Van Alen, who ran tournaments, had experimented with other scoring systems — like a 31-point set — before settling on his “sudden death” nine-pointer, in which the first person to win five points gets the victory. Thus, one point at 4-4 would decide the set.
Arthur Ashe dismissively called it “a kamikaze drill.” It was too short, allowing for lesser players to get lucky.
The nine-pointer, which survives today in World Team Tennis, lasted on the tour until 1975, when the current format was introduced, requiring a player to reach seven points and win by two.
In 2001, a new tiebreaker again reshaped tennis when the Australian Open replaced the deciding third sets of mixed doubles with a “match tiebreaker,” where teams must win ten points (again by two points). The U.S. and French Opens copied that idea, and it was later adopted in men’s and women’s doubles outside of the Slams. (Those doubles matches also adopted no-ad scoring, in which, at deuce, only one more point is played to decide the game.)
“They had to figure out a way to streamline and innovate doubles so the matches wouldn’t delay singles matches and would also be shorter, appealing to more singles players,” Drucker said. “The format is more tidy.”
The next tiebreaker evolution arrived last year. Unlike the U.S. Open in 1970, which dictated tiebreakers in all sets, the other Slams resisted tiebreakers in sets that decided a match. But after Kevin Anderson needed 50 games to beat John Isner in the fifth set of their 2018 Wimbledon semifinal, change was inevitable. (Isner had won an infamous 70-68 set in 2010.)
“In those incredibly long matches, the winner is not able to recover for the next match,” the ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said, pointing out that a weakened Anderson could not compete with Novak Djokovic in the finals, hurting the tournament. “There really was a double loser in the Anderson-Isner match.”