexplicably been renamed by many in the game, were introduced on the 1970 U.S. Open as a way of shortening matches and holding the eye of spectators and tv audiences, in addition to preserving the health and well-being of players.

Back then, tiebreakers — first a 9-point “sudden death” version that ended when a player won 5 points, which was later modified to a “lingering death” alternative that required a player to win 7 points by a margin of two — were played in all sets except the ultimate one. Final sets required that play proceed until someone won by a two-game margin.

The 4 tournaments that comprise the Grand Slam could never agree on a format for the deciding set, so each event made its own rules. Starting in 2016, the Australian Open introduced a super-tiebreaker at 6-6, while Wimbledon began playing a conventional tiebreaker at 12-12 in 2019. The rule was immediately put to the test that yr when Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 13-12 (7-3) for the boys’s title.

Wimbledon was under pressure to make the change after two defining matches. The primary was a 2010 first-round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut that lasted 11 hours and five minutes over three days, finally concluding when Isner took a 70-68 fifth-set win. Then, in 2018, Isner and Kevin Anderson played a six-hour, 36-minute semifinal that Anderson ultimately won, but that left him so depleted that he lost the ultimate in straight sets to Djokovic.

The U.S. Open has been contesting a 12-point tiebreaker (the primary to 7 points wins) in all sets since 1975. During that point, just one men’s final has featured a tiebreaker in the ultimate set: In 2020, Dominic Thiem got here back from two sets right down to beat Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) in a made-for-television match by which no fans were allowed within the stands due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two women’s finals have gone the gap. Tracy Austin defeated Martina Navratilova 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1) in 1981 and Hana Mandlikova upset Navratilova 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 7-6 (7-2) in 1985.

“I really like tiebreakers,” said Mandlikova, 60, who vividly recalled every point of the ultimate tiebreaker against Navratilova, including a diving cross-court backhand volley on match point.

“Individuals who play riskier tennis as a substitute of staying along the baseline have a greater percentage of winning the tiebreaker,” she continued. “You might have to be dangerous, and you may have to be a bit of bit lucky.”

Kyrgios, who beat Stepanek 7-6, (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (13-11) in that 2013 French Open first-rounder, said a tiebreaker was not based on skill. “It obviously favors the larger serve at times, but it might go either way,” he said. “That’s the fantastic thing about the scoring in tennis. Every point counts.”

Until this yr, the French Open shunned the final-set tiebreaker. Because the tournament began in 1891, it has featured only a few prolonged final sets, though the slow red clay and never-ending rallies have produced multiple five-hour matches. Only twice in the boys’s draw has a final gone the gap: a 1927 match won by René Lacoste over Bill Tilden 11-9 within the fifth set and a 2004 final between Gastón Gaudio and Guillermo Coria, which Gaudio ultimately won 8-6 within the fifth.

The ladies, then again, have produced some extraordinary final sets within the French Open, including an 8-6 third-set win by Steffi Graf over Navratilova in 1987, a 10-8 third-set win by Monica Seles over Graf in 1992, a 10-8 third-set win by Graf over Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1996 and certainly one of the tournament’s all-time highlights, a 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory by Jennifer Capriati over Kim Clijsters within the 2001 final.

Danielle Collins, certainly one of the top-ranked U.S. pros, remembers honing her tiebreaker skills while competing in junior matches.

“In case you split sets, you played a 10-point tiebreaker for the third set,” Collins said. “I’d get down on a regular basis. One time I used to be down 9-1 and got here back to win. Those 10-point tiebreakers might be really fun.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas likes the thought of never-ending matches but understands the necessity for final-set tiebreakers in today’s increasingly physical matches.

“As a child I liked watching these crazy best-of-five matches that went all of the strategy to 18-16,” he said. “It was just fun to look at and see who was going to interrupt first. However, you’ll be able to’t allow players to play until 6 within the morning with that format. It could actually get quite exhausting.”

Stan Wawrinka, who won the French Open in 2015, would like that the majors stop tinkering with their tiebreaker formulas.

“What I liked before was that they were all a unique ending,” said Wawrinka, who’s working his way back from knee surgery. “I enjoyed that. But it surely’s unimaginable to seek out one thing that everyone will like. To all be the identical now just isn’t my favorite thing, nevertheless it is what it’s and we don’t have a alternative.”

Djokovic is proud that he and Federer got to play the primary championship match in Wimbledon history to feature a final-set tiebreaker. He also knows it was a one-and-only now that Wimbledon may even play final-set tiebreakers at 6-6 as a substitute of 12-12.

“There may be history in prolonged play in a lot of the Slams,” Djokovic said. “That Isner-Mahut, the longest match ever, it’s written down with golden letters within the history of tennis. Many individuals do not forget that match, and it has brought loads of attention to our sport from the broader audience.”

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