Isner wins record match 70-68 in fifth
WIMBLEDON, England (AP)
When John Isner finally won the longest match in tennis history, he collapsed on the Wimbledon grass and then summoned one last burst of energy, springing to his feet to give his opponent a bear hug.
Isner hit a backhand up the line Thursday to win the last of the match's 980 points, and he beat Nicolas Mahut in the fifth set, 70-68.
The first-round marathon took 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days, lasting so long it was suspended because of darkness — two nights in a row. Play resumed Thursday at 59-all before an overflow crowd on cozy Court 18 and continued for 20 games and 65 minutes before Isner won.
The score that broke the scoreboard at one point: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.
"When you come out and play a match like this, in an atmosphere like this, you don't feel tired really out there,'' Isner said, "even though that's exactly what we both were.''
The match lasted so long because neither player could break serve. Isner finished with 112 aces and Mahut had 103, with both totals eclipsing the sport's previous high of 78. They combined to hold for 168 games in a row.
"It stinks someone had to lose,'' Isner said. "But to be able to share this day with him was an absolute honor. I wish him nothing but the best, and maybe I'll see him somewhere down the road, and it won't go 70-68.''
Missing the finish was Queen Elizabeth II, who had already departed the All England Club following her first visit to Wimbledon since 1977.
The fifth set alone took 8 hours, 11 minutes, surpassing the previous longest match, which took 6 hours, 33 minutes at the 2004 French Open.
"We played the greatest match ever in the greatest place to play tennis,'' Mahut said. "John deserved to win. He just served unbelievable.''
Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani said he didn't have a chance to feel tired, even during Wednesday's seven-hour session.
"I travel economy,'' he said. "Seven hours sitting still on court is nothing.''
Isner said he felt "completely delirious'' by the end of play Wednesday. He estimated he ate a dozen energy bars and drank 30 to 40 bottles of water during the match, and he was glad he trains hard in the heat of Tampa, Fla.
"My coach actually, believe it or not, said jokingly before the tournament started that I'll be able to play 10 hours,'' Isner said.
The crowd roared when the players walked on the court Thursday. Mahut wore an intense expression, while Isner smiled and waved. The electronic scoreboard was again working after it froze and then went blank as the fifth set approached 100 games Wednesday.
When play resumed and Isner held in the first game after reaching deuce, Lahyani announced the score.
"Isner leads 60 games to 59, final set,'' he said. The crowd laughed.
Both players continued to dominate with their serves. Mahut, always trailing when he served, held at love five times, and appeared to be the fresher player.
The Frenchman hit a leaping overhead to end one exchange and skipped to the baseline following a changeover, while the 6-foot-9 Isner moved deliberately between points. But in the 183rd and final game, Mahut sailed a forehand long and netted a drop shot on consecutive points to fall behind 15-30.
At 30-all, Isner hit a forehand winner for the first break-point chance of the day. Then he cracked the backhand winner for the victory — just the third service break of the match, and the only one in the fifth set.
The shot came at 4:48 p.m. — nearly 48 hours after the match started. The crowd gave both players a standing ovation that lasted long after the bear hug, and as Mahut sat in his chair with a towel draped around his head, Isner pointed at him and joined the applause.
"It's something Nic and I will share forever,'' Isner said. "I don't think I've ever said five words to the guy prior to our match — not that he's a bad guy. Now when I do see him in the locker room at other tournaments, we'll always be able to share that.''
Seeded 23rd, Isner will be back on court for a fourth day in a row Friday to play a second-round match. He'll face 49th-ranked Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands in the second round. De Bakker played the second-most games in the first round, 74, winning his match in a 16-14 fifth set.
Isner also is scheduled to play doubles later Friday, a match that originally was to be played Wednesday but was postponed twice.