Fifth Set Tie-breakers?

Wimbledon’s governing body, the AELTC, said “the time had come” to introduce a tie-break method at “a reasonable point” in a deciding set.  But, did they get it right?  And what about the other majors?

Playing TWELVE more games?

The Wimbledon solution to crazy matches like the Isner/Mahut 70 games to 68 games final set is to continue playing at six games all, unless/until the players reach twelve games all (i.e. another 12 games in the fifth set).  And then, the winner will be the first player or team to reach seven points with an advantage of two or more points.

“While we know the instances of matches extending deep into the final set are rare, 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 time frame,” said AELTC chairman Philip Brook.

The Other Majors

The US Open is the only one that plays the tie breaker at six games all in the fifth set.  The French and the Australian still have an open-ended fifth set.

My opinion?  Not only should they all play a match-ending tie breaker at six games all; but I even question the need/interest in watching five full sets go on for four or more hours.

What do YOU think?

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

17 thoughts on “Fifth Set Tie-breakers?

  1. As a viewer my attention span is way shorter than 5 sets. If I were a tournament director, 5 set schedule adjustments would have me drinking midday. If I were an ATP professional, I would see 5 sets as career shortening events. I’m surprised the ATP Players Council hasn’t taken a stronger position on this. Five close sets in the modern area of long punishing rallies is not in the players’ interest.

  2. I think 12-12 is too long. I would have liked a TB at 8-8. Go through one more rotation of serve and then TB. Going to 12-12 is extending the match another hour; ENOUGH!!

  3. The traditional slam best 3 of 5 set format no longer makes sense to me – the benefit of the better player having more of a chance of winning by weathering a “zoned” period by the lesser player is offset by the physical toll on the body from that endurance contest.
    Modern players have adapted extremely well to the baseline oriented, longer points by utilizing vastly improved training methods. The strength, flexibility, and aerobic training available today combined with better nutrition awareness and medical, surgery improvements have made the increased longevity we are seeing possible. Yet, the 5 set format left over from another time creates too much of an endurance contest element with physical wear and tear determining the results too frequently.
    One interesting trend I notice is that some, many past top tennis players often guide their athletically gifted children into golf, baseball etc – sports with more longevity being the norm. I have no statistic backing up that observation but, if true, is very telling.
    It is similar to my value of having played and enjoyed football but did not want my sons playing the game – risk reward versus other good alternatives did not compute.
    Maybe it is time to streamline the game making it less of a spectator endurance contest, making doubles play with singles more feasible, and prolonging the top players careers.

  4. As football would say “Cmon Man” no TB in the fifth or after 12 all. Are they kidding? At 6 all in the fifth have the players not played enough tennis? Where are the players on this? Don’t they care? Maybe have the women play at 12 all since they only play max three sets.

  5. Wimbledon is the only Slam which gets it right – sensible scheduling – daylight only unless it’s a close finish under lights on the Centre Court, no need for the middle Sunday even with no limit final Sets, & best of 5 Sets in Men’s Doubles, all the Quarters onwards played on the same day. Usually it’s all about who is playing – just look back & check some of the great matches played by our Aussie heroes, frequently well into double figures per set. Boring ? I don’t think so. On the other hand if it’s Isner v Querrey or Anderson or Karlovic, let’s make it best of 5 tie-breaks ! Better still, in their case let’s head out for a glass or two of Pimms !
    Having said all that I agree with the AELTC – 12 all in the final Set is a reasonable compromise with tradition.

  6. I agree that everyone should play a TB in the final set at 6-6 – and agree that 3 sets is plenty to watch. I’d even be OK with 2 full sets and a first-to-10 TB instead of a full third.

    Those long extended matches may be interesting to watch (recorded, so you can fast-forward), but you know the winner is going to lose in the next round anyway. Keeping the matches shorter seems to me to be in the best interest of players, fans, and tournament officials/scheduling.

  7. I’m surprised that TV hasn’t had an impact on this. Some great 5 set matches are simply way too long for the average TV audience.

  8. The best of five sets format was begun in another era when 1) three of the four majors were played on grass, 2) serve and volley was the predominant style and points were, indeed, shorter than they are today where probably 95% of all players now using a mainly baseline style, 3) racquet and string technology and overall player fitness were not as advanced as they are today, nor was there as widespread parity among players generally as there is now, which also contribute to much longer rallies and points today, and 4) the techniques for seeding and maintaining grass tennis courts, not to mention the types of grasses that are used themselves, were far less conducive to a baseline grinding style of play than exists at present.

    Also, going back even earlier in time, it used to be the rule at least at Wimbledon (but I think most if not all of the other three majors practiced this as well) that the defending champion actually did not have to play a single match during the entirety of the tournament, except to play a five set final against the challenger who managed to vanquish all other challengers to reach the final.

    The result is that while playing five sets in the majors may have made sense in the past, it kind of seems like an anachronism today. And this is especially true when everything else in our lives has speeded up to the point that we all just generally have less time available, tennis players included. Also, it really does seem sexist that, at all four majors, the best of five set anachronism only applies to the men but not the women, even though women have pushed for — and have largely gotten — parity with the men in terms of prize money, promotion, etc.

    So the bottom line is I think the four majors should be giving serious consideration to scrapping the best of five set format for men entirely, and retaining that for women, and moving to a best of three set format for everybody. Then, if Wimbledon wants to allow tiebreakers only after 12 games are played in the third set while the other tournaments do differently, so bet it. But I agree with others that enough is enough. I am all for tradition and all of that, but when circumstances change the game itself must evolve to keep up.

  9. I don’t know how anyone can watch a 4-5 hour tennis match, live. How about making all majors 3 sets, but the final set requires winning 8 games? Tied at 8 games all in the third set, play a 10 point tiebreaker instead of a 7 point? So the max games to win (not including tiebreakers) would be shortened from 30 games to 20 games. Same for men and women.

  10. Did you watch the NEX T GEN ATP Finals? They played 3 out of 5, 4 Game Sets. At 3 all in games they played tie breakers. This makes for many more pressure (exciting) points. And shortens the matches significantly. I remember trying this years ago in College matches.

  11. I agree with you 100% George. Four or Five hours is way to long to sit and watch an athletic event. What happened to the saying leave them wanting more. That makes more sense them give them everything they everything.

    The Grand Slams use to be played on clay and grass. Now 3 of them are on cement. What does that kind of do to the players bodies. The points are far more physical and the surface is far less forgiving. Injuries are are tearing up some of the best players in the world. Lets make the matches 2 out of 3. Better for spectators and players.

    Randy Beerman

  12. What bothers me most is that we have these thoroughbred athletes, trained for the toughest competition, and then we grind them down physically and shorten their careers. (why not have horses run an extra mile if they’re neck and neck at the finish line?)
    Also, the one who wins staggers to the next match with barely a possibility of winning it.
    I think the majors should be 2 out of 3 sets with regular tie-breakers.

  13. I agree with Chuck Kinyon. I just watched The NEXTGEN finals. Great! I watched most of the matches in entirety played throughout the tournament. Also…

    No linespeople. Yes!

    No ballboy or ballgirl towel servants. Yes!

    No let serve. Yes!

    ATP and the Slams should adopt some of these innovations, if not all of them. Soon!

  14. What was the TV, internet venue for watching the NEXTGEN event – maybe can catch replay?

    Winder, some (not all?) was on Tns Channel. george

  15. I don’t have an issue with trying to shorten the total length of a match, for all of the reasons stated above. My problem is that these abbreviated scoring systems favor the big server. Is that what we really want? Maybe on the deciding point the server should get only one serve. That might level the playing field for short people like me.

    Having said and read about these long matches being so hard to watch, is anyone complaining about the length of baseball games these days?

    Jim, Baseball is even boring on fast-forward! george

Comments are closed.