Almost 10 years have passed since John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match ever. At that time John Isner created a sensation in Wimbledon when he defeated his opponent Nicolas Mahut after an unbelievable 11 hours and 5 minutes match. In the end it was 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68 for Isner. Both players thus secured themselves an entry in the history books.
But how did this extraordinary record come about? Today we will look back on the match once again.
At the traditional Wimbledon tournament on 22 June 2010, the US American John Isner and the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut met in the first round. While Isner, who was seeded in number 23, directly startet in the main draw, Mahut, who was number 149 in the world, had to go through the qualification first. There he won the first two matches in style and finished the third with a narrow 5 set win. Overall, Inser entered the match as the favourite.
It was a normal tournament day when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut came to the number 18 court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Up to that point, nobody knew that this game would develop into a real drama. Finally the match started.
Since Mahut had won the coin toss, he started to serve. In the first few games, both opponents served with confidence. But this changed at 4-4 when Isner secured his first break point with a backhand passing shot.
Mahut’s following double fault brought Isner the break to 5-4 and after the change of sides, Isner converted his first set point with a forehand winner. Until then, only 32 minutes had been played.
In the second set, Mahut played his first service game again without any problems. In contrast, Isner showed his first weaknesses in the following service game. Two great returns by Mahut and a too short stop by Isner resulted in the first three break points for Mahut. Finally, Mahut managed to break after an unforced error by Isner.
Mahut quickly took a 3-0 lead before Isner recovered again. At 5-3 and with his own serve, Mahut took three set points. After a little more than an hour, he converted his third set point with a strong serve. This way Mahut equalized 1-1 in sets.
The third set was initially relatively unspectacular. Both players didn’t Show any weakness on their serves. So, they entered the tie-break, which was quite balanced. Mahut got the first set point at 6:5, but Isner defended with an ace.
After the change of sides, Isner had the chance to win the set at 7:6, but just missed the line with his backhand. Mahut then scored three points in a row and secured the set with a cracking backhand return. Until then, the clock was 1:50.
At the beginning of the fourth set, both opponents kept their service games without any difficulties. When it was 2-2, however, Mahut’s had some problems with his serve. Among other things, he hit two double faults in a row, so that he quickly fell behind with 15-40. John Isner, however, could not make use of his break points and the game went to deuce. In the end, Mahut managed to hold his serve. In total, he defended a total of seven break points.
Later on, Isner had an additional break point at 3-3, which he could not use. In the remaining service games, there were no surprises and so this set also went into a tie-break. In the tie-break, Mahut led 3-1, but Isner won six points in a row and won the set. According to this, the match should go over the full distance.
Then there was a break for the time being. At 9:00 pm local time, it was decided to stop the match due to darkness.
The next day, 23 June, the match continued. As the rules do not allow changing courts during a match, Isner and Mahut were again on court number 18 on Church Road at 2:05 pm.
The players continued in the fifth set where they had started once in sets 3 and 4. They kept their service games confident. One game after the other went by. Both players knocked down numerous aces.
While the 2.08 meter tall John Isner was already known as a serve giant, grass court specialist Nicolas Mahut also had a strong serve. The result was a neck-and-neck race between the two opponents.
After only a short time the score was 6:6, at which point the tie-break was not used due to a special regulation. It says that a player in the fifth set needs two games advantage to win the match.
So, they both continued to play … and they played long. At the score of 10:9 for Isner, the spectators took a closer look at Mahut’s serve. Once again he made two double faults in a row. Suddenly Isner had his first match point. With an ace, Mahut was able to get himself out of the tricky situation before he equalled the score at 10:10.
The game seemed to have no end. At 33:32, many spectators were already thinking about John Isner’s victory. After hitting a backhand winner down the line way Isner got the next two match points. But Mahut did not let himself get upset by this. The Frenchman with strong nerves also fended off these match points.
The match became more and more strange. For example, at 47:47, the scoreboard failed. Six games later, at 50-50, Mahut himself got the first two chances to break. Isner, however, managed to win four points in a row and kept his serve.
Both players continued to put up a fight. Although they could hardly move across the court, they fought for every rally. At the score of 59:58, the attention was again focused on Nicolas Mahut. He made his next double fault, which also gave Isner his fourth match point. In this enormous pressure situation, Mahut answered with an ace. Then he secured his service game for 59-59.
After a good ten hours of play, it was now dawn in London. Due to the poor lighting conditions, the game was again postponed to the next day.
On the following 24 June the match went into the last round. Overnight, the game made headlines around the world, so that the crowd of visitors the next day was gigantic. Within minutes, the stands had filled to the last seat.
When the players entered the court for the third time, all spectators wondered how long this match would last. Also on this day the match seemed to develop into a marathon. After a few minutes both players had broken the 60 mark.
All of a sudden Isner took his fifth match point at 69:68 with a wonderful passing shot on the forehand. And this time Isner finally took the chance. Isner passed the Mahut at the net with a backhand down the line and sank to the ground. He had won the longest tennis match in history.
With 11:05 hours playing time, Isner and Mahut broke the previous record for the longest tennis match by almost double. The record was 6:33 hours when Fabrice Santoro defeated his opponent Arnaud Clement at the French Open 2004.
In addition to this record, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut set further records. Among other things, the fifth set alone lasted 8:11 hours, making it the longest set in tennis history. In total the two players hit an incredible 215 aces, 112 of which went to Isner and 103 to Mahut. In addition, Isner and Mahut played the most service games in a tennis match. In the end there were 183 of them.
John Isner and Nicolas Mahut gave an incredible performance during these three days and set a record that will probably stay forever.