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Men's Grand Slam tennis is taking longer than ever
Match durations have increased nearly 20 percent in the past two decades
When you think of long tennis matches undoubtedly Nicolas Mahut vs. John Isner comes to mind. Those two played the longest match in history— an 11-hour, five minute slog — at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
But while no single match has outlasted Mahut-Isner, the overall duration of men’s Grand Slam matches has only increased in the past couple decades. The average length has increased from about 2hr 20min in 1999 to more than 2hr 40min in 2022. That’s an uptick of nearly 20 percent; and this year’s matches are on pace to be even longer.
Roland Garros has the longest contests lasting almost three hours each, followed closely by the US Open, which has increased at a higher rate than the other majors. The average Australian Open (163 minutes) and Wimbledon (152 minutes) match doesn’t take quite as long, but has nevertheless increased in the intervening decades as well.
The Athletic wrote a great piece ahead of this year’s Wimbledon digging into why this phenomenon is happening.
In part it’s because it’s are harder to finish points than ever before. Players and experts point to several factors such as improved player conditioning, slower balls and slower surfaces which result in more rallies and longer points. Other rules changes like allowing for sit downs between points, medical timeouts and bathroom breaks have also contributed.
While match lengths have increased for the men, who play a best-of-five set format in Grand Slams, the women’s game hasn’t gotten that much longer.
Women’s grand slams averaged 98 minutes per match in 2022 vs. 94 minutes in 2016.That being said, Ana Bogdan of Romania and Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko battled for three hours and 40 minutes in the third round of this year’s Wimbledon— the second longest ladies’ singles match ever played at Wimbledon in the Open era. Tsurenko eventually won 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, but not after a 38-point third set tie-break. It was the longest tie-break at any of the four Grand Slams ever.
Other sports, like baseball, have made a conscious effort to speed its games up. Tennis has too, but with lesser success. So if you’re going to watch tennis in the modern era, be prepared to settle in for a long match. It’s probably best to do it with a cup of Pimm’s if you happen to be watching in an English garden too.
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From Wikipedia: “In total, the match took 11 hours, 5 minutes of play over three days, with a final score of 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 for a total of 183 games. It remains, by far, the longest match in tennis history in terms of both duration and number of games. The final set alone was longer than the previous longest match.”
The Athletic wrote about this a few weeks ago and calculated matches are lasting on average 2hr 54min this year.
Independent tennis analyst Jeff Sackmann has done research showing the speeds of various surfaces tennis is played on have converged. Serve-and-volley tennis in the men’s game was popular in previous decades but has given way to more rally-based tennis, which has effectively lengthened tennis matches.
I could only get timing data back to 2016 for women’s matches.