The debate over whether it is time to introduce fifth-set tie-breakers in Grand Slam events – bar the US Open which already has one in place – has hotted up since Kevin Anderson and John Isner’s serve-athon in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The two giants pushed each other to 26-24 in the final set, in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes and became the fourth-longest duel of all time.
Rafal Nadal and Novak Djokovic then followed that up with their own fifth-set epic, with the Serb coming through 10-8 in the decider.
The spectacle of a long climax to a match is intense and enthralling, but the efforts of such a long affair leave players little time to recover for the next round – in this case it being Sunday’s SW19 final.
It remains to be seen whether the tennis authorities will implement any tie-break rule changes in Grand Slam play and here we look at five past matches, in all competitions, whereby a traditional final set tie-breaker would have meant these five legendary matches ended all too prematurely and didn’t produce classics…
DAVIS CUP 2013 FIRST ROUND
Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol (Czech Republic) v Stanislas Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli (Switzerland) – Czech pair won 6–4, 5–7, 6–4, 6–7(3–7), 24–22
Lasting seven hours and two minutes, the match was the longest in the competition’s history and is the second-lengthiest of all time.
Held on indoor courts in Geneva, the win helped the Czechs to a 3-2 success overall as the team went on to win back-to-back titles.
Following this, a fifth set tie-break was introduced in 2016.
2010 WIMBLEDON FIRST ROUND
John Isner v Nicolas Mahut; Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7–6 (3), 70–68 (played over three days)
‘The endless match’ divides opinion and perhaps created this debate in the first instance. It took the two big-servers 11 hours, five minutes to complete their epic, over a span of three days in a contest which leads the longest match record by some distance.
The final set, which ended 70-68, took an incredible 491 minutes to complete out on Court No.18 at Wimbledon – where a plaque sits beside the court in reference to an occasion we will probably never see again.
Each player hit more than 100 aces and the match’s entire length exceeded that of Serena Williams’ time spent on court in her run to the title in 2009.
2009 WIMBLEDON FINAL
Roger Federer v Andy Roddick; Federer won 5–7, 7–6 (6), 7–6 (5), 3–6, 16–14
If there was ever a tennis match where a draw would have been the fairest result, then this was it.
Neither player deserved to lose but Federer found a way to win, breaking Roddick in the 30th and final game of the fifth set to secure his sixth SW19 crown.
The win for the Swiss was of extra significance as he surpassed Pete Sampras’s haul of 14 major titles to claim his 15th, in front of the watching American on Centre Court.
The defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Roddick given it was his third final loss at Wimbledon to Federer and he became the only player in history to have lost a final having only had their serve broken once.
2008 WIMBLEDON FINAL
Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer; Nadal won 6–4, 6–4, 6–7 (5), 6–7 (8), 9–7
Billed as the greatest match in the history of the game, the Spaniard broke Federer’s run of five-consecutive Wimbledon titles in a marathon encounter, which lasted for four hours and 48 minutes, and was disrupted by two lengthy rain delays and completed in near darkness.
Don’t forget, back in 2008, there was no roof at the iconic Centre Court venue. But organisers pushed for the match to finish on Sunday.
Although the Nadal-Federer showdown didn’t stretch long in terms of game in the fifth, proceedings finished at 21:15 local time and only added to the drama as Nadal collapsed on the floor in celebration as Federer struck a cross-court forehand into the net.
1982 DAVIS CUP QUARTER-FINAL
John McEnroe v Mats Wilander, McEnroe won 9–7, 6–2, 15–17, 3–6, 8–6
Played before the Davis Cup adopted a tie-break in all sets, American legend McEnroe downed Swede Wilander in the seventh-longest match of all time.
Three out of five sets went sizaeable distances, not just the decider, as McEnroe finally triumphed after six hours and 22 minutes of play.
The match is also remembered for a clash of styles, with McEnroe, the bad boy of tennis, employing his famed serve-and-volley tactics while Wilander was known as one of the game’s quickest players ever as well as best returners.
Angelique Kerber‘s coach Wim Fissette believes we haven’t seen the best of his charge yet after she picked up a third Grand Slam crown and first at Wimbledon on Saturday.
Fissette teamed up with Kerber at the end of a woeful last season for the German and together, they’ve turned things around dramatically in 2018.
The Belgian coach, who has worked with a long list of top players like Simona Halep, Johanna Konta, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka, has been a key part in Kerber’s return to form this season.
Kerber, who reached No. 1 in the world in 2016 after winning two Grand Slams in Melbourne and New York, dropped outside the top-20 in 2017.
But within less than seven months, she has risen from No. 22 at the start of the year, to No. 4 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“I’d say she’s more confident right now and I feel she knows herself a bit better. What she needs to play her best tennis, what she needs to feel well throughout the tournament, when to take a little bit more rest and I feel like – maybe because she’s 30 as well since January so maybe that also helped her but I feel she changed a bit yes,” said Fissette after Kerber’s 6-3, 6-3 win over Serena Williams on Saturday.
The 30-year-old Kerber is now 3-1 in Grand Slam finals, and she brought her A-game in all four, even the one she lost to Williams at the All England Club in 2016.
She is a big-match player and showed it once again against Williams on Saturday, denying the American a chance to equal the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles held by Margaret Court.
Fissette has managed to coach five different players to victories over Williams and actually knows his own head-to-head against her.
“5-all. I was 4-5 today and now it’s 5-all, it’s something I’m very proud of. The best player in the world, and with five different players now, my players have beaten her so it’s a great record,” he said with a smile.
Kerber, a ruthless counter-puncher, has been adding more aggression to her game and Fissette believes she will continue to do more of that.
“I’m still sure that we haven’t seen the best Angie yet,” insists the Belgian.
“I think even physically she can do a lot better. Her serve can still improve and her offensive game, the more she feels success with her offensive game the more she will use that as well. I think also with the experience she has, the older she gets a bit, she will take more experience into those matches to stay mentally calm.”
When you’ve fought on a tennis court for six hours and 35 minutes, you can be forgiven for not being able to string together proper sentences.
Kevin Anderson is perfectly capable of doing both though – surviving a gruelling marathon semi-final against John Isner that ended 26-24 in the fifth set, and eloquently articulating his feelings following said battle.
After booking a spot in his maiden Wimbledon final by going through the longest-ever semi-final at SW19, the South African was mentally, physically and emotionally spent. Yet somehow his immediate words when he walked off court following his victory were dedicated to the man he just beat.
“At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win. John is such a great guy and I really feel for him because if I’d been on the opposite side I don’t know how you can take that, playing for so long and coming out short. I apologise if I’m not more excited right now just so many mixed emotions,” a choked up Anderson told the BBC.
Headed home. I appreciate all the encouraging messages from everyone. Congrats to @KAndersonATP on the win and best of luck in the final. More importantly, thank you for your class and humility in victory. @Wimbledon see you next year. Sorry for screwing the schedule up today 😳 pic.twitter.com/qlbFcoyl6z
— John Isner (@JohnIsner) July 14, 2018
He then calmly explained how their match was yet another example of why the best-of-five format at Wimbledon, and two of the remaining three Slams, needs to be reexamined.
Those are all extremely thoughtful statements after such an emotional and taxing experience. He gave us all a lesson in grace and humility.
At 32, Anderson is enjoying the best 10-month stretch of his career. Hindered by injury woes, the Johannesburg-native saw his ranking slip to 80 in the world in January last year. Today, he is ranked No. 8 and has reached the finals at two of the last four Grand Slams. He’s made the second week at four of the last six.
“He’s playing the tennis of his life,” said Novak Djokovic of Anderson ahead of their Sunday final.
One of the tallest men in the top-100, Anderson’s work ethic and focus on fitness and recovery have allowed the Florida-based player, all 203cm of him, to insert himself among the best in the world.
During his five-set victory over Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, Anderson was sprinting to the net and running down drop shots like someone half his size. The hours he must have put in off the court to get to that level of great movement must have been astounding.
With many tall big-servers rising to the top, Anderson stands out as someone with a strong baseline game, smooth feel at the net, and a constant hunger to improve. He now faces Djokovic for a shot at a maiden Grand Slam trophy. The last time they faced off was in the Wimbledon fourth round where Anderson led by two sets before Djokovic came back to deny him the upset.
Anderson has spent 21 hours on court through his six matches so far this fortnight. Djokovic has spent just 15 hours and 34 minutes in comparison.
It’s a race against the clock when it comes to recovery for the South African, but if he manages to get his body ready for this match-up, he will give Djokovic a run for his money.