Sure, this time he lost, but after setting the unchallenged record for the longest tennis match in 2010, John Isner was again involved in one of the longest matches in tennis history, the final set ending 26-24, and this again happened on the fastest surface, at Wimbledon. And he and Kevin Anderson actually played better and more spectacularly deep in that final set, after seeming largely content to hold their serve for quite a long time. And keep in mind that Anderson did this after another long match in the previous round, when he defeated none other than Roger Federer, not just in five sets, but with 13-11 in the final set and after being two sets down and saving a match point at 5-4 for Federer in set three.
Granted, at six hours and 36 minutes, the Anderson-Isner match is nothing compared to those 11 hours and five minutes Isner played in 2010, but it is nevertheless the fourth longest tennis match, and it was played in a single day, while that one was spread over no less than three days. Second longest is currently the doubles match the Czech Republic won against Switzerland, in seven hours and two minutes, in the Davis Cup in 2013, while third longest is also from the Davis Cup, this time from 2015, when Leonardo Mayer defeated João Souza in six hours and 43 minutes.
The point is that such matches are rare, but they’re absolutely extraordinary when they happen. Yes, shorter matches can be absolutely thrilling, but even a single game, or a single rally, can be thrilling. What happens when a game stretches to such lengths, on the other hand, is something special, and that comes not only from the duration but also, and in fact mainly, thanks to the extended final set, due to the fact that at least the organizers of the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon still have enough sense to not give in and do not implement final set tie-breaks, like US Open unfortunately does. Actually, even at the Australian Open and Roland Garros this extended final set is only allowed for singles matches, doubles even being best of three for men as well, but singles is still the most relevant aspect, so it counts.
So, while now just about everyone else seems to be renewing those infuriating calls for final set tie-breaks everywhere, and when formats like Fast4 start being used more and more, and when in many places you see even the third set replaced with a “super tie-break” played up to ten instead of seven, turning tennis from an endurance sport into something like a series of sprints with a significant element of chance, I’m also renewing my call for removing tie-breaks from the US Open as well, and definitely for ensuring that they won’t be added to the other major tournaments.
While I’m at it, I’d actually call for a change to the scoring rules that’d make it impossible for such a match to be won in a tie-break. Not that I’d mind removing tie-breaks once again for good, of course, but this wouldn’t need to imply that. Instead, it could perhaps involve keeping a double score during a tie-break taking place before the final possible set but at the end of which the match may be won, such a tie-break actually following the current tie-break scoring rules for the one needing to win it in order to stay in the match, but being treated as a regular game for the other. In that case, the one needing to win the set to stay in the match will do so by winning that tie-break normally, but the other could only win a game, scored as if it’d be a regular game, after winning at least four points and having an advantage of at least two.
As an example, if player A is leading by two sets to one and set four gets to six games each, then if said player A gets to 4-2 they will win the game and lead seven games to six in set four, but the set will continue. On the other hand, if player A will not have a two-point lead from the moment they reach four points in that tie-break before player B will get to at least seven points while having a lead of at least two points, player B will win the set 7-6, and set five will start. In case player A wins the game, this scoring system will apply each time the number of games is tied in that set from then on, player A needing a two-game advantage to win the set and the match, but player B only needing to win such a tie-break to win the set.
One other idea could be to introduce breaks, say for 15 minutes, after every 12 games played in the final set, or even after every 24 games, which would make this a rule that’ll very rarely be used, but could spice things up a bit. It would indeed make very long matches even longer, so would likely be even more difficult to implement anywhere but at the major tournaments that have a lot of courts that are also covered and have lighting, and these breaks shouldn’t be counted in the duration of the match, but they would allow not just rest, but would also allow the players to review their tactics and therefore play even better, possibly making these long matches even more thrilling.
But first things first, and that’s to make sure such epic matches will still be a possibility. So please, do not even consider adding a final set tie-break in the tournaments that managed to resist this pressure so far and definitely do not consider implementing some of those even more dreadful systems in any official tournament. Then, if at all possible, remove the final set tie-break from the US Open as well, and also remove those other systems used to shorten matches in the other major tournaments, such as the final set tie-break for doubles matches at Australian Open and Roland Garros and that “super tie-break” instead of the third set used for mixed doubles for example.
Later edit: After what was displayed in the extended final set that the Djokovic-Nadal match also had, would you really give it all up and replace it with a simple tie-break? Admittedly, Djokovic won at “only” 10-8, but that’s not something you could see if this won’t be allowed anymore anyway. Even as it is, it’s something you can only see at a few tournaments each year, and only at Wimbledon does it apply for doubles as well.