Wimbledon listens to fans, players and common sense

While maintaining its wonderful 19th century charm, Wimbledon is also making changes to adapt to desires of players and fans.

Remember the controversy last year when Novak Djokovic beat Rafa Nadal under the roof on a glorious summer day? Wimbledon has announced that unfinished matches can resume outdoors unless it rains of course.

Wimbledon, accepting the wishes of Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and other outspoken players, has also taken a progressive step to stop usage of plastic bags on newly-strung racquets. They will also allow fans to enter an online ballot for tickets instead of using snail mail.

Striking a balance between progress and tradition, Wimbledon will play a tie-breaker at 12-12 in the fifth set.

“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,” said AELTC Chairman Philip Brook.

Wimbledon organizers listened to players such as Kevin Anderson, John Isner and others who said they desired tie-breakers to protect them from injuries during long matches.  

In the Wimbledon semi-finals this year, Kevin Anderson needed 6 hours and 36 minutes to finally beat John Isner 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4 and 26-24 in the fifth set. 

The match, which began with a double fault, showed perhaps the greatest serving performances ever in tennis. Isner hit 53 aces to Anderson’s 49. Isner made 75 percent of his first serves, compared with Anderson’s 71. Anderson won the point total 298 to 271, while Isner was 79 of 106 from the net. Anderson hit a 130 mph serve in the final game, an incredible feat.

“You don’t even feel that good at the end of it,” said Anderson, who survived nearly 11 hours on court over the course of two matches. “John is a really great guy. I really feel for him. I apologize if I’m not more excited right now.”

Asked about the no tie-breaker rule, he said: “I really hope this is a sign for Grand Slams to change this format out of five sets. I hope we can look at this and address this.”

Isner, the foremost expert on the need for 5th set tiebreakers, told journalists that there should be a tie-breaker at 12 games all. “I do think the rule needs to change and maybe you guys agree as well.”

Anderson now joins the lore of tennis for reaching the finals of the US Open and Wimbledon, and winning the longest match ever on centre court.

Umpire Marija Cicak was also heroic, sitting in a chair for more than six hours and keeping her eyes and mind trained on the lines.

Finally, John Isner will probably go down in history for playing both the longest match in history and the longest on centre court. Even in defeat, it was his finest hour (more than six to be exact.)

In the first set, Isner hit a 129 mph second serve to save a set point. He followed it up with a 140 mph serve, and that wasn’t even his fastest of the day. It was a crucial hold, and it felt like the match might come down to a single break of serve.

But Isner let the set get away. He didn’t put away a backhand volley — one of many he would miss or fail to swat away. He missed the chance to go up 5-2 in the tiebreaker, and Anderson would storm back to steal the set in one hour.

It seemed the match was tracking toward 4 or 5 hours. That would be an under-estimate.

Anderson continued to play clean. At one stage, he had 25 winners and only 3 unforced errors. He finished set 2 with only 4 errors for the match. But Isner stole the second set, mainly by dominating the net, converting 27 of 39 there.

The match was already two hours long — nearly the same as the two women’s semi-finals combined. It was only just beginning.

Isner won the third set tie-breaker, then strange things began to happen. They traded service breaks. Anderson won the 4th set NOT in a tie-break.

In the fifth set, Isner was only one game away from the Wimbledon final, but he looked spent. He was rationing fuel in the tank, cognizant of his 11 hour match beating Nicola Mahout 70-68 in the fifth set.

Anderson, with robust body language, seemed to ready to grab the victory. He seemed fresh despite coming from behind to beat Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth set after more than 4 hours.

That match was a warm-up compared with the Isner epic.

Isner appeared ready to fold numerous times. He often got behind on his serve. But he somehow found something left. He served and/or volleyed out of trouble. After more than 5 hours, he was finally mastering the backhand volley.

Anderson remained steady and solid. After 4 hours and 40 minutes, he still only had 13 unforced errors. And he did this serving second behind Isner, meaning he was always in danger of facing match points.

The match eventually surpassed the 5 hour 31 minute mark, overtaking Marin Cilic’s 17-15 victory over Sam Querry in 2012.

Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic were still waiting to play. An 11 pm curfew loomed, set by the local government in order to allow 15,000 people to make their trains home, and give residents a good night’s sleep living near Wimbledon’s power generators.

Many in the stands were losing their minds, and the players were also fried. The pace of play slowed to the level of my friends and I at Wimbledon Park. Isner strangely hit a 2-hand backhand volley from the baseline on a ball heading out. Anderson whiffed on a forehand.

Yet they continued to make serves and hold serve. While Isner’s top speeds dropped from 140 to 115, he could still spin sliders out wide to survive.

In the final game, after 6 hours and 35 minutes of play, Anderson mustered the energy to hit a 130 mph serve, faster than anything from Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or most players.

He finally won the game and the final set 26-24.   

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)