As I sat watching the endless struggle between John Isner and Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon semi-finals, my thoughts shifted to the World Cup and how soccer has dealt with valuing tradition on the one hand and the well-being of its athletes and fans on the other. Let me explain.
At the Grand slam tennis tournaments, with the exception of the US Open, an even final set is not decided by a tiebreaker but by playing it out until one player leads by two games. The argument is that at these important events, tradition and fairness demand that the ultimate climactic moments should be determined by the standard way that sets have been determined throughout history.
The problem is, as seen in the famous three day struggle of 138 games between Isner and Nicholas Mahut some years ago, and now in the more recent match, it becomes a struggle for survival and leaves the winning player decimated and in bad condition to go on, in this case to the most important match of all, the championship.
So the drumbeat will now increase to determine the result the way the US Open does it, by a tiebreaker.
But why not look to the way the World Cup handles its challenges in the knockout rounds? It has found an appropriate compromise. When regulation time ends in a draw, thirty extra minutes are added on, in which time one of the teams can win the game. Indeed, Croatia scored the lead and eventual winning goal during the extra time period against England in the semis of this year’s World Cup.
On the other hand, in a numberof World Cup games, extra time produced no winner. Only then did they turn to the penalty kick system, which offends purists of the game, but which is hugely exciting and produces a result in a reasonable time.
So there’s the solution for tennis, between, if you will, the extremes of the standard method and a fifth set (or in women’s game third set) tiebreaker.
Have a limited overtime, up to a maximum of ten games apiece in which to determine the winner. If by then no winner has emerged, turn to the tiebreaker which is not only exciting but will save the players(and the fans) from exhaustion. The winner will have done it fairly by combining the values of both tradition and modernity and will still have enough left to compete at a high level in the next match.
Of course, there always will be the critics, but fairness and reality dictate a compromise approach.
It has been hugely exciting that the World Cup and Wimbledon havebeen going on at the same time. Now let’s bring them in sync not only chronologically but in how they close out their big games.