Commentary: Fifth-set tiebreaks at Wimbledon work – except in championship matches

It’s been four years since I talked about tennis in an opening commentary –after Serena Williams won her 21st Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic reminded me this morning that it’s time to break that streak.

If you haven’t heard by now, they played the longest men’s singles final in the event’s history in an epic match that lasted four hours and 57 minutes. And it should’ve been longer than that, because this was the first year Wimbledon implemented a tiebreaker if any match was still tied at 12 games each in the final set.

And out of of 256 men’s and women’s singles matches, this one was the ONLY one to reach that mark. And it’s an absolute shame. They should’ve let them – in this epic championship match – play it all out as they’ve done for more than 130 years.

Listen, I understand why the folks at Wimbledon implemented the rule. After all, who can forget that match in 2010 that John Isner won 70-68 in the fifth set? It was a match that took 11 hours and five minutes to play over the course of three days. Isner was in another crazy fifth set at last year’s tournament that he lost, 26-24, prompting the decision.

“We feel that a tiebreak at 12-12 strikes an equitable balance between allowing players ample opportunity to complete the match…while also providing certainty that the match will reach a conclusion in an acceptable time frame,” a tournament chairman said in a statement.

I absolutely agree – it was the right decision - unless it’s the championship match. Because the championship match has a greater likelihood of featuring two of the best players. And in this case – two icons and legends of the sport.

I admit I’m not an expert who understands all the nuances of the game, but maybe my perspective as a casual fan is an advantage here. When I see two names like Federer and Djokovic slated to play for a Grand Slam title, to me, that’s must-see TV. And when you see two titans of the game going blow-for-blow for close to five hours, I’m all-in on seeing it to a traditional end.

After all, they’re playing for a championship. Nobody is going to turn away from a title match they know will go down in the record books. And certainly not Prince William – read his lips from the middle of the fifth set.

“That was awesome," he said. And it was. Just like any World Series game that goes to extra innings or a Stanley Cup Final that goes to overtime – you should let them play it out.

Roger Federer is 37 years old. He’s won a record 20 Grand Slam titles, including eight of them at Wimbledon, and here he was, 11 years after an historic title match against Rafael Nadal, still wowing the crowds at the All-England Tennis Club, ready to go whatever distance necessary.

Instead, they put a limit on greatness. They put a deadline on two superstars that wasn’t necessary, and in my opinion, put a blemish on one of the best title matches in the sport’s history.

The most traditional championship broke tradition. And it came at the worst time of all.

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