June 24, 2010


By now you all know the story.

History was made and re-made yesterday at Wimbledon. Longest match? Almost nine hours. Longest set? More than six. Aces? A hundred and ninety-two. Total points? 877. Breaks of serve? Two. Duration? Two days.

And counting.

Twenty-fourth seed John Isner was taking on qualifier Nicolas Mahut in his first round match at the All England Club. He got off to a good start on Tuesday, winning the first set, but he was broken in the second and Mahut pulled even. The Frenchman also took the third in a tiebreak before Isner drew level again in the fourth. After about three hours and with the sun setting just after nine London time, play was suspended for darkness.

It was actually one of three matches that were called that day -- Thiemo De Bakker and Santiago Giraldo had also just finished their fourth set while Daniela Hantuchova and Vania King had battled through two tiebreaks themselves. And as play resumed Wednesday, one by one, we started to get resolutions. The ladies finished up fairly quickly as the Slovakian earned a 6-3 set. The first set of gentlemen took a little longer, needing thirty games before De Bakker earning the right to advance.

But of course it was the action on Court 18 that had everyone enraptured well into the evening. In a match with so few breaks of serve, both gentlemen continued their strong games. But as usual at Wimbledon, there are no tiebreaks in the fifth set, and when the men -- Mahut, the elder at twenty-eight -- reached six all, they kept on going.

I can remember the match in milestones. Isner was serving first, so ostensibly had the advantage of winning whenever -- if ever -- he broke his opponent. He had match point at 10-9, but Mahut survived. It was somewhere around that point that the U.S. scored its game-winning goal in its World Cup match against Alegeria -- I hoped somehow the win would telepathically insprie John to bring home another big win. But play continued. fifteen-all, twenty-all, Bob Bryan tweeted a prediction that the match would end at 30-28. At 33-32 Isner had two more match points, but again Mahut proved resilient. Suddenly it was forty-all -- that's not a deuce, that's forty games each. And it kept on going. At fifty-nine all the match was called for a second time due to darkness, sending it into a third day -- strange that the sun was the culprit at a tournament which is so often rain-delayed.

Neither man had many looks on the other's serve. A surprising amount of games were won at love or fifteen. Isner, in fact, only won seventeen percent of his receiving points in that set, Mahut about twenty-three, though the Frenchman ceded eleven double faults to John's three. Maybe a sign of exhaustion, maybe one that these guys were just that good.

Their colleagues certainly thought so -- Andy Roddick, Lindsay Davenport, Victoria Azarenka were among the many expressing their praise and awe of these two guys. It certainly is a shame that someone will lose -- a bigger shame that the winner may not advance much further. But at a time when all the sports world is focused elsewhere, it sure is nice to grab a little of that attention back.

The match resumes shortly -- resumes, I say, and not concludes. Who knows how much longer they'll go?

Or how much more history they'll make.

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