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Viewpoint: New Tiebreak Rule Is A Welcomed Change

Oct 26th 2018

The men's and women's seasons may be close to winding down, but the various governing bodies are continuing to mull over changes and enforce others.  One such change that the All England Lawn Tennis Club announced late last week was the decision to begin using tiebreaks to decide the final set when the score is at 12-12.  The new rule is slated to begin with the staging of The Championships next year, and it is a change that the other three majors should strongly consider adopting.

To put it simply, Wimbledon's decision to enact this rule is the perfect compromise.  Although there have been some fans and commentators who have urged the other slams to follow the example of the US Open, which currently employs a tiebreak at the traditional scoreline of 6-6 in the final set, there were too many other voices in opposition to that notion.  Tiebreaks are often more like a shoot-out, and with the slams being the pinnacle of the sport, there is something satisfying about seeing a victor have to come through by virtue of winning by two games instead of pounding down a handful of aces to be the first to reach seven points.  With Wimbledon's new rule, players will be given the equivalent of one more set to gain that coveted two-game advantage before having to resort to a tiebreak, which is a compromise that many on both sides should be able to get on board with.

Although there are apt to still be some unhappy people on both sides of the fence, the change Wimbledon is introducing is also right for this time in the sport.  The game continues to be ever-more physically demanding than it was even a few decades ago, and as great as some players might feel in the immediate aftermath of a marathon victory, it is not uncommon for the gas tank to be empty, leading to a dud match in the following round.  Television rights are also a component that helps drive tennis, so being able to better gauge matches from a scheduling standpoint is also a positive.  Subsequently, it aids the players set to contend the match that follows as well, as they will know a definite finish line is on the horizon when matches go long.  And while there are apt to be plenty of fans perfectly content to sit through a match from start to finish, not every extended match is a classic.  Some merely go the distance, because they feature a pair of huge servers, a pair of poor returners, or a combination of the two, meaning that while the match may go long, the quality could easily be lackluster.

Aside from all of these benefits, it would be wonderful to see the other three majors adopt this rule for the sake of uniformity.  As noted, the majors represent the four greatest prizes in tennis.  Each already has its own feel.  Each presents its own challenges in terms of court conditions, weather conditions, and overall atmosphere.  But when it comes to scoring, the criteria for ultimately being crowned a Grand Slam Champion should be uniform, irrespective of if players are hoping to achieve that dream in Melbourne, Paris, London, or New York.

There is no telling what discussions may be had in the upcoming offseason and whether or not the other slams will follow Wimbledon's lead.  For sure, some folks are going to lament the lost opportunity to see some of the instant classics that have unfolded on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon, but times demand change.  This decision by the All England Lawn Tennis Club is right in step with that recognition, and next year's edition of The Championships could be all the richer for it.