Wimbledon: John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut in longest tennis match ever

At Wimbledon Wednesday, American John Isner battled Frenchman Nicolas Mahut for more than seven hours in the longest tennis match ever. And it's not over yet. Play resumes Thursday.

WIMBLEDON: John Isner of the U.S. reacts after missing a point against France's Nicolas Mahut in a record-setting endurance test during the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London,

It is a long match. Very long. Amazing long. Ludicrously long. Yawn. Have I mentioned how long?

Ten hours after they began their Wimbledon tennis match Tuesday, American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut were still at it Wednesday evening, red faced from the heat and sometimes staggering around – hitting one ball after the next across the net until the sun went down.

The match, which was suspended when it became too dark to see the ball, with a 59-all score, will continue Thursday.

“The fifth set on its own was longer any other game in history at this point… its pretty extraordinary,” observed Scott Bordon, head of TV for the Laureus World Sports Awards, which are awarded annually to sportspeople who have been outstanding during the previous year.

There is no category for longest match, alas.

The previous record for longest professional tennis match belonged to Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in the 2004 French Open. Santoro finally prevailed after 6 hours, 33 minutes.

Time spent trampling the Wimbledon lawn was not the only record being set here, either.

Isner and Mahut, playing on the sun-soaked Court 18, both broke the record for most number of aces served by one player in a men's singles match. Isner has 98 so far, while Mahut is in second place with 95.

As the fifth set spun on into it’s seventh hour, more and more people gathered on the roof overlooking the court, elbow to elbow, trying to find the best vantage point. The electronic sign keeping track courtside went blank, unable to keep up with the high numbers, and even the uber-serious chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, whose voice cracked at the 77th game and who had to get his neck massaged at some point, was forced to smile.

Back in the locker rooms other Wimbledon competitors were glued to TVs.

"It's a marathon," said Venus Williams, then corrected herself: "It's longer than a marathon."

"It makes me proud to be a tennis player," said John McEnroe, working the BBC broadcast, after the 111th game. "It looks like Isner is about to fall over."

Nonetheless, the novelty of the whole thing does wears off after a (long) while.

At the 40th game, American Andy Roddick (seeded 5th here) voiced a growing concern on his Twitter account, asking "Seriously..... doesn't anyone have to pee ? umpires included." (In fact, the two players only took their first bathroom break at 58-all, nearly six hours into the fifth set)

“How many broadcasters went for the entire game? Not too many. It’s long,” said Bordon. “And these are not top seeded players…I mean you have other games going on at the same time you have to follow too!”

And when will it end? No one really knows.

Wimbledon, like the Australian Open and French Open, does not employ the tiebreaker in the fifth set – although today’s match might create a movement to change that.

At 59-all, Mahut approached the chair and said simply, "I think we need to stop now,” and it was soon decided the players would return Thursday (3:30 p.m. local time, 10:30 EST), despite chants by fans of "We want more! We want more!"

"He's just a champion," Mahut said at the end of the (long) day, shaking his head. "We're just fighting like we never did before. Everyone wants to see the end, but we'll have to come back and see who wins."


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