“7 Days in Hell,” HBO’s newest original special, is a tennis mockumentary that has everything: umpires dropping dead, on-court sex scenes and excessive drug use. The film takes place during a fictional 2001 Wimbledon first-round match—“The longest match ever played”—that turns into an endless marathon, slowly chugging beyond 100 games-all in the fifth set. But the HBO comedy doesn’t have to look far for inspiration when its backdrop is the absurdity of never-ending fifth sets.

Marathon Men: Endless five-setters rightly mocked by '7 Days in Hell'

Marathon Men: Endless five-setters rightly mocked by '7 Days in Hell'


Adam Samberg plays Aaron Williams, an American bad boy with a drug addiction and unruly, blonde wig (ring any bells?). His opponent, Charles Poole, (played by Game of Thrones actor Kit Harrington) is Great Britain’s only hope, with a dry personality and little charisma (again, bells ringing?).

The French Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon all support tiebreaker-less final sets. Technically, matches can go on indefinitely. Look at the 2010 first-round Wimbledon saga between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. That match took over 11 hours and was played over three days, ending 70-68 in favor of the American. The fifth set alone was longer than the previous record for longest match. They almost deserve a cut of the profits.

While that match was a feat of strength and determination (and deserves a place in history), it was also an excessive amount of time and energy. Isner won just five games in his next match. Five-setters are already grueling tests of stamina; having a never-ending marathon loom after five full sets is borderline ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as “7 Days,” but still.

The US Open is the only Slam to embrace a final-set tiebreaker. On many levels, it’s just more efficient. Scheduling matches becomes more predictable, especially for television, and it keeps fans (and players) more engaged. Having a sudden-death format, like a soccer shootout, instantly boosts tension and excitement.

“I think it’s quite fun to have the tiebreaker in the fifth set for the people, for the crowd, even for the player even when you lose,” Stan Wawrinka said at the US Open in 2011. “At the end it’s quite different. It’s something special here.”

Jimmy Van Allen, the founder of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, came up with the tiebreaker in 1965 to quicken the game and help with television planning. His scoring system has been adopted across the sport, for the most part.

"It's a big debate. I guess a tiebreak is like a bit of a penalty shootout in soccer for us," Roger Federer said, at Wimbledon in 2013. "You know, anything can happen. I don't want to say necessarily the worst or the better player wins, but it's sort of a bit open. That's why the long set is a good idea sometimes.”

Federer has played some of his best matches in marathon five-setters in Wimbledon finals, including his 2008 classic against Rafael Nadal. But he also pointed out the physicality of a marathon matches costing players a chance at the title, which is exactly what happened to Isner in 2010.

Fans obviously want to get their money’s worth, but the monotonous dragging on of a tiebreak-less fifth set can often hurt the quality of the game and certainly damage the players’ bodies. The pros have played and beaten each other more often using tiebreak sets, so why not do away with the ridiculousness and let HBO come up with its own storylines?

Follow Nina on Twitter at @NinaPantic1.