What was the most important tennis moment of 2018?
JANE VOIGT – @downthetee
Hands down, the winner of this category is the end of the semifinal match between John Isner and Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon. The match was a gross display of player sacrifice never intended for the game. This stark-raving mad five-set grind was the longest in Wimbledon’s storied history at 6 hours, 36 minutes, ending 26-24 in the final set, which, by the way, lasted over three hours.
The match thankfully killed off any qualms about the scoring of the fifth set that any morally awake tennis official could have tucked in the back of his mind. If this match didn’t shove the All England Lawn Tennis Club into the here-and-now, the second semifinal of the day certainly did. The battle between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic covered two days, extending from Friday into Saturday, due to wacky scheduling devised by Wimbledon personnel and the archaic rules the tournament adheres to, set forth by the Village of Wimbledon, that require matches to cease at 11 p.m.
As a result, beginning in 2019, a fifth-set tiebreak will determine the winner of a match when the score reaches 12-12. Following Wimbledon’s lead, The Australian Open also changed its scoring recently. At 10-10 in that major’s fifth set, a tiebreak will commence. “The longer tiebreak still allows for that one final twist or change of momentum in the contest,” said Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director, as reported by Stuart Fraser of The Times of London. Roland Garros has not changed its scoring to date, leaving it the only one out of the four majors to still require players to play out the last set. Perhaps pressure from the other majors will bring it to present-day demands.
These adjustments are an admission that without players there is no Wimbledon or Australian Open or any tournament for that matter. It sounds naive but isn’t. Anderson was so badly damaged from the Isner match — physically and mentally — that he was but a shadow of himself during Sunday’s final at Wimbledon and lost in straight sets to Djokovic. Wimbledon is the brand tennis bases its existence on. Not only did that final disappoint Anderson and fans worldwide, it dirtied tennis.
On the bright side, pain can be a touchstone. The disgrace of that tournament and the unforgiving final turned out to be a launching pad for needed change. With any luck, maybe pain won’t precede the next cycle of change tennis needs to address. There are many changes tennis has to make.
MERT ERTUNGA – @MertovsTDesk
I had the pleasure (some would call it torture) to watch the Kevin Anderson-John Isner Wimbledon semifinal live on Centre Court from beginning to end, minus bathroom and quick snack breaks – yes, they were necessary in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes. The match ended in Anderson’s favor, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 26-24. The first three sets provided many sequences filled with quality tennis, in the way that was not expected with the two big servers on display. Interestingly enough, Isner should have won the first set and Anderson should have won the third, both ending the other way.
It was not, however, the content of the match nor its duration in itself that made me pick the match as the most important moment of the year. The aftermath is what magnified this match. Isner, who put into question the validity and wisdom of playing the fifth set out at Wimbledon in 2010 after his famous 70-68 fifth set marathon against Nicolas Mahut, helped seal the death certificate of the extended fifth set by also taking part in this epic fifth set against Anderson that lasted two hours and 50 minutes. (Isner’s 18-16 loss in the fifth set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2016 kept the discussion fresh.)
It is not a stretch to say that the American single-handedly brought on – or at least expedited the arrival of – the rule change at Wimbledon that will require a tiebreaker at 12-12 in the fifth set beginning in 2019. At the end of that Friday in July, most tennis experts knew that the extended fifth set at Wimbledon was destined for oblivion. It only needed to be “officialized,” and that came in December.
Yet, that was not the only consequence of that semifinal match. The length of the match also disrupted the schedule, not allowing the second semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to end on Friday due to the late start. Furthermore, due to some epic failures on the part of organizers at Wimbledon when they had to reshuffle the Saturday schedule to fit the rest of the Djokovic-Nadal match, the tennis world experienced one of the biggest mayhem-filled days of 2018 in terms of apoplectic reactions (too many to detail in this write-up) to the maligned Saturday schedule.
I am fairly sure that the ramifications of that “Friday the 13th” moment will be remembered and mentioned more than once in the upcoming years at Wimbledon.
ANDREW BURTON – @burtonad
Most Important Moment, Honorable Mention Edition, goes to the moment Marian Vajda told his missus not to hang up when she told him, “Novak Djokovic is on the phone, and he says it’s important.”
Vajda deservedly got the ATP Coach Of The Year honors for helping the former World No. 1 to regain his mojo, win two majors and regain the top ranking after looking like a chap who had forgotten how to tennis at Indian Wells and Miami.
But the most important moment was the ITF’s decision to end the Davis Cup.
The ITF has replaced the five-rubber, five-set, three-day home-and-away competition with another tournament to be played over one week among 18 countries in one location, playing three-set matches at the end of the season, which the ITF swears will attract all the world’s top players.
The ITF calls this event a “Davis Cup,” hoping to trade on tennis fans’ memories of “the Davis Cup.” Journalists, commentators and social media participants had told the ITF that something needed to be done, and the ITF went and did something, in conjunction with a group headed by a soccer player promising loadsamoney for the sport. To be fair to the ITF, the challenges posed by the modern attritional ATP game and its calendar are hard ones, but my personal view is that this decision will be seen within three years as horribly flawed.
MATT ZEMEK – @mzemek
The Anderson-Isner match was hugely important, as was the decision to “reform” Davis Cup, which essentially amounted to the ending of Davis Cup (at least for now). Yet, as significant as those moments were, they were merely the products of pent-up forces which were going to spill out at some point. If 2018 didn’t produce those moments, 2019 or 2020 were going to do so.
Moreover, the U.S. Open already had a final-set tiebreaker, so it’s not as though Anderson-Isner broke new ground in the sport. That match broke new ground at Wimbledon and, one can argue, at the Australian Open. The tiebreaker situation and the larger questions about uniformity of procedure (or lack thereof) at the four majors remain uncertain and fluid. This is a story with more chapters waiting to be written.
As for Pique Cup (my unofficial label for the new Davis Cup, which really isn’t Davis Cup at all), let’s see if this new format gains any traction. Five years from now, it could become a total bust, and this shift might be nothing more than a brief blip in tennis history.
To me, then, the most important moment of 2018 – the kind of moment which carried a more permanent mark (even though its ultimate place in the sport will be shaped by the coming years) – was Novak Djokovic’s win over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semifinals.
Nadal was THISCLOSE to winning that match, but Djokovic served immaculately and brilliantly when placed under the cosh, to borrow a term from Andrew Burton. The five-set win over Rafa was much like Roger Federer’s five-set win over Nadal in the 2007 Wimbledon final. That, too, was an immensely significant match. Eleven years later, Wimbledon created a cruel dose of déjà vu for Nadal. On the flip side, Djokovic used this win to complete his comeback from injury and uncertainty in the first half of the season. Without this win, Djokovic would not have become World No. 1 at the end of the season. He wouldn’t have been the ITF World Champion or the generally acknowledged player of the year on tour.
Nadal would have won his 18th major. Djokovic might not have gained the confidence boost needed to finally win Cincinnati and complete his Golden Set of Masters 1000 titles. This result rippled not just through 2018, but through the larger pages of time… and it offers both Djokovic and Nadal a memory they will wrestle with when they meet again at a major tournament, possibly at Roland Garros in 2019.
Djokovic-Nadal in the Wimbledon semis was hugely important strictly in its relationship to tennis history… and yet beyond that, it was also the focal point for a lot of fan criticisms about the use of a roof, and the policies a tournament is allowed to implement for matches suspended and carried over to a second day of play. It was also a sore spot for people who felt that the women’s final should have been scheduled first on that Saturday, at a set time, instead of in the “to be followed by” slot on the order of play.
This match contained a million different talking points. No match from 2018 reached into so many different elements of tennis tension or controversy as this one did.