BBC News | Wednesday, 23 June 2010 | 20:17 GMT
John Isner and Nicolas Mahut tore up the record books as their epic first-round contest at Wimbledon became the longest in tennis history. The match was locked at 59-59 in the final set after 10 hours of play when it was suspended because of bad light. The decision meant that, incredibly, the contest would go into a third day, having been called off at two sets all on Tuesday for the same reason. It will resume on Court 18 on Thursday after two other singles matches. The final set, which began shortly after 1400 BST on Wednesday and was still going seven hours later when the sun went down, is already longer than any match ever played. Isner, with 98, and Mahut (95) have also both smashed the previous record for the most aces, the 78 set by Ivo Karlovic in a Davis Cup tie in 2009.The previous longest match was at the French Open in 2004, when Fabrice Santoro beat Arnaud Clement after six hours and 35 minutes.
The longest at Wimbledon had been the famous battle in the days before tie-breaks between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell in 1969, which took five hours 12 minutes and finished 22-24 1-6 16-14 6-3 11-9 to Gonzales. There was no indication of the drama that was about to unfold when Isner and Mahut resumed on Tuesday afternoon locked at two sets all. But fans quickly crammed into court 18 – capacity 782 – as word spread about the historic contest and every possible vantage point outside was taken. Mahut, from France, had his first break points of the entire set at 50-50, but Isner, 25, dug deep into his reserves to save both. The 6ft 9in American had two match points himself at 33-32 and another at 59-58, all of which Mahut managed to fend off. Towards the end, the umpire’s voice was going, rallies had become collectors’ items and the scoreboard was broken because it could not cope with the alien numbers. Just after 2110 BST, Mahut complained that he was having difficulty seeing the ball and the decision was taken to suspend play.
Initially the crowd, desperate to see the match through to its conclusion, booed and chanted "We want more!" but as the players left they were given a huge standing ovation – a fitting tribute to two gladiators. Isner was out on his feet. Unsurprisingly, his doubles match with Sam Querrey, scheduled to take place on Court 10, had been cancelled. While Isner was almost delirious, Mahut, 28 and ranked 148 in the world, looked remarkably fresh, perhaps boosted by the knowledge he had won a match with Britain’s Alex Bogdanovic in qualifying 24-22 in the final set. Before they headed off for a well-earned rest, the players were grabbed by the BBC’s Phil Jones for a final word on an astonishing day. Mahut said: "We’re fighting like we have never done before. We’ll come back tomorrow and see who is going to win this match. Everyone wants to see the end." Isner added: "He’s serving fantastic, I’m serving fantastic. Nothing like this will ever happen again." The eventual winner will play Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands in the next round, who was involved in another marathon battle with Santiago Giraldo, before coming through 16-14 in the final set – although that match lasted a mere four hours and six minutes.
In a week of records, Novak Djokovic’s first-round match against Olivier Rochus was the latest-ever finish at Wimbledon, while Taylor Dent’s 148mph serve against Djokovic in round two was the fastest recorded at the All England club. After his match against Dent had finished, Djokovic was asked about the Isner-Mahut contest and said all the players were watching it in the locker rooms. He added: "I’m amazed they could both hold their serve that comfortably all day. It’s unbelievable. Maybe they should have agreed to play a tie-break at 50-all!" Six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, whose earlier second round win over Ilija Bozoljac was eclipsed by events on court 18, added: "I love this! I don’t know if I was crying or laughing. It was too much." And British number one Andy Murray also had his say on the match, via his Twitter page, commenting: "This is why tennis is one of the toughest sports in the world; this will never ever be matched again."