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- John Isner and Kevin Anderson played a six-hour match in the Wimbledon semifinal due to a fifth set that refused to end.
- While the match was tense, it was far from compelling, with both power players simply blasting serves past one another and trading service in the final set.
- The match could not end due to a quirk of Wimbledon and two of the other Grand Slams – the fifth set cannot end in a tiebreaker.
John Isner and Kevin Anderson simply refused to lose.
With a spot in the Wimbledon final on the line, the two power players beat each other to a standstill in a match that stretched almost seven hours.
In front of an exhausted London crowd that was still awaiting a far more anticipated semifinal match to come – Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic – Anderson eventually got Isner to blink, breaking his serve and going on to win, but needing 50 games in the final set that eventually ended, 7-6(6), 6-7(5), 6-7(9), 6-4, 26-24. Between them, the two players combined for 102 aces and just six breaks.
While one might think that such a closely fought match was an enthralling display of athleticism, as the game teetered back and forth in the fifth set, the opposite was true. Isner and Anderson, both giants capable of enormous serves, just kept blasting the ball past each other, trading service and sides of the court as the rules dictated, but rarely ever competing in a compelling rally.
The reason the match went on for so long comes down to one of Wimbledon’s quirks – a five-set match cannot end on a tiebreaker, a tradition shared at the French Open and the Australian Open.
While the U.S. Open would have a 6-6 fifth set end in a tiebreaker race to win by two, with every point building in importance and drama, Wimbledon uses advantage sets and insists that you must break your opponent’s service game and win the set by two games to win the match. In most cases, this is still a compelling finish, but when you put two heavy-hitting goliaths against each other, what results is a six-hour slog that can cause delays across the tournament.
The second semifinal of the day, pitting Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic, was easily the most highly-anticipated match of the tournament so far – and its start was delayed well over three hours as the city of London waited for either Isner or Anderson to blink.
It’s not the first time that Isner has played to a marathon match – back in 2010, he defeated Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(7), 70-68 in the first round at Wimbledon in a match that lasted over 11 hours and was played over three days.
As it became clear that Isner was due for another endless fifth set, tennis fans were far from delighted.
— Luke Fritz (@LukeFritz64) July 13, 2018
— Samantha Quek (@SamanthaQuek) July 13, 2018
Patrick McEnroe, who was in the booth for the match, argued that there needed to be some change to prevent such a long match from happening again.
Patrick McEnroe pulling no punches on ESPN's broadcast of Isner vs. Anderson, at 15-15: "There needs to be a tiebreak at some point in the final set. For the crowd, for the players, for you watching at home, for the other players. For the good of the game, is the bottom line."
— Ed McGrogan (@EdMcGrogan) July 13, 2018
Wimbledon’s lack of a fifth set tiebreaker in one of the things that makes the major unique. While Isner’s match back in 2010 was a fun side note that helped garner interest in the tournament for fans it might not usually reach, to have a never-ending saga played in the semifinal doesn’t look great for the sport.
Anderson will play again in the final on Sunday – hopefully there, a winner will be decided in four sets or less.