Isner loses in marathon match at French Open
This, then, is who John Isner is for now: The Marathon Man of Tennis, the guy who plays and plays and plays, for hours on end, until the last set seems interminable.
At Wimbledon two years ago, he won 70-68 in the fifth, the longest set and match in tennis history. At Roland Garros on Thursday, as afternoon gave way to evening, the 10th-seeded American lost 7-6 (2), 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 18-16 to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the second round, a 5-hour, 41-minute test of stamina and attention span.
This one goes in the books as the second-longest match, by time, in French Open history.
''I just didn't get it done. I felt like I got caught in patterns that weren't ideal for me,'' a somber Isner said. ''I wasn't going for my shots at certain points in the match, and that comes from a little bit of a lack of confidence.''
If the tall Isner is going to become more than a novelty act, he needs to win encounters like Thursday's, and not because of the duration but because it was a first-week Grand Slam match against a player ranked 261st who got into the field thanks to a wild-card invitation from the tournament.
After finally converting his seventh match point - Isner never had one - an emotional Mathieu thanked the partisan crowd in the main stadium for willing him to victory. Their sing-song choruses of ''Po-lo! Po-lo!'' - the French equivalent of ''Paulie'' - and roars of approval rang out after pretty much every point he won down the stretch.
''I dug deep,'' said the 30-year-old Mathieu, who hadn't played in a major tournament since the 2010 U.S. Open because of a left knee injury that forced him off tour all of last year. ''I was away from the courts for quite a while, and I came back to live moments like this.''
Isner pounded 41 aces and only double-faulted once, but never did enough on his returns, earning only four break points all match - the same formula that led to his monumental 11-hour, 5-minute victory over another Frenchman, Nicolas Mahut, in the first round at the All England Club in 2010.
''I served well,'' Isner said. ''Just didn't do anything else that well.''
The record-smashing, three-day ordeal against Mahut never entered Isner's mind Thursday, he insisted. Mathieu said that when he learned he'd be facing Isner, he sought advice from Mahut - and vowed to avenge his pal's tough loss.
From nearly the moment his match against Mahut was finally over, Isner has made clear he wants to be known for greater accomplishments, for deep runs at Grand Slam tournaments.
The next chance for that comes on Wimbledon's grass in June. For now, though, Isner wants to head to Florida and take a break.
''I'm going to go home,'' he said. ''I don't even want to think about tennis right now.''
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