Saturday 25 January 2020

Calls for rules tweak as fatigue threatens to sully showpiece

'Kevin Anderson and Djokovic (p) will both be shattered today.' Photo: AFP/Getty
'Kevin Anderson and Djokovic (p) will both be shattered today.' Photo: AFP/Getty

Kevin Mitchell

In one obvious respect, such grand and bloody battles are theatre best endured from the paid seats. It is not dissimilar to watching a boxing match or a dinner party gone horribly wrong. However, the hurt endured by both participants and voyeurs also drains the spirit.

Rafa Nadal extended his overnight struggle against Novak Djokovic into a fifth set. The women would have to wait - just as Nadal and Djokovic had to twiddle their thumbs on Friday night.

After four hours yesterday, the old adversaries were as close as they had been for most of the 52 matches they had contested over 12 years: two sets all and two games all in the deciding set. This did not look good. Actually, it looked very good. The quality of their exchanges was on a par with the brilliant tennis they had played under the roof the previous evening, before the curfew kicked in at 11.0.

Winner and loser of that extraordinary exercise in bloody-mindedness called for the All England Club to abandon their attachment to history and introduce a tie-break in the fifth set of men's matches, which would have reduced their time on court by at least a couple of hours.

It might also have allowed Nadal and Djokovic enough time to win the second semi-final on the designated day.

Instead, Kevin Anderson and Djokovic will both be shattered today. After two weeks of rare sunshine, this is not an ideal way to determine the winner of the championship.

It is not beyond the wit of intelligent committee members, surely, to deliver on it. It would meet with almost universal approval, and there is every likelihood it will be implemented, perhaps next year. There is only so much obstinacy one tennis tournament can stand.

The roof remained in place on a warm, bright Saturday afternoon because, as Tim Henman all but confirmed, Djokovic could not agree with Nadal to play in the fresh air. The All England Club committee member and four-times semi-finalist here said it was as much a convention as a rule that the roof should thus stay in place, to protect the integrity of the contest.

However, like the reluctance to implement a final-set tie-break, this is a view predicated on convenience. Historically, Wimbledon has had an uncanny knack of getting the thing done, even during dreadful weather over the fortnight. Rain hit just once this fortnight, almost the perfect non-storm.

Djokovic and Nadal pretty much saved the tournament with a great semi-final - after an equally wonderful quarter-final between Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro. Now it is up to Djokovic and Anderson to bring it to an uplifting conclusion.


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