I am gladly eating my words.
I have gone on record in the past saying that I am glad Wimbledon has a “no 5th set tie-break” policy. After watching the match between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner, I wonder whether it is time to rewrite the rule.
My objection to deciding the fifth set with a tie-break was that it would mean that both players could hold their own serves, all through the tie-break, and one player could win the set and match by virtue of winning just a couple extra tie-break points. In other words, each player could hold their serve, no one breaks the other’s serve and just a couple of tie-break points decide who wins the match. Imagine a championship being decided like that.
But consider the drama that has been happening in Wimbledon for the last three days. Mahut and Isner have been engaging in a epic battle in a first-round match (the kind that sometimes get decided as 6-4,6-3,6-1). At the end of the second day of play, the score read 4-6,6-3,7-6,6-7, 59-59 (or 6-4,3-6,6-7,7-6, 59-59). Wimbledon’s scoreboard gave up after 47-47, the website reset to 0-0 after 50-50. The match has lasted 10 hours so far, and it’s still not over. At over 7 hours, the 5th set alone is longer than any match in history. When the players come on court today, they will have been playing for 3 days.
No physios were called, no one suffered a cramp, no curses were uttered, nobody argued with the umpires. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a match from decades ago.
I am going to be very sorry when this match ends today. It is certainly not fair to whoever loses this match. Not that the winner is going to be much better off – having played the equivalent of three games in three days, he is going to be at a disadvantage to whoever he meets next.
But here is the clincher – in that mammoth 5th set, where each has won 59 games, they have still won those games by holding their serve. They have not traded breaks. So in the end, when this match does come to a close, it will be decided by the result of a single game, which seems a small thing when you consider that 120+ games would have been played in the 5th set alone.
When I think about it, that’s not very different from winning a set after winning a couple of tie break points. Rather, given how these two have battled, it seems a rather unfortunate end.
So maybe we do need to have a 5th set tie break in Wimbledon, like we have in every other Grand Slam the US Open (as an alert reader has pointed out, only the US Open has a 5th set tie-break rule). But I still don’t think it should come into effect at 6-6. The players should be given a chance to battle it out, otherwise would be ever have games like this, which truly show the spirit of human persistence/ endurance and determination?
So maybe a tie-break should come into effect after the players are tied 12-12 in the fifth set? (or maybe 25-25?)