In what will go down as the longest, weirdest, craziest and perhaps most unbelievable tennis match in the sport’s history, John Isner of the United States finally closed out France’s Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 on Thursday at Wimbledon.
The first-round match lasted a total of eleven hours and five minutes over three days! After closing out Mahut with a backhand shot down the line, the American collapsed to the grass and threw his racquet in excitement and relief.
The eleven-plus hour battle crushed the previous long of 6 hours, 33 minutes (2004 French Open). The match went on for so long that it was suspended due to darkness for two nights, with play finally continuing at 59-all on Thursday morning.
It took another twenty games and 1 hour, 5 minutes before the 23rd seed finally picked up the win. In all, the fifth set alone took 8 hours, 11 minutes.
“When you come out and play a match like this, in an atmosphere like this, you don’t feel tired really out there,” Isner said, “even though that’s exactly what we both were.”
The match broke numerous records. Most games played with 183. Most games in a set: 138. Most combined aces: 215. The 6-foot-9 Isner finished with a ridiculous 112 aces while Mahut had 103 as both players shattered the previous mark of 78.
“We played the greatest match ever in the greatest place to play tennis,” Mahut said. “John deserved to win. He just served unbelievable.”
In the end, the match featured only three service breaks, with Isner earning one on the final point.
“It stinks someone had to lose,” Isner said. “But to be able to share this day with him was an absolute honour. I wish him nothing but the best, and maybe I’ll see him somewhere down the road, and it won’t go 70-68.”
While the win will go down in sporting history, Isner will have no time to rest as he’ll return to the courts of the All England Club for a fourth straight day when he meets Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands in a long-awaited second-round match.
But after such an epic opening round match, how can Isner even try to play in the second round? His first round match took over eleven hours! Some players who go deep into a tournament may not even play that amount of time for the entire two-week event.
For the physical toll, we caught up with Chiropractor and SportMedBC’s Manager of Performance D’arcey Musselman. She believes it’ll be difficult for Isner to make a lengthy run at Wimbledon after his marathon of a first-round match.
“The physical toll is extreme and it’ll be highly dependent on Isner’s overall fitness level. Tennis matches typically last from 1 – 4 hours, so athletes would not normally prepare physically or mentally for a match of over 11 hours!
For Isner to recover from this opening match, he must rehydrate himself and replenish his glycogen stores as soon as possible. Also his muscular and cardiovascular systems have been taxed to the extreme. Massage, myofascial release, and Epsom salts soak would all help repair some of the damage to the body as well as staying off his feet for as long as possible.
With such a quick turnaround, it’s tough to say whether Isner can rebound in such a short amount of time. A lot of it depends on his conditioning and his ability to recover from such a long match. If his next match requires a lot of maximal intensity and goes to 4 or 5 sets, then it would be tough to pull off another win.”
De Bakker’s first-round match wasn’t nearly as long as Isner’s, but he didn’t get off to an easy start either as his first round match went five sets, winning the fifth 16-14, in a four-plus hour match.