Call It the John Isner Rule: Wimbledon Plans to Add a Final-Set Tiebreaker

Call It the John Isner Rule: Wimbledon Plans to Add a Final-Set Tiebreaker

WIMBLEDON, England — “Nothing like this will ever happen again, ever,” John Isner said while winning a fifth set, 70-68, over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010.

On Friday, Wimbledon organizers made that official by announcing that they would adopt final-set tiebreakers for all matches in 2019.

While the United States Open has had a final-set tiebreaker at 6-6 for decades, Wimbledon will, in a nod to tradition, put the finish line later: at 12-12.

Philip Brook, chairman of the All England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, said in a statement that the decision had been made after consulting with players and officials and analyzing “two decades of match data.” Brook said scheduling and spectator experience had also been taken into consideration.

“While we know the instances of matches extending deep into the final set are rare, we feel that a tie-break at 12-12 strikes an equitable balance between allowing players ample opportunity to complete the match to advantage, while also providing certainty that the match will reach a conclusion in an acceptable time frame,” Brook said.

Isner and Mahut’s ultramarathon required 11 hours 5 minutes to complete and extended over three days. But that was a first-round match, and though there were calls afterward for Wimbledon to adopt a final-set tiebreaker, the club resisted.

What ultimately led to the change was Isner’s 6-hour-36-minute loss to Kevin Anderson in the semifinals this year. Their fifth set extended to 26-24 and led to the subsequent semifinal on Centre Court between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal being completed over two days. That disrupted the schedule and left the winner, Djokovic, without a full day of rest before the final.

He was still fresher than Anderson and went on to win the title. But club officials were clearly concerned at the prospect of future marathon fifth sets. Isner might be 33, but he is not planning to retire soon.

“Something had to be done after this year’s Wimbledon, and 12 games all is a good moment,” Boris Becker, a three-time Wimbledon singles champion, said in a message on Friday. “On grass, a tiebreaker can be a game of luck, but at 12 games all in the fifth set, both players need it also for the next match to be fresh enough. Anderson was done after the semis.”

Since 2000, 28 men’s matches at Wimbledon have had fifth sets stretching past the 20-game mark. In only one case did the winner go on to win more than one more round. That was in 2016, when Sam Querrey defeated Lukas Rosol in a 12-10 fifth set in the first round; Querrey went on to reach the quarterfinals. In 2009, Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, in the final but did not have to play another match.

Isner and Anderson called for the introduction of a final-set tiebreaker after their semifinal this year, and Anderson had already upset Federer in a quarterfinal match that stretched to 13-11 in the final set.

That sort of score line will still be possible in 2019, but 70-68 will now be out of the question, at least at Wimbledon.

The French Open and the Australian Open, for now, still do not have a tiebreaker in the final set, although that may not be true for long with the leaders of the four Grand Slam tournaments set to meet in Singapore during the WTA Finals, which begin on Sunday.

“I personally don’t see the reason not to include it now at least at all the Slams,” Anderson said in July, sounding as weary as he looked after outlasting Isner.

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