Fans of any sport remember where they were when special events happened. Basketball fans remember Michael Jordan winning his sixth NBA Championship, football fans remember the New Orleans Saints winning their first Super Bowl and Olympic fans remember Michael Phelps’ historic gold medal run.
Tennis fans, too, have events etched in their minds. My first memorable tennis event happened in 1991. That year, a then 39-year-old Jimmie Connors made a historic run to the U.S. Open semi-finals. Two of his matches lasted until three or four in the morning, and I stayed up to watch it all. At the time, tennis commentators called those long matches marathons.
Little did we know that, almost 20 years later, one match would become the longest match in tennis history, and that the match would not have names like Federer or Nadal. The players would be two men who seem to come from nowhere: Nicolas Mahut of France and John Isner of the United States. Mahut is known for his grass court tennis prowess, and Isner is known for his imposing height and serve.
The match began on Tuesday afternoon and, like the quintessential Energizer Bunny, it kept going and going. Tuesday’s match, suspended due to darkness, resumed Wednesday afternoon. Because Wimbledon does not have tiebreakers in the fifth set, someone had to win the match outright. Both men’s serves were on fire. And, without even a glimpse of a break point, the match was again suspended due to darkness, tied 59-59. As they left the court, Isner looked more exhausted.
By Thursday, the world had heard of the marathon match taking place on the outer courts of Wimbledon. Fans began filling Court 18 at least two hours before the players were slated to hit the court. Finally, Isner had a single match point. He broke Mahut, winning the match 70-68 in the final set. When it finally ended, the men had been on the court three days, 11 hours and five minutes. Both men served more than 100 aces (Isner 111 and Mahut 103). The final score: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68.
At the end of this epic match, Wimbledon gave special gifts to the chair umpire and the two players for providing such memorable tennis. The entire math demonstrated just how well Isner and Mahut were at holding serve, and showed why these two men are players top seeds hate facing in opening rounds. Isner, currently ranked 19th in the world, demonstrated his potential as a top 10 player. Watching Mahut, though, one wonders what’s keeping him out of the top 100.
Years from now, tennis fans will remember what they were doing when Isner and Mahut played an 11 hour tennis match.