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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Explained: Why does tennis have a problem with marathon matches?

The Giustino-Moutet match is now the second longest ever at the French Open, and the fourth longest match in Grand Slam history in terms of time.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: October 5, 2020 10:07:02 am
french open, french open 2020, french open schedule, Giustino-Moutet match, longest tennis match, tennis marathon matches, indian expressLorenzo Giustino beat Corentin Moutet in a 6 hour, 5 minute match at the French Open. (Twitter/@olympicchannel)

The six hour, five minute-long first round French Open match between Italy’s Lorenzo Giustino and Frenchman Corentin Moutet has once again triggered the debate about long court battles undermining tennis’ growth. With the French Open being the only tennis major that doesn’t have a last-set tie-breaker, Giustino’s 0-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(3), 3-6, 18-16 win pushed the day’s schedule past midnight. It meant a long and frustrating wait for those wanting to watch three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, who was to take court after the Giustino-Moutet tie.

Broadcasters in general dread these long first round matches between lesser known players since they spoil programming, often eating into the time slotted for the day’s big ticket feature matches involving stars.

How long was the Giustino-Moutet match compared to others?

The Giustino-Moutet match is now the second longest ever at the French Open, ending 28 minutes short of Fabrice Santoro’s six hour, 33 minute win over Arnaud Clement in the 2004 edition. It is also the fourth longest match in Grand Slam history in terms of time.

The 34 games in the final set — which alone lasted over three hours — levelled the record for most games played in the deciding set at the French Open, along with the second round match between John Isner and Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2012, and the first round encounter between Julien Benneteau and Facundo Bagnis in 2014.

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Do long tennis matches affect the schedule?

Yes, especially in the early rounds — which was the case on Monday — when there were a lot of matches scheduled to take place on specific courts.

The order of play, published a night before, essentially lines-up matches to take place one after the other on a specific court. If one match goes on for long/ the subsequent one has to be delayed.

After the Giustino-Moutet game, three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber was due to play on Court 14, but had to be delayed. Meanwhile, the last match scheduled on that court, between Arantxa Rus and Clara Burel eventually had to be shifted to Court 7.

Before rules were put in place to restrict the duration of the deciding set at Wimbledon, the 2018 Wimbledon men’s singles semi-finals between Kevin Anderson and Isner went on for six hours and 36 minutes. It was the first game on Centre Court and pushed back what was the marquee clash on that day — the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic semi-final. Consequently, spectators weren’s too pleased and one fan was heard yelling, “Get a move on, I came here to see Rafa,” during the first semi-final.

Back at Wimbledon 2010, Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest match in tennis history, that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, and the final set score read 70-68 to Isner.

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What are the rules for the deciding set in different Grand Slams?

Though the French Open does not impose a tie-breaker in the deciding set — fifth set for men and third for women — the remaining three majors have set a deadline.

At the Australian Open, at 6-6, a Super Tiebreak — first to 10 points with a difference of two determines a winner. At Wimbledon, a regular tie-break (first to seven points with a difference of two) is played after 12-12 in the deciding set. Both these Grand Slams introduced their respective rules from the 2019 season.

The US Open, meanwhile, enforces a tie-break at 6-6 in the deciding set.

How do long tennis matches affect players?

The physical exertion takes its toll.

The winner of a long match has historically struggled to recover in time for the next round. From 2000 till the 2018 season, 28 men’s singles matches at Wimbledon had gone beyond 20 games in the fifth set, and on only one occasion did the winner of a marathon contest win his subsequent round.

“My feelings, I don’t know,” Moutet said after his match. “We played a really long match. I don’t feel anything in my body right now. I feel empty.”

Have authorities tried experiments to shorten matches and make the game more viewer friendly?

Yes. One prominent, and often controversial, addition has been the shot clock. Players are to start a new point 25 seconds after the previous one, and to enforce this, venues have added a countdown clock. Once time runs out, the offending player is issued a warning.

In doubles on the ATP Tour, there is a no ad-rule. Which means when the score reaches deuce, the next point decides who wins the game — there will be no ‘advantage’. This rule, however, is not implemented in Grand Slams.

When time is called after the warm-up, players have a minute to get into position, failing which a ‘Start of Match Violation’ (warning) is issued.

One of the biggest changes made was when the final of each ATP 1000 Masters event were cut down from five to three sets.

Ahead of the 2018 ATP NextGen Finals, organisers also dabbled with a few more experiments, such as the no-let rule — where the ball is considered in play even if the serve clips the top of the net and falls over — and a shorter format — a best of five set match where a set is won at four games, and if the score is 4-4, a tiebreak ensues.

The no-let rule and shorter format are, however, not used on the tour currently.

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