Saturday, June 26, 2010

They'll Always Have Court 18

[June 23 - "The Match on the Edge of Forever"]

There's a point in some seemingly (and gloriously) never-ending moments in athletic competition when sport effortlessly transforms into spectacle. Today was one of those days.

When American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut returned to Court 18 on Day 3 to complete the 5th set of their suspended match from yesterday, they had no idea that history had a special corner of immortality reserved specifically for them.

The All-England Club has given us many men's tennis memories over the years, and they just keep on being presented to us on a silver serving tray. In 1980, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe combined to produce what many have long considered the greatest tie-break ever in their 18-16 4th set battle in the final. In 2008, Wimbledon gave us "The Greatest Match Ever Played" between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the Men's title. A year ago, Federer and Andy Roddick played the "Greatest Set Ever" in that 16-14 5th in the championship match. Today, it was "The Longest Match Ever Played."

There were times today when you looked at the scoreboard in the 5th set and were briefly overtaken by a fit of giddy laugher. You hardly believed what you saw, and part of you never wanted it to end. 16-16. 28-28. 39-39. 47-47. 59-59. You just had to shake your head.

Oh, things could have taken a different turn. Isner held four match points today, including two in a row at 33-32. Mahut held two break points at 50-50, his first in the match since yesterday. Isner had MP #4 at 59-58, exactly twenty-four hours after this match had been suspended for darkness on Tuesday. Isner didn't allow a break of HIS serve, and Mahut hit an ace of his own to extend the match on the American's fourth match point. At 9:10pm London time, the match was suspended yet again with the score knotted at 59-59 in the 5th. The crowd's chant of "we want more" went unaddressed. But we WILL get more... only it'll be tomorrow..

More of Mahut leaping and crashing to the ground. More of Isner digging himself out of trouble with his pulverizing serve. More holds of serve. More exceptional sportsmanship. More of a little taste of everything that can be right and good in sport. Round and round they'll go. When they'll stop, no one really knows.

Is the century mark in games being necessary to win even remotely possible? It's easy to laugh at the thought, but so was the notion that this match would be suspended again for darkness when there were two and a half hours of light left earlier today. Yet, here we are.

The numbers, so far, are staggering:

* - Isner and Mahut's two-day match has now lasted nine hours and fifty-eight minutes. Previously, the longest match ever played was 6:33, in the 1st Round of Roland Garros between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement. Today's 5th set alone was over 7:00.

* - a 36-34 set between two guys named Brown in the 3rd Round of a tournament in Kansas City in 1969 had been the all-time record for games in a singles set. With Isner/Mahut already at 59-59, the sky's the limit here.

* - before today, the most games ever played in a single match was 112, in a 1969 Wimbledon 1st Rounder between Pancho Gonzalez and Charlie Pasarell. There were 118 in today's 5th set alone, and there have been 163 in the match.

* - both Isner (98) and Mahut (95) broke Ivo Karlovic's single match record (78) for aces. Isner had 70, and Mahut 69, in the 5th set today. The previous COMBINED record for aces by two players had been 84. They've both INDIVIDUALLY passed that mark, combined for 139 in the 5th set, and have more than doubled the past mark with 193 for the match.

* - so far, Isner has produced 218 winners, while Mahut has 217.

And the match STILL isn't over. Needless to say, it's understandable that the court-side scoreboard literally broke down at 47-47 in the final set. Even technology was at this match's mercy today. If tomorrow never comes, we'll always have Day 3 on Court 18.

Of course, it WILL come. And when it's all finally over, read the scoreboard and weap. Giggle, too. Even stare at it in awe.

We won't be seeing something like this ever again.

June 24 - "Forever and Three Days... plus Eleven Hours, Five Minutes, One-Hundred Eighty-Three Games, Two-Hundred Fifteen Aces and Nine-Hundred Eighty-Two Points"

Well, Court 18's long international moment in the sun finally ended on Day 4. "The Match on the Edge of Forever" was actually completed today.

Hey, all it took was three days, eleven hours and five minutes of match play (1:05 today), 183 games, 215 total aces and 980 points for John Isner to defeat Nicolas Mahut in the 1st Round of Wimbledon.

The end came in game #183, just minutes after #182 had seen Isner serve his way out of a love/30 hole at 68-68 in the 5th set. After having failed earlier in the game to convert his fifth match point of the contest, Isner strung together back-to-back winners to etch his name in the tennis history book when he won on match point #6 to claim the deciding set at 70-68. The final stats say that Mahut won twenty-four more total points than Isner over the course of the twice-suspended marathon, but the American's record-setting 112 aces (compared to the Frenchman's second-most ever 103) provided the edge that got him the victory.

After posing for photos with the once-in-several-lifetimes scoreboard and accepting gifts and momentos from the likes of British past champions Ann Jones and Tim Henman, the two men walked off the court and into immortality. Isner's "activity" page will always say that he was the only official "winner" today, but that's not really true. Mahut, like Isner, won a great many fans over the last few days. But, maybe more importantly, tennis once again showed why a "funny little game" played with stringed rackets and fuzzy balls can be as compelling as just about any other competition you'll likely to find.

See you in another life, brothers.

June 25 - Day 5 Notes

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, John Isner returned to the All-England Club to play his 2nd Round match today against Thiemo de Bakker. Sporting shoulder and neck injuries, plus a nasty blister on his foot, he followed up his longest-ever eleven-hour-plus match and record-breaking 112-ace performance in Round 1 with a straight sets loss (the shortest men's match so far at this Wimbledon) and his first career ace-less match. It goes without saying, though, that we sort of saw this one coming. It tarnishes nothing.

June 26 - Day 6 Notes

It's just the match that keeps on giving.

Even while John Isner had no aces in his 2nd Round loss to Thiemo de Bakker, on the same day, he miraculously picked up one more in his 1st Round match. Further intensive study of "The Match on the Edge of Forever" uncovered that he'd actually tossed in 113 aces rather than the piddling number of 112 that he'd been credited with at the end of the eleven hour, five minute marathon.

All for now.

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Anonymous AnaVar said...

I watched this game. It was really historic! Awesome!

Thu Jul 01, 07:45:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an amazing match. It's great that Isner's getting so much attention for his historic win!

Sat Jul 03, 11:28:00 PM EDT  

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