Belfast Telegraph

No end in sight to epic match at Wimbledon

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut's first-round Wimbledon encounter will go into a third day after a titanic battle yesterday that will go down as one of the most remarkable ever witnessed at the All England Club.

Records tumbled before a transfixed crown on Court 18 as Isner and Mahut ended the day locked at 6-4 3-6 6-7 (7/9) 7-6 (7/3) 59-59, in a match which has already lasted a total of nearly 10 hours.

Both players held their serve for an incredible 118 games in the decider before the enveloping gloom over SW19 brought a halt to proceedings shortly after 9pm.

The match goes down as the longest in grand slam history, and also sets new benchmarks for the most games played in a single set and match, while both players also surpassed the previous record for aces — with Isner claiming a new record of 98 and Mahut hitting 94, also beating the previous best.

Such was the gruelling nature of the contest, even the courtside scoreboard packed up after around eight hours, perhaps unable to cope with the rapidly increasing numbers it was being asked to process.

American Isner, the 23rd seed, and French grass-court specialist Mahut came on court to begin the final set at just after 2pm after they were halted on Tuesday night at two sets all due to darkness.

But no-one could have predicted what would unfold as both displayed supreme levels of concentration to offer up a serving masterclass.

Isner forced match point at 10-9 before Mahut fought back to hold. The American also forced two break points at 33-32 but his gritty opponent once again batted the danger away to maintain the status quo.

An air shot from Isner at 41-41 underlined the extent to which fatigue was beginning to affect the players, although of course the giant American rallied to hold.

In the 101st game, Mahut brought up his first break points of the decider, but in keeping with the contest the American fought back as he again cranked up his formidable serve.

Isner brought up match point at 59-58, but Mahut sent down an ace to see that off before another thumping serve forced the error on the return and the American's chance was gone.

With the score at 59-59 and with the light fading, the players were offered the chance to come off the court. And Mahut was keen to call it a day.

Isner was less enthused by the decision but accepted his fate, saying: “We both couldn't agree to play, so it got cancelled.”

Isner said: “Nothing like this will ever happen again ever. He's serving fantastic, I'm serving fantastic and there is nothing more to it.”

Mahut added: “He's a champion and we are fighting like we never did before. Someone has to win and we'll come back tomorrow. Everyone wants to see more but we have to come back tomorrow.”

The statistics from this amazing match will assuredly change further.

Shortly before 6pm the match became the longest ever in grand slam history, beating the six hours and 33 minutes set by Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement at the French Open in 2004.

With precisely 10 hours on the clock when play was suspended, it set a new mark for the longest match of any type at SW19, far exceeding the six hours and nine minutes for a 2006 men's doubles quarter-final between Todd Perry/Simon Aspelin and Mark Knowles/Daniel Nestor.

With the final set running to 118 games and still counting, it outstrips the previous highest mark in the men's singles competition of 46, set by Nicola Pietrangeli and Nikola Pilic in 1962 and equalled by Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell in 1969.

And with 163 games played in total so far, Isner and Mahut also surpassed the previous best mark of 112 set in the encounter between Gonzales and Pasarell 41 years ago. Indeed, they beat the mark of 112 in the final set alone.

The opponent lying in wait in the second round will be Holland's Thiemo De Bakker, who had an epic of his own yesterday as he won 16-14 in the final set of his first-round match with Santiago Giraldo.

Belfast Telegraph

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