New Aussie Open rule nixes never-end­ing fi­nal sets

First ma­jor of the year — and Wim­ble­don — join U.S. Open in lim­it­ing long, back-and-forth end­ings.

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich

Andy Rod­dick knows a thing or two about play­ing a ten­nis match that just won't seem to end.

The Hall of Famer once won an Aus­tralian Open quar­ter­fi­nal that ended 21-19 in the fifth set. He also lost a Wim­ble­don fi­nal against Roger Fed­erer that went to 16-14 in the fifth set, a 2009 epic that Rod­dick says was “def­i­nitely the one I hear about the most and talk about the most and kind of think about the most.”

Those types of fi­nal sets are on the way out at Mel­bourne Park and the All Eng­land Club. The Aus­tralian Open and Wim­ble­don are fi­nally do­ing what the U.S. Open started do­ing decades ago: putting an end to fi­nal sets be­fore they get out of hand.

While some fans, and even play­ers, might still like the idea that a match could go on and on and on for­ever — or seem­ingly for­ever — count Rod­dick among those who are just fine with the switch. One out­come is that each of the four Grand Slam tour­na­ments now will re­solve their length­i­est matches in a unique way, with the Aus­tralian Open — which be­gins to­day in Mel­bourne — the only one opt­ing for a first-to-10, win-by-two tiebreaker at 6-all in a men's fifth set or a women's third set.

“You look back and ev­ery­one re­mem­bers those matches fondly, so I'm a lit­tle bit torn, but as a con­sumer of the sport, you have to know, at least within a sem­blance of a cou­ple hours, how you'd even get through your day if you want to watch ten­nis,” Rod­dick said.

“Ten­nis is be­com­ing more and more and more phys­i­cal,” the 2003 U.S. Open cham­pion said, “so I'll miss the long matches, but I think it's a pos­i­tive change.”

Al­ready a sub­ject of de­bate af­ter John Is­ner beat Ni­co­las Mahut in a 70-68 fifth set at Wim­ble­don in 2010, the is­sue reached a tip­ping point at the same tour­na­ment last year. Is­ner lost to Kevin An­der­son in a 26-24 fifth set in the semi­fi­nals, push­ing the con­clu­sion of No­vak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal into the fol­low­ing day and leav­ing An­der­son com­pro­mised for the fi­nal.

“What John and Kevin did was amaz­ing, but it was also im­pos­si­ble for a viewer to watch. It put the tour­na­ment into a real tough spot with No­vak and Rafa not be­ing able to fin­ish that day,” Rod­dick said. “It causes a whole lot of prob­lems.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, Is­ner and An­der­son both ap­pre­ci­ated the ad­just­ment.

“If they could name it, they prob­a­bly would name it af­ter me,” Is­ner joked about the new rule at Wim­ble­don, which calls for a first-to-seven, win-bytwo tra­di­tional tiebreaker if a fi­nal set reaches 12-all, in­stead of the stan­dard 6-all. “I per­son­ally do think it's the right call. Chances are, it will not come into play next year for me — we do know it's a pos­si­bil­ity — or for any­one else. When that does hap­pen, I think it'll be in­ter­est­ing to see how fans re­act.”

Also worth watch­ing is how the dif­fer­ences in each ma­jor's set­ups are viewed.

The U.S. Open is stick­ing with its first-to-seven, win-by-two tiebreaker at 6-all, which was in­tro­duced in the 1970s.

The French Open, mean­while, is now the only Grand Slam tour­na­ment to con­tinue to es­chew fi­nal-set tiebreak­ers en­tirely and make play­ers con­tinue to com­pete un­til some­one wins by two games.

“Ul­ti­mately, it's a bal­anc­ing act be­tween el­e­vat­ing the unique­ness of each event, ver­sus com­pro­mis­ing on the uni­for­mity of rules and po­ten­tial clar­ity for fans,” ATP Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Chris Ker­mode said.

His coun­ter­part at the WTA, CEO Steve Si­mon, would pre­fer more con­sis­tency across the Slams, but he likes the idea of re­duc­ing fi­nal sets, be­cause, “I don't think that matches that go ex­traor­di­nar­ily long are healthy for the sport.”

The old setup at the Aus­tralian Open and Wim­ble­don cre­ated prob­lems for ath­letes, with­out a doubt. And some spec­ta­tors, whether in the sta­dium or at home on a couch, surely wished they could have fast-for­warded to the fin­ish.

Si­mon is among those who think there still will be room for plenty of drama.

“For the fans, they've al­ready watched five hours of ten­nis, so they don't want to sit through an­other, po­ten­tially, hour or two hours. They want to see an end­ing. And they want it to be ex­cit­ing, you know?” said De­nis Shapo­valov, a 19-year-old Cana­dian seeded 25th in Mel­bourne. “When you saw Is­ner and An­der­son, I just felt aw­ful for them. It's not even ten­nis any­more. It's just who can sur­vive the long­est. And even if they win, the next round, there's no chance.”

AARON FAVILA/AP

De­fend­ing Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Roger Fed­erer serves dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, Sun­day.

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