By Randy Walker
The longest tie-breaker on record was played last weekend.
Except, it’s not on record.
The talk of the tennis world on Monday – particularly on Twitter – was of a 70-point tie-breaker played Sunday between two members of Monaco’s Davis Cup team in the third round of qualifying at the $10,000 USTA Futures event in Plantation, Florida – Benjamin Balleret defeating Guillaume Couillard 7-6 (36-34), 6-1. The tie-breaker was 20 points longer than the previous longest tie-breaker on record, which was, according to THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, a 50-point (26-24) tie-breaker in a Wimbledon doubles match from 1985.
The only “problem” with the Balleret-Couillard tie-breaker is that there is, technically, no real “record” of it.
After word of the epic tie-breaker was distributed via social media from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), I sent an email to David Littlefield, the USTA/ITF Tour Supervisor on site at the event, to get more details on the historic match, such as number of set points each player had, how long the tie-breaker was in length of time and any other stats that could be mustered. The official chair umpire’s scorecard is always the official record of any tennis match that is played.
Littlefield reminded me in his return email to me late Monday night that the Balleret-Couillard match was only a qualifying match in a Futures event, the lowest level tournament in pro tennis and, as he wrote, “all matches in qualifying are played without any chair umpire or any lines people. The players call their own lines and the matches have a few ‘roving’ certified officials that watch several courts at once and may be called on from time to time to settle any disputes between the players. There is no ‘official’ record of the match, such as a scorecard, no total time of the set, nor any way to know the number of set points any of the players had in the course of the tie-break.”
He went on to write that the now famous tie-breaker was witnessed by spectators and that the players are true professionals who “would not just make up a score for the hell of it.”
Couillard tweeted that he had 11 set points in tie-breaker, meaning that Balleret had at least 19 set points.
Balleret is 29 years old and currently ranked No. 636 after posting a career high ranking of No. 204 in 2006. That year, he qualified for his hometown ATP tournament in Monte Carlo, defeating former top-five player Jonas Bjorkman in the final round of qualifying. Couillard is currently unranked, held a career-high ranking of No. 569 in 2002 and is 37 years old.
According to the authoritative THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS book ($35.95, available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257707?tag=tennisgrancom-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0942257707&adid=087RCZKNYEKKPGGYZJW3&&ref-refURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tennisgrandstand.com%2F ) the longest tie-break on record – 50 points – came in the first round of Wimbledon in 1985 when Michael Mortensen and Jan Gunnarson defeated John Frawley and Victor Pecci 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (26-24). The full list of the longest tie-breakers from the Collins’ book is found below.
38 – (20-18) Roger Federer d. Marat Safin 6-3, 7-6 (20-18), semifinal, 2004 Tennis Masters Cup, Houston
38 – (20-18) Bjorn Borg d. Premjit Lall 6-3, 6-4, 9-8 (20-18), first round, 1973 Wimbledon
38 – (20-18) Andy Roddick d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7 (18-20), 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 6-3, first round, 2007 Australian Open
38 – (20-18) Goran Ivanisevic d. Daniel Nestor 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (20-18), first round, 1993 US Open
38 – (20-18) Jose Acasuso d. Bjorn Phau 7-5 7-6 (20-18), first round, Toronto, 2006
38 – (20-18) Goran Ivanisevic d. Greg Rusedski, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (20-18), semifinal, Queens Club, 1997
40 – (21-19) Emmanuelle Gagliardi d. Tara Snyder 6-7 (19-21), 6-1, 6-1, second round, Madrid, 1999
50 – (26-24) Michael Mortensen and Jan Gunnarson d. John Frawley and Victor Pecci 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (26-24), first round, Wimbledon, 1985
42 – (22-20) Nicole Pratt and Bryanne Stewart d. Corina Morariu and Rennae Stubbs 7-6 (5), 7-6 (22-20), first round, 2006 Amelia Island