Australian Open To Talk To Players About Introducing A 5th Set Tie-Break

Those who stand by the mantra of ‘a quick game’s a good game’ would not have enjoyed this year’s men’s Wimbledon’s semi-finals.

The match between Kevin Anderson and John Isner lasted an incredible six hours and 36 minutes. It culminated with a final set that looked never ending, before Anderson finally claimed victory 26-24.

The last set lasted almost three hours.

South Africa's Kevin Anderson celebrates winning a point against US player John Isner during their men's singles semi-final match on July 13, 2018. (Image: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

For many, the question of ‘how long is too long’ was answered during this match, and debate has since raged over whether all grand slams should follow the US Open’s lead and introduce a tie-break in the deciding set.

Now, all eyes will turn to the first major of next year, the Australian Open.

There is, of course, one more Slam still to be played in 2018, the US Open, but it has already introduced a tie break in the deciding set.

Will the Australians follow suit?

As part of ongoing and wide ranging consultation with players about the tournament’s future, the discussion around a fifth set tie-breaker is set to be part of the agenda, with Tournament Director Craig Tiley telling media:

“Obviously in recent days there has been a lot of public comment on a fifth-set tie-breaker for the men. We encourage the discussion and we want to know what the players think.”

The flurry of chatter around shortening the final set has been wide-reaching.

As tennis great John McEnroe said during his commentary for the BBC:

“I believe strongly for our sport to continue to have as many people as possible watching, you can't say playing a tie-break would not have been a magnificent end to this game.” He went onto suggest that, “The fifth set doesn't have to end six-all, it could be 10-all.”

John McEnroe in the commentary box during Wimbledon on July 11, 2017.  (Image: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

The reality is that sport tell us much about who and what we are as a society and, as such, no sport stands still. They continually evolve and transform to reflect the current trends of the times.

So, the likelihood is that a fifth set tie break will be soon introduced, for we are a society that relishes instant gratification and immediacy where games are fast and exciting with lots of flashpoints and that reach a climax not too long after the whole thing began.

The reality is, this is something tennis has battled for some time.  There was a time when tie breakers didn’t exist.  They were introduced in the 1970 US Open following calls for the game to be quickened.

Rod Laver is ready to send the ball the other way in the U.S. Open. September 04, 1970. (Imagre: Vic DeLucia/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

The same year, the first two sets of the Australian Open men’s quarter-final between American Dennis Ralston and Australia’s John Newcombe produced a score line of 19-17 and 20-18.  The year before Charlie Pasarell and Pancho Gonzales started their match at Wimbledon with a 22-24 first set marathon.

Remarkably, the 2018 Wimbledon epic was not the longest match Isner has played. In 2010 he defeated Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set in a match that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, spread out over three days.

John Isner reacts after beating France's Nicolas Mahut on June 24, 2010. Both players received a special award after their record-breaking match that lasted 11 hours and 5 min and finished with a score of 70-68 in favour of Isner. (Image: SUZANNE PLUNKETT/AFP/Getty Images)

Those sitting in the grandstand must’ve wondered if they’d ever get out.

Even today, tennis authorities are trialling new rules to speed up the game.

Earlier this year the ATP announced a swag of rule changes and innovations that they’ll be trialling in November’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.

The most significant of these include the introduction of first to four sets with no advantage scoring, a shot clock of 25 seconds between points and the abolishment of the let rule.

Of course many will bemoan these changes and vehemently argue against introducing a fifth set tie break.

And in some respect, they have a point, for often the most remarkable moment in tennis comes when players fight off the demons of physical and mental exhaustion and refuse to ever give in. These moments showcase so many of the characteristics we celebrate, respect and admire in the human spirit – courage, bravery and determination.

Roger Federer celebrates his victory against Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open on January 29, 2017. (Image: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Yet, sport must also be fair, and given the tennis schedule is as gruelling, demanding and busy as it is today, is it sill fair and safe to expect players to play for over six hours? Does it give them an unfair disadvantage in their next game? And if it does, is this fair for the fans who are watching?

According to Anderson, it does have health implications.

“Being out there for this length can be pretty damaging from a health standpoint,” he said.

These dilemmas are not unique to today’s sporting landscape, for no two eras are ever the same.

And history says most sports get it right when implementing change for they know that to stay popular, they need to reflect the consumer demands of the time.

As with most things in life, refusing to adapt generally does more harm than good.