The best tennis matches are often long drawn-out battles that test both the skill and will of players. Not only is their talent and ability tested, but also their endurance and conditioning. Of course, there is always a chance of taking things too far. Just ask John Isner and Nicholas Mahut.
The two played out what is officially the longest ever tennis match in the history of the sport. A first-round Wimbledeon match between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut lasted a total of 11 hours and 5 minutes. And it lasted over a grand total of 3 days. No, really.
The match as it was finally came to an end on June 24, 2010. With 11 years having passed since the end of the match, we look back at a marathon effort from Isner and Mahut that led to rule changes aplenty.
The old format of men’s singles tennis matches in Grand Slams lended itself to long encounters. If any of the first four sets end 6-6, a tiebreaker is duly played to settle who wins the set.
However, there is a catch – the fifth set has no tiebreaker, meaning play goes on until a player can establish a two-game lead needed to win the set.
Just how far matches can go was established in this case – although it is fair to say no one expected this to happen in a first round match, of all places!
Isner qualified for the tournament based on his ranking, and was seeded 23rd. Mahut, by contrast, had to play the qualifiers to make it to the main draw.
He beat Stefan Koubek in five sets, 6–7(8), 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–4 to enter the main draw. He was pitted against American Isner, with their match scheduled for the second day of the tournament.
The match began in expected fashion, with Isner taking the first set 6-4. He broke Mahut’s serve in the ninth game, when the two were tied at 4-4.
The second set, however, saw Mahut fight back. He broke Isner’s serve to love and held on to his own serve to tie the game at one set a piece.
In a prelude of what was to come, neither player dropped a game in the third and fourth set. Mahut won the third set tie-break 9-7, with Isner winning the fourth set tie-break 7-3.
With the game finely poised at two sets each, the match was halted due to poor light. Little did anyone know what was to follow thereafter!
The match resumed on June 23 and broke the record of the longest match ever. Perhaps more frustratingly for Isner, he failed to convert four match points on the day.
Mahut too let his opponent off a little easily at times, failing to convert two break points on seperate occasions. The match went on, and on… and on. Finally it was suspended for a second time due to poor light.
The final set stood at 59-59 and the fans in the stadium chanted “we want more”. Not sure if they were being ironic or they genuinely wanted the match to end, but they got their wish… early next morning, that is.
Amazingly, both would continut to hold on to their serve until the set reached 69-68 with Mahut on serve. With the game at 30-30, Isner managed two straight winners to break serve and finally end the match.
Both players were subsequently praised for their efforts. 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.”
Roger Federer was also left amazed after the match. “It’s so impressive to see. I mean, I was watching this. I don’t know if I was crying or laughing. It was too much.”
Novak Djokovic took things further. “You have to give them credit, both of them. Whoever wins today, I think both of them are winners.”
Amazingly, Isner would play another marathon match at Wimbledon in 2018 – this time, he lost to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. That match lasted 6 hours and 36 minutes.