Thomas Cielinski and Alan Kuhn of Tennis OC should be grateful for tie breaks. Otherwise, like the storied match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who played an 11 hour, 70-68 5th set match at Wimbledon in 2010, they, too, may have made a crazy kind of history. It was that close--three tiebreak sets: 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. It was Tom’s first victory in the 10 matches he and Alan have played to date.
Tie-break sets are now nearly universal in all levels of play, even in final sets. But that’s not so at all of the Grand Slams. Tie-breaks are not used in the final set in the Australian Open for singles, French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics, Davis Cup, or Fed Cup. The US Open is the only grand slam to use a tiebreak in the final set for singles. The Australian Open and French Open do, however, use the final set tiebreak for men's and women's doubles. (Toward the end of this article, you can learn about the evolution of the tie break, which has had mixed reception in the world of professional tennis.)
In fact, such a close match is quite rare in TLN history. This is the just the 3rd time in nearly 100,000 matches that a three tiebreak match has been reported to Tennis League Network. Moreover, it hasn't been done in more than four years. The match between Tom and Alan was not only a battle, but it was also a watershed event for Tom, who was the victor for the first time in the ten matches they have played. So does it matter that it was a close match? Not to Tom of course. A win is a win.
Here’s the story according to Tom (Alan left it to Tom to provide the blow-by-blow commentary). While he is proud of his win, you will see that he is somewhat modest.
“The match was three hours long, as are all of the matches that I have played with Alan. We have played each other three times per season, with him winning the previous nine matches in a row.
“During our recent marathon match, the second set tie breaker turned in my favor when people entered the court next to us to start playing. This may have distracted Alan for a brief moment. As a result, he sent a forehand long. The result was that I took the second set. Admin's Note: They probably should of played a let.
“ The third set was more of the same. Alan continued his wall-like form, never missing, but never going for too much. Given that it was the middle of the day, he may have worn out down the stretch, since his wall technique requires a lot of energy.
“Finally, he lost the third set tie breaker when I sent a forehand winner up the line rather than cross court, which may have surprised him. After a warm embrace at net, we sat and enjoyed Tustin's best tap water. In addition to my two handed backhand, my best shot was the first serve; Alan’s is his serve which he calls ‘the swerve.’ It’s simply unreturnable.”
Sounds like it was one helluva match, doesn’t it? Tom sums it up this way: “The Kuhn simply can't be beat without playing a 3 hour match, six bottles of water and a note from him to my wife indicating I was playing and not cheating on her.” Admin's Note: Simply amazed it was only 3 hours. These guys are all about just starting the next point.
Strong Opinions about Tie Breaks.
Not everyone agrees on the wisdom of tie-breaks, which makes them somewhat controversial. Steve Tignor, a writer for Tennis.com, changed his stance on the subject after Olympic tennis. He explains it this way:
“The recently concluded Olympic tennis changed my mind on this issue, but my main reason for embracing the final-set tiebreaker is not the obvious one that would be cited by most time-sensitive television producers. The real problem with deuce sets is that when a match goes as long as Federer v. Delpo or even Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v. Milos Raonic (that one went 25-23, for Tsonga) the reward for the winner's heroic feat is almost always a quick subsequent loss.
For example, “After the storied 70-68 win over Mahut at Wimbledon, Isner lost to No. 46 ranked Thiemo de Bakker in the second round. Isner got five games in three sets. After Paul-Henri Mathieu knocked off heavily favored Isner, 18-16, in the fifth at Roland Garros earlier this year, he lost his next match to No. 23 Marcel Granollers.
The tiebreak was invented by James Van Alen in 1965 after an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to speed up the game by the use of his so-called Van Alen Streamlined Scoring System (VASSS). For two years before the Open Era, in 1955 and 1956, the United States Pro Championship in Cleveland, Ohio was played by VASSS rules. The scoring was the same as that in table tennis, with sets played to 21 points and players alternating 5 services, with no second service. The rules were created partially to limit the effectiveness of the powerful service of the reigning professional champion, Pancho Gonzales. Even with the new rules, however, Gonzales beat Pancho Segura in the finals of both tournaments. Even though the 1955 match went to 5 sets, with Gonzales barely holding on to win the last one 21–19, it's reported to have taken 47 minutes to complete. The fans attending the matches preferred the traditional rules, however, and in 1957 the tournament reverted to the old method of scoring.
Impetus to use the tiebreak gained force after a monumental 1969 struggle at Wimbledon between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell. This was a 5-set match that lasted five hours and 12 minutes and took 2 days to complete. In the fifth set the 41-year-old Gonzales won all seven match points that Pasarell had against him, twice coming back from 0–40 deficits. The final score was 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9.
In 1971 the tiebreak was introduced at Wimbledon when the score in any set except the final set reached 8–8 in games.
In 1979 Wimbledon changed their rules so that a tie break would be played once any set, except the final set, reached 6–6 in games.
In 1989 Davis Cup adopted the tie-break in all sets except for the final set.
In 2001 the Australian Open replaced the final set of mixed doubles with a match tie-break (first to 10 points and win by 2 points wins the match). Despite some criticism of the change by fans and former pros, the US Open and the French Open have since gone on to join the Australian Open in using the same format for mixed doubles. Wimbledon continues to play a traditional best of three match with the final set being an advantage set.
Tie-break sets are now nearly universal in all levels of play, even in final sets; however, the tie-break is not a compulsory element in any set, and the actual formatting of sets and tie-breaks depends on the tournament director in tournaments, and in private matches on the players' agreement before the match begins. Tie-breaks are not used in the final set in the Australian Open for singles, French Open for singles, Wimbledon, the Olympics, Davis Cup, or Fed Cup. The US Open is the only Grand Slam to use a tiebreak in the final set for singles. The Australian Open and French Open do, however, use the final set tiebreak for men's and women's doubles.