AP Images

Australian Open: New rule nixes never-ending final sets

Leave a comment

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 Monday 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-by-two 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.”

Federer off to winning start in bid for 10th Halle title

Getty
Leave a comment

HALLE, Germany (AP) Roger Federer began his bid for a record-extending 10th Halle Open title with a 7-6 (1), 6-3 win over Australia’s John Millman on Tuesday, with defending champion Borna Coric also advancing.

Federer, who lost to Coric in last year’s final, hit nine aces and saved the only break point he faced to beat Millman in 1 hour, 17 minutes.

Federer next faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who defeated French compatriot Benoit Paire 6-4, 7-5 at the grass-court tournament.

Federer already has the best grass-court record in the Open era with 18 titles, and the 37-year-old can set a personal record with his 10th at a single event in Halle.

Federer and Tsonga played only once before on grass, with the French player coming from two sets down to win at Wimbledon in 2011.

The fourth-seeded Coric defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 7-6 (2), 6-3 and will next face Portuguese qualifier Joao Sousa in the second round.

Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, who won the Stuttgart Open on Sunday, defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-4 for a second-round meeting with compatriot Andreas Seppi.

Seppi beat Mats Moraing 6-4 (7), 6-4.

Other winners Tuesday included Roberto Bautista Agut, David Goffin, Richard Gasquet, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Jan-Lennard Struff.

Top-ranked Osaka gets 1st-round win in Birmingham on grass

Getty
Leave a comment

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) A day after saying she was “not really that comfortable” playing on grass, top-ranked Naomi Osaka needed three sets to get past her first-round opponent at the Birmingham Classic on Tuesday.

Osaka lost the second set to Maria Sakkari of Greece before recovering to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, for only her 11th tour-level victory on grass.

“I was kind of screaming on the inside during that entire match,” Osaka said in her on-court interview. “I got lucky a little bit, I guess.”

Osaka has yet to make it past the third round at Wimbledon, which starts on July 1.

“I felt better than the two practice days,” Osaka said. “And I feel every day that I play on grass of course I’m going to learn how to play better, but for now I’m just really happy I was able to win that match.”

Osaka needs to reach the final in Birmingham to guarantee holding on to top spot in the rankings heading into Wimbledon.

“During my entire clay season, it kind of mattered and I think it showed because I was kind of stressed out the entire time,” she said. “So, now, I’m just having fun. I’m enjoying it. And I know that if I play well, then I’ll be No. 1.”

Osaka will next face Yulia Putintseva, who defeated Britain’s Harriet Dart 6-1, 6-4.

Rain washed out much of the schedule Tuesday, with second-seeded Ashleigh Barty – the newly crowned French Open champion – among those who will have to try again on Wednesday.

Julia Goerges recovered to defeat Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 while former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko eased past Wimbledon junior champion Iga Swiatek 6-0, 6-2 and will now face Johanna Konta.

Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic set up a first tour-level meeting with her twin sister, Karolina, by defeating Viktoriya Tomova 6-3, 6-4.