The innovative fifth-set tie-break produced some epic moments at the 2020 Australian Open, and Kevin Palmer feels Wimbledon chiefs should consider introducing it at SW19.
One of the enduring conundrums in tennis should be settled once and for all after this year’s Australian Open, with the new-look tie-break to decide the fifth set proving to be a resounding triumph.
The calls for change became deafening after Kevin Anderson and John Isner played out a two-hour 50-minute final set to conclude their 2018 Wimbledon semi-final, with watching audience around the world losing interest in the serving battle long before the final bill was struck and Anderson sealed his 26-24 final set win.
The wheelchair semi-finals were a big beneficiary of the Anderson/Isner snooze fest as hundreds of fans walked out of Centre Court and chose to watch the ‘Wheelie Tennis’ instead, yet a men’s semi-final should never be seen as a turn-off.
To add to the fall-out from that 2018 shoot-out, Anderson was jaded by the time he met Novak Djokovic in the final, while the ultimate winner of the tournament was also hampered as he was forced to conclude his semi-final against Rafael Nadal on the Saturday as time elapsed on what should have been semi-final Friday.
The Wimbledon committee responded by introducing a tie-break at 12-12 for last season’s Championships, with Djokovic prevailing in an epic final against Roger Federer that was decided by the new format.
Yet playing a tie break after 24 games of the fifth set felt like an unnatural innovation in a sport that has long had sets that conclude when both players get to six games, with the tie-break that has been such a successful part of the game since it was introduced back in 1971, with variations on the format concluding with the first to seven-point breaker that was first used at the All England Club in 1979.
The ‘match tie-break’ that reaches a climax when one player reaches 10 points and is two clear of their rival was used by the Australian Open in 2001 for their mixed doubles event and for the first time in 2020, Tennis Australia chiefs have introduced a fifth-set breaker that follows that same format.
In the first week of the tournament, the innovation has produced some epic moments, with Roger Federer’s comeback from 8-4 down in his deciding tie-breaker against John Millman in the third round backed up by an epic win for Nick Kygrois against Karen Khachanov 24 hours later.
Taking away some of the element of luck that can decide a first to seven tie-break, the longer format added to the drama at this year’s Australian Open, with the tie break method that has replaced the third set in men’s doubles matches on the ATP Tour in recent years now providing a fitting conclusion to draining singles matches.
The Wimbledon authorities have shown themselves to be open to changes in recent years and they should look at the success of the tie break being used at the first Grand Slam of the year and introduce it into their tournament.
In fact, it would make a lot of sense if all four Grand Slams used the same format at the end of fifth sets, with Federer and Kygrois acting as high profile promoters-in-chief for a format that was given a triumphant trial in Melbourne.
Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer
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