Wimbledon announces new tiebreak rule to prevent marathon matches

Wimbledon has announced a new tiebreak rule that would prevent long, marathon final sets. (AP Photo)
Wimbledon has announced a new tiebreak rule that would prevent long, marathon final sets. (AP Photo)

Say goodbye to those crazy, six-hour marathon tennis matches at Wimbledon.

The All-England Lawn Tennis Club announced on Friday that it’s introducing a new rule to specifically prevent those exhausting, overlong final sets from happening.

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The new tiebreak rule

The All-England Club released a statement which explained the new rule:

Informed by a thorough review of match data from the past 20 Championships, and upon consultation with players and officials, the tie-break will be played when the score reaches 12-12 in the final set.

Instead of the final set continuing to go back and forth, with scores that can go into the 40s or 50s, they’re cutting it off at 12-12 and introducing a tiebreaker that would end the set and decide the winner. In the statement, chairman Philip Brook noted how careful they were before making any rule change that would significantly impact how matches are played.

“In reaching this decision, the AELTC Committee sought the feedback of both players and officials, analysed two decades of match data, and considered other factors including scheduling complexities and spectator experience.”

When a tennis match hits the five or six hour mark, it turns into a cultural event, with people tuning in to see how much longer it’ll go. It can be fun and interesting … unless you’re one of the people actually on the court trying to win a set that just won’t end. Two players standing on the court for hours, exerting maximum effort, is extremely demanding and exhausting.

Beyond the physical toll those kind of matches take on players, Wimbledon is a tightly run tournament. They’re running competitions not just for men’s and women’s singles, but doubles, mixed doubles, juniors and invitational events for seniors and wheelchair users. When a match goes five or six hours, it affects everything scheduled on that court for the rest of the day, and even subsequent days.

A rule for rare occurrences

In the statement, Brook admitted that marathon matches are a rarity, but that the rule is important nonetheless.

“Our view was that the time had come to introduce a tie-break method for matches that had not reached their natural conclusion at a reasonable point during the deciding set. 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 timeframe.”

The All-England Club is trying to manage both its own schedule and the health of the players, so enacting a rule for a rare occurrence is understandable. But there have been several long matches in recent years that probably led the club to start considering this in the first place.

During the 2018 Wimbledon tournament, John Isner and Kevin Anderson played a semifinal match that lasted over six hours, and ended with Anderson winning 26-24 in the final set. But that probably reminded everyone of another even longer Isner match from 2010. Isner played Nicholas Mahut in what ended up being the longest match in the history of tennis. It lasted 11 hours and took three days to complete, with Isner finally coming out on top 70-68.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter at @lizroscher.

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