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Wimbledon gets tie-breaks to settle matches at 12-12 in the fifth set

The All England Club has made a change to the Wimbledon scoring system for the first time since 1979. From next year, a tie-break will be played when the deciding set of any match reaches 12-12.

Jamie Murray, the six-time grand slam champion, was among a number of players who welcomed yesterday's (Friday's) news. "It's a good decision," Murray said. "I'm happy that matches will now have a definite end."

In 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went to the absurd lengths of 70-68 in the final set.

In 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went to the absurd lengths of 70-68 in the final set.Credit:AP

This could perhaps be described as "the John Isner rule", as it is Isner's propensity for playing apparently infinite five-setters that has highlighted the issue.

In 2010, Isner and Nicolas Mahut went to the absurd lengths of 70-68 in the final set, a match that extended across three days and occupied just over 11 hours on the court. In July, Isner was at it again, this time in a 6hr 35min semi-final that Kevin Anderson eventually won 26-24 in the fifth.

Anderson, himself, yesterday described the decision, which was mostly welcomed by players and fans, as "a good compromise". He had done much to shape the All England Club's response, as within an hour of beating Isner he had come into the interview room and suggested, "We can include a tie-break at maybe 12-all. I think that's a fair balance".

But there are some who argue that the US Open's policy of having a tie-break at 6-6 in every set, including the last, is a better option. One of these is Greg Rusedski, the former British No 1, who said: "They are always trying to speed up the sport but this rule potentially creates an extra 12 games, which is a whole set. I think a tie-break at 6-6 creates more drama and it has the added advantage that players will be less tired for the next round. A whole extra set will take the legs away even more."

This was certainly the case when Anderson lost a toenail after playing a pair of demanding matches back-to-back. If his Wimbledon semi-final was agonising, the quarter-final against Roger Federer – which ended at 13-11 in the fifth – had been almost as exhausting. Understandably, Anderson then found it difficult to produce his best tennis in a subdued final against Novak Djokovic, which he lost in straight sets.

It will be interesting to see whether the Australian Open and the French Open, two tournaments which have no finish line to their deciding sets, follow suit. Pressure is likely to be applied by the leading players, as this is seen as a welfare issue. Repeated exposure to matches that last over four hours can have a debilitating effect.

While men's singles matches tend to dominate this debate, the rule will also apply to the women's draw, and to doubles as well. In the case of the women, however, it is highly unusual for a final set to last into double digits, because the incidence of breaks of serve is significantly higher.

For a real epic to develop, you need someone like Isner, who has won 92 per cent of service games across his career, but only 11 per cent when returning. Put a pair of big servers on the same court and a weird logic can develop. As Mats Wilander, the seven-time singles major winner, said this year: "The problem is that as you keep going through these matches, your energy runs low. And then you start to focus just on holding your own serve, which means that the chances of a break drop, and the whole thing just lasts longer and longer."

Boris Becker, the former Wimbledon champion, was just one of many positive responders yesterday. In a message posted on his Twitter page, he wrote: "Excellent decision from Wimbledon to introduce tie-breaker at 12 games all in final set! Anderson/Isner/Djokovic/Nadal/Williams/Kerber and all tennis fans around the world will applaud this rule change!"

As for Isner, he posted a one-word message – "Wimbledon" – accompanied by a video clip of a WWE wrestler emerging from a coffin. The meaning was somewhat opaque. But given that Isner, like Anderson, backed a 12-12 tie-break in the immediate aftermath of July's semi-final, we can only assume that his visual reference to "The Undertaker" signified excitement.

The Telegraph, London

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