The match featured American rising star John Isner, and French underdog, Nicolas Mahut. It all started on Tuesday evening at 6:13 pm. At 9:07 pm, at a score of two sets all after almost three hours of play, the match was suspended due to darkness. At this point nobody had any idea of what would transpire when the two returned to the court to battle out the fifth set on Wednesday.
Unlike the US Open, Wimbledon does not allow games to be decided in a fifth set tie-break, and matches continue until somebody wins by two games. This rule allowed for last year’s spectacular Wimbledon finals to take place with Roger Federer taking the fifth set 16-14 against Andy Roddick and capturing his sixth Wimbledon championship.
On Wednesday afternoon at 2:05 pm, Isner and Mahut took the court to resume action starting in the fifth set. After an incredible 7hrs 5 mins of play, the score remained tied at 59-59 in games. Without any winner being decided yet, the match had already broken previous records for longest match, longest set, most games in a set, most games in a match, most aces by one player, and most total aces in a match. Once again the light became an issue and at 9:10 pm play was once again suspended until the next day.
On Thursday, as the gates to the Wimbledon grounds opened, fans raced all the way over to court 18 to try and catch a glimpse of history, as Isner and Mahut would be resuming their battle in the afternoon. At 3:23 pm, play resumed with tennis legends such as the great John McEnroe in attendance. After another 1 hour and 5 minutes of play, bringing the total length of the match to an incredible 11hrs 5mins, Isner managed to break Mahut’s serve and take the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68.
Following the match, British tennis legends Tim Henman and Ann Haydon-Jones presented John Isner, Nicolas Mahut, as well as the umpire, Mohamed Lahyani with special awards including crystal bowls and champagne flutes.
It is hard to even describe how epic this match was as it was so far off anything that has ever happened in the sport. I challenge anybody to find another game or match in the history of any other sport that broke this many records by such great margins.
To put things into perspective, one could have flown half way across the world from Toronto to London at the start of the match, taken the train to Wimbledon and still been able to catch a significant part of the fifth set, without even taking the suspended parts of play into account.
For those conspiracy theorists who believe that the match might have been “staged”, you clearly did not watch the match. The shots being hit by each of the players were incredible and many which could not have been returned by any player on tour. Throughout the 11 hours, Isner was able to maintain an average first serve speed of 123 mph. The two continued to battle it out and give everything that they had until the final point. There was never any sign of somebody not trying or giving it all they had. It would even be impressive for two people to attempt to stage something like this as the margin for error is so little that even after 11 hours of play, they must continue to get their serves in with force and keep their mind in the game.
During the second day of play, the scoreboard stopped working as it was only programmed to go up to 47-47 and turned off for the rest of the night. Even the online scoreboard reset at 50-50 and people were asked to add 50 games to the score in the fifth set of the match. IBM staff were able to reprogram the scoreboard for the continuation of play on Thursday.
Some of the incredible records that were set include:
- Most games played in a match – 183. (Previous record – 83)
- Longest match in duration – 11hrs, 5mins. (Previous Record – 6hrs, 23mins)
- Most aces by a single player. Isner – 112, Mahut – 103. (Previous record – 78)
- Total aces in a match – 215
- Consecutive service games held – 168 (84 for each player)
- Most points won in a match. Mahut – 502
- Most games won in a single match. Isner – 92
- Most winners in a single match. Isner – 246
One fact that many people are not aware of, is that in the qualifying rounds, Mahut was victorious in a deciding set that went to 24-22 which allowed him to qualify for the main draw. After the second day of action, both players took cold baths to relax their muscles and each only managed to get a few hours of sleep. It was reported that Andy Roddick helped his fellow American John Isner by acting as his pizza delivery man and bringing him three boxes of pizza for dinner on Wednesday night.
After the match, John McEnroe said, “This is the greatest advertisement for our sport. It makes me proud to be a part of it. We often don’t get the respect we deserve in tennis for the athletic demands it places on players, but this should push that respect way up”
Isner was knocked out in the second round by Theimo de Bakker 0-6, 3-6, 2-6 and pulled out of the doubles due to fatigue.
Other than Isner being written into the record books and being involved in a match that will never be forgotten, I believe that there is a great future ahead for this 25 year old American. Although this match will most likely hurt him in the near future as it will take a number of months to recover from, there are many positive things to look forward to in his future. He is currently ranked 19th in the world, but there is no doubt that there will be a lot of work put into his return of serve after he struggled with it in this match. With his incredible serve and strong two-handed backhand, I can see him entering next year’s Wimbledon tournament ranked as a top ten player.
This match was one for the ages and even though the second week of the tournament is not yet underway, it has already become one that will not soon be forgotten.