Posted by: Paul | June 24, 2010

59 All

Nicholas Mahut and John Isner feel the strain

Far more than England finally winning a World Cup game yesterday, the sports story of the moment is one of those things which can only happen in tennis, and is why I love the sport so much. Yesterday evening two players left Court 18 at Wimbledon having stepped onto it seven hours earlier – and that’s having done the same the previous evening after playing the first three.

Three hours is normally on the long side for a men’s 5-set match. Locked at 2 sets all, France’s Nicholas Mahut and American John Isner went into the locker room on Tuesday night expecting to come out the following day to conclude their match in perhaps another hour. After all, the fifth set at Wimbledon is the last place on the Grand Slam circuit where you have to win by two clear games. Surely someone would make the break in normal time?

Ten games all came and went. Then at twenty I thought ‘this is an incredible match, how long before they take the record for the longest game ever? Surely that won’t be broken?’ Thirty games all. Forty. Fifty.

All records smashed. Ace totals eclipsed. At 59 games all, Mahut declares he can’t see the ball anymore and asks for play to be suspended. I was surprised it was Mahut, as he looked the fresher – Isner was clearly dead on his feet, not able to run for the ball anymore and relying on his powerful serve to carry him through. But Isner wanted to carry on, and since they could not agree the umpire called a welcome halt to proceedings – not least welcome to himself, having only got out of his chair once to replace the net sensor in seven hours.

They ran the equivalent of four marathons, apparently. When they return this afternoon – after two ladies matches which will be over in the blink of an eye by comparison – they will in game number terms be at 5-5 in their fourteenth set. I salute these two incredible athletes whose record will never be broken – for surely now Wimbledon will introduce a tie break in the final set?


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