A lot of people have been saying it for a while, and this Wimbledon made everyone repeat it anew: marathon matches at Grand Slams must end once and for all!
It is difficult to understand that, after the 70-68 win of John Isner over Nicolas Mahut in the 2010 Wimbledon, the rule had not been changed in the first place. After all, it took only one such marathon of dire consequences (the Leonardo Mayer vs João Souza match in 2015) for the ITF to change the Davis Cup rule, and put a fifth-set tiebreak starting in 2016. The Olympics also changed their rule after the semi-final between Roger Federer and Juan Martín del Potro in 2012.
Then why have the Grand Slams waited?
Isner-Mahut should have been enough for the Grand Slams to change the rule
Isner-Mahut has been and will likely remain the longest match in tennis history. The Grand Slams likely thought that it would be a one-time affair and that the current fifth-set rule for all the majors but the U.S. Open (which already has a tiebreak in the deciding set) should stay as it is.
However, with the surfaces slowing down noticeably, and the rallies lengthening significantly, the matches can become quite long and gruelling for the players and would, at some point, render more marathons inevitable.
We since have seen our share of great matches going into “overtime”, although never into the 20 games apiece range.
Until the Kevin Anderson vs John Isner semifinal this Wimbledon.
Those 6h36 spent on the court by the South African, combined to the 4h14 of his previous match (which ended 13-11 in the fifth set against Roger Federer) really undermined his chances in the Wimbledon final, which is only normal when a player spends so much time on court, despite the usual day off between two rounds.
What must be done?
In the minutes following his win against Isner, Kevin Anderson was talking to the BBC for the usual winner interview and said one thing among his (classy) answers: a plea for the rule to change.
“I really hope that this is a sign for Grand Slams to change this format out of five sets. I really hope we can look at it and address this, because at the end, you really don’t feel great out there.”
– Kevin Anderson
Anderson’s plea was not to remove the best-of-five format, as several would like to see. It is only to change the rule of the final set in the Majors and end the matches with a tiebreak. A point which he repeated following the final.
A lot of players, if not most of them, agree with this. The same can be said for pundits and fans. After all, as we saw again in the Wimbledon final, it is basically impossible for a player to recover in time after such a marathon.
The question is: at what moment should there be a fifth-set tiebreak? At 6-6 like at the U.S. Open?
A good idea would be at 12-12, thus half preserving the tradition without overextending the matches, or even at 9-9, which is a half-set more instead of a complete set.
Nevertheless, the point remains: things must change.
The ball is now, literally, in the Grand Slam Board’s court.