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After 96 games and 396 minutes, Kevin Anderson is through to the Wimbledon final, while John Isner can at least rest knowing he has firmly carved out a place in tennis lore.
The pair’s marathon match ended with both players exhausted and Anderson victorious by a comical score of 7-6,-6-7,-6-7, 6-4, 26-24 on Friday. It must have been a familiar feeling for Isner, who is well known fora prior match that ended with a 70-68 fifth-set win against Nicolas Mahut during the first round of Wimbledon in 2010.
The reason why both matches happened at Wimbledon is thank to a unique rule at the All-England Club in which matches cannot end on a tiebreaker, meaning both players must play on until one of them has a two-game lead. That rule isn’t very popular right now, and it starts with both players’ postgame reactions.
John Isner and Kevin Anderson call for Wimbledon rule change
As the dust settled and both players began talking to the media, it was very clear the two were very ready to do away with the rule that kept them on Wimbledon’s Centre Court for nearly seven hours.
Isner and Anderson weren’t alone, as there here were plenty of fans also calling for a rule change to avoid another match like Friday. Even former top-5 player James Blake threw in his two cents.
Why this happened again to John Isner
No, Isner isn’t just unlucky, or fortunate, or whatever intangible quality could lead to a guy playing two of the three longest tennis matches ever recorded, with a combined length longer than the entire runtime of the two-season Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
It comes down to Isner’s defining trait as a tennis player: he’s tall.
For his entire career, the 6-foot-10 Isner has been one of the best servers on tour and one of its worst returners. He has a first serve that can break 150 mph and he’s landed it in nearly 70 percent of the time this season. And if it misses, he has one of the game’s nastiest second serves, a kick serve that can bounce over opponents’ heads. This season, Isner ranks first in the ATP’s serve rating stat and second-to-last in its return rating.
This the kind of guy who isn’t going to see many breaks go either way, which means he’s more likely to have a set go to a tiebreaker. Throw in the 6-foot-8 Anderson, who ranks third in serve rating and 16th-to-last in return rating, take away the possibility of a fifth-set tiebreaker and you have a receipe for a party that just won’t stop.
Is the Wimbledon tiebreaker rule fair?
At some level, these marathon matches are undeniably cool, a chance to show the toll tennis takes on the mind, body and soul in full force. Isner’s first marathon was one of the biggest stories in sports and the same will likely be true for his match on Friday. But it all comes at a cost.
For starters, the marathon match threw the Wimbledon schedule in complete disarray. The second semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the much more anticipated match, started hours later than expected and was eventually stopped and postponed to Saturday due to curfew. All for a match that wasn’t exactly beautiful aesthetically, and one that took a massive physical toll on the players.
Anderson figures to be a massive underdog on Sunday, due in major part to fatigue. After the 2010 marathon, Isner was crushed 0–6, 3–6, 2–6 in the following match, lasting just 74 minutes. That must have been tough for Isner, but at least it was only a second-round match he lost and not the Wimbledon final.
Both Isner and Anderson will have their names etched in tennis history thanks to their performance on Friday, but both players almost certainly would have preferred it happen thanks to a performance on Sunday, and that now looks like a nearly impossible task for Anderson. Maybe he could pull off a massive upset, but the much more likely outcome is a final match devoid of any drama or competitiveness, all thanks to one little quirk in the rules of Wimbledon.
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