Wimbledon’s fifth set warriors

Jul 14 6 min read

6:01 am

_MG_6104 on Flickr by escribileamauro under CC2.0

Eight years after his record-setting 11-hour marathon against Nicolas Mahut, John Isner fought out another five-set epic against Kevin Anderson in a match that spanned across 6 hours 36 minutes. It was Wimbledon’s second longest match, still falling almost four and a half hours short of his 2010 battle with Mahut.
Anderson won the match after taking the final set 26-24. The semi-final took up a major portion the day’s schedule of play, forcing the second semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to be delayed. Nadal and Djokovic played the first three sets before play was suspended. This meant that the winner of the Nadal-Djokovic match would have to play three consecutive days, including the final. 

Yet again, questions were raised regarding the employment of a fifth set tie-breaker at Wimbledon. However, over the years, the grass slam has witnessed some nail biting finishes in the decider which has held the organizers in a dilemma to whether or not change the conventional rule.

Data was collected from 2010 analysing the most successful players in fifth set battles at Wimbledon. The following is a list of ATP players and their win-loss record in at least six five-set matches that they were a part of at Wimbledon.

The seasoned man: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has played eight five-set matches at Wimbledon of which he has won six. The Frenchman’s longest match came in 2016 against John Isner, which lasted for 4 hours and 24 minutes. Tsonga won the match 6-7 3-6 7-6 6-2 19-17. In terms of number of games played, Tsonga’s second longest match win was against Sam Querrey which he won 14-12 in the final set at the 2014 Wimbledon. Tsonga would avenge this loss to Querrey in the 2017 edition of the tournament in yet another fifth-set encounter where the American lost 5-7 in the decider. Andy Murray was the other man who defeated Tsonga in five sets.

2. The triumphant: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has never lost a five set match at Wimbledon in the past eight years. The Serbian’s latest addition to his fifth set triumphs at Wimbledon came against Rafael Nadal, outlasting his rival to take the final set 10-8. In his five set matches since 2010, Djokovic has saved 25 out of the 43 breakpoints he faced. 

3. Better than most: Sam Querrey

Sam Querrey comes in next with a 5-3 win-loss record in five set matches at Wimbledon since 2010. The American won his longest Wimbledon match in the Round of 32 match against the then 16th seed, Marin Cilic in 2012. Querrey and Cilic battled for 5 hours 31 minutes. The Croatian eventually won the match 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-7 17-15. The following year, Querrey played his shortest five-set match against Bernard Tomic. After 2 hours 34 minutes, Tomic won the match 7-6 7-6 3-6 2-6 6-3. In 2014, for the third consecutive year, Sam Querrey was knocked out in a five set match. This time, he lost to Tsonga after the Frenchman won the final set 14-12 in a match that lasted 3 hours 49 minutes. Querrey hasn’t lost a five set match at Wimbledon since.

4. Not too good, not too bad: Marin Cilic & Denis Istomin

Marin Cilic is 4-3 in Wimbledon’s decider set matches since 2010. One of the most shocking upsets during this year’s installment Wimbledon was Cilic’s loss to Guido Pella in five sets after holding a 2-0 lead. Apart from Pella, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are the other two players to defeat Cilic in five sets at Wimbledon since 2010. 

Denis Istomin is another player who is 4-3 in five set matches at Wimbledon in the past eight years. Two of his best five set matches came in 2012. In the first, he outlasted Andreas Seppi to take the final set 8-6. In the Round of 16 match, Istomin lost to Mikhail Youzhny after 4 hours and 16 minutes.

5. On the edge: Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson lost his first ever five set match at Wimbledon to Nikolay Davydenko in 2010. Since then, the South African is 4-4 deciding set matches on the hallowed turf. During the 2018 tournament, Anderson defeated defending champion Roger Federer in five sets, taking the final set 13-11 in the quarter-finals. He somehow managed to back up from that encounter to fight out the second longest Wimbledon match, beating John Isner 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-4 26-24. Anderson has lost his other five set matches on grass to Novak Djokovic, Denis Istomin and Sam Querrey.  

6. At par: Gilles Muller, Jerzy Janowicz

In 2017, Gilles Muller pulled off a miraculous win over Rafael Nadal in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon after clinching the final set 15-13. The match was the longest time Muller had been on court with the clock stopping just short of five hours. The big server from Luxembourg is 4-2 in Wimbledon’s five setter matches. He lost to Tsonga in 2015 and to Cilic in 2017.  

Jerzy Janowicz has not played a five set match at Wimbledon since 2014. The Pole played three five set matches on the trot, eventually losing the third to Tommy Robredo. In 2012, Janowicz played his longest five set match, defeating Ernests Gulbis 9-7. Janowicz lost to Florian Mayer in the next round 7-6 3-6 2-6 6-3 7-5.

7. Threshold: Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco

Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco are 3-3 at Wimbledon’s deciding set matches since 2010. Nadal has lost matches against Lukas Rosol, Gilles Muller and Novak Djokovic in 2012, 2017 and 2018 respectively in five setters at Wimbledon. Rafa’s longest fifth set was against Muller in 2017, which the current World No.1 lost 15-13.

Rafa’s compatriot, Fernando Verdasco is also 3-3 in the five set matches at Wimbledon. Verdasco’s longest Wimbledon decider set match was against Martin Klizan. The Spaniard won the match 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-7 13-11. Verdasco’s other five-set wins at Wimbledon are against Radek Stepanek and Dominic Thiem. Andy Murray, Xavier Malisse and Bernard Tomic are the players who won against Verdasco in the fifth set at Wimbledon.

8. Patchy: Roger Federer, John Isner

Roger Federer is an eight-time Wimbledon champion. However, the Swiss has not been consistent in his fifth set records. The former World No.1 has a less than 50% win rate in fifth sets at Wimbledon since 2010. Federer is 3-4 in the decider set matches and the players that he won against are Marin Cilic, Julien Benneteau and Alejandro Falla. Federer’s recent loss to Kevin Anderson was his longest match at Wimbledon in the past eight years. The Swiss Maestro had lost against Novak Djokovic in the 2014 final in 6-7 6-4 7-6 5-7 6-4. 

John Isner has played the most games by any player in the fifth set of Wimbledon. Ironically, he has also lost most of them. Isner has played a combined total 229 games in the fifth set of Wimbledon. The American came into the limelight after his epic match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010, which he won 70-68 after 11 hours. Eight years later, Isner recorded just his second five set win at Wimbledon. He defeated Ruben Bemelmans 6-1 6-4 6-7 6-7 7-5. Tsonga, Sela, Falla, Cilic and Anderson are the five players who have got the better of Big John in five sets.