INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Tennis is entering a recent era: one through which the marathon final sets which have concluded a few of its biggest and longest matches aren’t any longer an option.
The Grand Slam Board announced Wednesday that starting in May with the French Open, all 4 major tournaments will put in place a tiebreaker at 6-6 in decisive sets: the third set in women’s singles matches and the fifth set in men’s singles.
The primary player with at the very least 10 points and a 2-point margin will win the tiebreaker. The move was announced as a one-year trial, but is more likely to be adopted permanently considering the extensive consultation behind it.
The winds have been blowing on this direction for a while amid concerns concerning the pace of play, match lengths, player health and recovery times.
“It’s good they’ve that uniformity now, but I suppose what made them unique was also how each fifth set was different, so I can see either side to it,” said John Isner, the American veteran whose first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut of France at Wimbledon in 2010 established a logic-defying record by stretching to 70-68 within the fifth set.
If the brand new rules are embraced permanently, that mark will eternally remain untouchable.
“It was never going to get broken anyway, so those are my thoughts,” Isner said.
It’s difficult to argue. The ultimate set of Isner-Mahut stretched across three days, monopolizing Court 18 on the All England Club and generating global interest for an otherwise obscure early-round match.
There may be a fascination created by two players pushing one another to their physical and mental limits; a specific kind of tension fostered by a marathon final set after competitors and spectators have invested so many hours within the end result.
“That’s identical to an absolute battle,” said Taylor Fritz, the 24-year-old American who reached the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.
Fritz said ultralong final sets make all of it but unattainable for the victor to advance much further in a tournament. “You’re so done to your next match if you could have one in all those,” he said. “Nevertheless it’s tradition, and I’ll miss seeing those crazy battles.”
Before the Open era, there have been no tiebreakers in any set on the Grand Slam tournaments or within the Davis Cup, the premier men’s team competition. A set was won by winning a minimum of six games by a margin of at the very least two. In a single extreme example from the primary round of Wimbledon in 1969, 41-year-old Pancho Gonzales defeated his fellow American Charlie Pasarell, 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9, in a match that stretched over two days.
The subsequent 12 months, a tiebreaker at six games all was introduced on the 1970 U.S. Open for all sets and was steadily adopted by the opposite Grand Slam tournaments and major team competitions for all sets except the ultimate one.
But after greater than a century, the Davis Cup opted for a final-set tiebreaker in 2016 and the Australian Open and Wimbledon followed suit in 2019, though in alternative ways. The Australian Open opted for the prolonged first-to-10-points tiebreaker at 6-all and Wimbledon adopted a standard first-to-seven tiebreaker at 12-all.
The French Open continued to play out the fifth set, which left the 4 Grand Slam tournaments with 4 different methods of resolving decisive sets — a discrepancy that confused some players.
In the midst of the fifth set of the 2019 Wimbledon men’s singles final, Novak Djokovic needed to double check with the chair umpire when the tiebreaker could be played.
The Grand Slam tournament leaders clearly wanted a tidier solution.
“The Grand Slam Board’s decision relies on a robust desire to create greater consistency in the foundations of the sport on the Grand Slams, and thus enhance the experience for the players and fans alike,” the board said in its statement.
Uniformity at the very least will provide clarity, and the first-to-10-points tiebreaker should allow for more suspense and momentum shifts than the first-to-seven system.
But when the brand new rules are adopted after the trial, it would shrink the horizons of what constitutes an epic match.
Many matches which might be ranked among the many biggest went into the tennis equivalent of extra time, which is definitely no coincidence.
Bjorn Borg’s victory over John McEnroe within the 1980 Wimbledon final went to 8-6 within the fifth set; Rafael Nadal’s victory over Roger Federer within the 2008 Wimbledon final went to 9-7 within the fifth; Djokovic’s victory over Federer within the 2019 Wimbledon final went to 13-12 within the fifth with a tiebreaker at 12-all.
On the French Open, Monica Seles’s victory over Steffi Graf within the exquisite 1992 final went to 10-8 within the third, and Jennifer Capriati’s victory over Kim Clijsters within the 2001 final stretched to 12-10 within the third.
But marathons won’t be out of the query on this recent, streamlined tennis world. Consider the 2012 Australian Open men’s final, between Djokovic and Nadal, the longest singles final in Grand Slam history by way of elapsed time. They played for five hours 53 minutes and were so spent by the point Djokovic finished his victory that each needed chairs on the award ceremony.
But that match, undoubtedly one in all the best in tennis history, wouldn’t have been shortened by a tiebreaker under the unified rules announced on Wednesday.
It ended at 7-5 within the fifth.