#9 – John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut
6-4. 3-6. 6-7. 7-6. 70-68.
One of those scores is not like the other. One of those scores does not belong.
For three remarkable days, two unknown tennis players captured the world in a fascinating battle of wills. Just a quick rundown by the numbers, which, as Mahut said after the match, “speak for themselves.”
– At a time of 11:05, it is the longest match in history.
– The 5th set clocked in at 8:00. The longest set in history, by far. In fact, this set was longer than the 2nd-longest match in history (that was a 2004 French Open 1st round match that ran at 6:33).
– They played a record 183 games. 138 of them were in the 5th set. Nothing comes close – not even before the tiebreaker rule was introduced.
– The aces… oh my, the aces. By the middle of the 5th set, these guys were dragging their feet, barely able to move. So of course the ace numbers piled up. It ended up Isner 113, Mahut 102. Both are 1-2 in the record books for most aces in a match. Ivo Karlovic sits in 3rd with a paltry 78.
– They played 118 games on June 23, the 2nd day of the match. To put that in perspective, Serena Williams played just 129 games total en route to her 4th Wimbledon title this year.
The scoreboard broke, stuck at 47-47 in the 5th set. IBM informed Wimbledon officials this was because it was only programed to go that high (they fixed it very quickly).
Eventually, darkness overcame the English sky once again, and both gladiators retreated to ice baths and massages tied at 59 apiece. Fellow American Andy Roddick came back with buckets of food for Isner to help him recoop the calaries and energy he lost. Isner claimed that he “could have ate twelve Big Macs” that night.
“This is beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” said Roger Federer after the sun had set on Day 2. “It’s absolutely amazing. I have almost no words anymore watching this. …when I was watching this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was too much.”
“Well, what can you say about that?” chimed in Novak Djokovic. “I am very surprised. Everyone’s watching it in their locker room, everywhere.”
“I wanted a final verdict, win or lose,” said Isner about the end of Day 2. “I didn’t want to sleep on it.” But sleep (and eat) on it he did.
By the time the two embattled warriors re-entered Court 18 the next day, the small side-court bleachers were buzzing with anticipation. After 20 more games and an hour and five minutes more of grueling tennis, Isner claimed victory. He fell on the ground, and then walked to the net and embraced Mahut, who had a look of frustration on his face.
Mahut was clearly upset after the match. But can you blame him? “It’s really painful,” Mahut said after the match. “I thought he would make a mistake. I waited for that moment, and it never came.”
“It stinks someone had to lose,” said Isner. The world agreed. Isner went on to fall in straight sets in the 2nd round of the tournament, and also pulled out of the doubles portion. He had an up and down year, injuring his ankle along the way and ending the season outside the top 20. Mahut, whose long road to qualify for Wimbledon was a story in itself, failed to qualify for the US Open. Yet their three-day battle on the English grass of Court 18 will never be forgotten. And we’ll never see anything like it again.