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Isner vs. Mahut: “Quite Remarkable”

June 24, 2010
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“Quite Remarkable”.  That’s what one of the commentators said during the 3rd and final phase of the EPIC match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

“Quite Remarkable”, eh?  [shrugs] OK, fair enough.  I don’t have any better words to describe it, and neither do you.  Because words – language – is limited, and there are no words that can adequately describe what happened today, what happened over the past three days, on Court #18 at Wimbledon.

A moment after John Isner realizes he's just won the match. The scoreboard hasn't been updated to show the final score of 70-68.

The picture above tells you a lot about this match.  When the shutter opened for that brief instant in time, John Isner (pictured) has realized that he has just won the most incredible tennis match ever played.  Ever.  It’s the greatest match ever played, not because the tennis itself was so spectacular, but because the competition was so spectacular.  Don’t get me wrong, the tennis was good, but the battle was great.  It was beyond great; it was epic, it was astounding, it was “Quite Remarkable”.  Isner put it like this:

“It was the will to win. Not that I out-willed him; I mean, obviously, he gave it his all.  I just kind of was a little bit more fortunate than he was.”

It was absolutely a contest of wills.  It was the tennis version of, “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”, or rather, “What happens when a player whose serve cannot be broken plays another player whose serve cannot be broken?”  But unlike hypothetical, philosophical arguments, humans are not perfect and eventually – it had to happen – somebody made a mistake.

Another telling photo. Look at the score. Look at the anguish on Mahut's face.

For better or for worse (winning and losing is relative, no?), it was Mahut who blinked first.  And I’m not so sure he “blinked” on match point.  At 15-15, Mahut tried a drop shot that would have been a certain winner, but it fell short, giving Isner a 15-30 lead.  Mahut played the next point perfectly to even the match at 30-30, but Isner played the following two points flawlessly.  It’s not that Mahut did anything inherently wrong (maybe he could have done a little more with that last forehand at 30-40), but Isner just freakin nailed that backhand down the line for match point.  Just like he nailed that screaming forehand passing shot the previous point, to give him his 5th, and final, break point of the match.

Here, just watch for yourself.  This youtube clip picks up with Mahut serving at 68-69, 30-30 (It’s in Spanish, but you don’t need to be fluent to understand what’s happening):

Wow; “Quite Remarkable” is right!

Some amazing stats from this battle: (the official match stats are located here)

  • Match duration: 11 hours, 5 minutes
  • Fifth set duration: 8 hours, 11 minutes
  • Total number of games: 183
  • Fifth set number of games: 138
  • Total number of points: 980
  • Isner aces: 112
  • Mahut aces: 103
  • Combined aces: 215
  • Isner winners: 246
  • Mahut winners: 244

There’s a lot that’s been written about this already, all of it better than what I’ve written, so here are a few more links for you to check out:

Isner beats Mahut in epic 11-hour match

“We played the greatest match ever, in the greatest place to play tennis,” said Mahut, who is ranked 148th and went through qualifying. “I thought he would make a mistake. I waited for that moment, and it never came.”

Miserable Mahut forced to grin and bear it

“It stinks that someone has to lose,” Isner said. “To share this day with him is a real honour. I can only wish him the very best and that hope that we’ll meet down the road sometime. But hopefully it won’t go to 70-68.”

Isner Wins Match That Wouldn’t End

“The match broke every conceivable length record in tennis, including longest match in time elapsed and number of games played. For comparison, it took Roger Federer 161 games to reach the final in 2006, while Jack Kramer needed a mere 167 games to capture the championship in 1947.”

Isner Wins The Longest Match

“In an on-court interview, Isner said of his vanquished opponent: “The guy’s an absolute warrior. It stinks someone had to lose. To share this with him was an absolute honour. Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere down the road and it won’t be 70-68.”

One can only imagine what Nicolas Mahut felt like as he walked off that court.

Mahut was gracious in defeat, admitting “at this moment I’m just really thankful. It was amazing today.

“John deserved to win. He served unbelievable, he’s a champion. It was really an honour to play the greatest match ever at the greatest place for tennis. It was very long but I think we both enjoyed it.”

Quite Remarkable.

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