Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marathon Men

The once-busted scoreboard prepares for match point as Isner and Mahut conclude the longest match in tennis history.

"The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it."- Mother Theresa of Calcutta

If you asked me which had a greater probability of occurring, a meteor crashing into Wimbledon or an 8-hour and eleven-minute fifth set, I'd definitely look at you funny.

A meteor hitting Wimbledon you say? Or a match that was longer than any other match in history? Hmm...

Isner-Mahut, the epic: Was it real?

My cousin called me during the epic 5th set of the match and asked me if it was really happening. "Can this be real?" he echoed.

It was real. And strange. Improbable, and far-fetched. It boggled the mind and jogged the memory. Then it smashed the memory.

If you were watching this rare form of tennis torture you just had to throw your head back and laugh - how could it not be over? Could it last forever? It seemed beyond possible, even as we were witnessing it. What we didn't know was that inside these men existed determination - the sheer grit - to continue playing a match under such bizarre and grueling circumstances.

Just what possessed John Isner and Nicolas Mahut to dig so deep into their collective fortitude? And what do the exploits of these men say about tennis in General, or the mystique of Wimbledon?

It says a lot. If ever we thought that today's players are jaded prima donnas who don't possess old-school toughness, we were wrong. This marathon match is proof that the redeeming traits we desire in our athletes - an iron will, a bleeding heart, and the carnal quest for battle - still exist.

How it was physically possible that they avoided wilting, I wondered. What is possessing Isner and Mahut? Adrenaline had something to do with it to be sure. But let us not rule out divine intervention.

Pam Shriver, who was calling the "mother of all marathons" from the bleachers at Court 18, called the match a "freak." It's a fair assessment - this was somewhat of a freakish match. The serving, certainly, was beyond human.

That said, it wasn't an electrifying match in terms of artistry or rhythm. Points were choppy, voilent, and short. More than 20 percent of the points were aces. But as it wore on, and previously revered records fell by the wayside, it was easy to see what a massive success it had become. What this struggle lacked in compelling rallies it more than made up for in compelling psychology.

Isner looked punch drunk during the later stages of play on the second day, but each time we thought he would crash in a heap of massive bones on the grass, he willed himself off his feet to pop another punishing serve.

Meanwhile, Mahut, the surliest of qualifers, never lost his look of steely-eyed determination throughout the marathon. Though he lost, his contribution is worthy not only of our sympathy, but our awe.

Isner and Mahut will not only be in the record books for forever and a day. They will also be forever etched upon the collective psyche of those who witnessed this homage to intestinal fortitude.

Two fierce battlers trading blows in a duel that felt more like a boxing match - two heavyweight fighters trading furious blows in rapid succession - than a decorous lawn tennis affair.

It was surreal, unreal, and more than a meal.

It will never be forgotton, and a meteor was more likely.

Isner-Mahut Records:
Match Duration: 11 hours, five minutes
Fifth set Duration: Eight hours, eleven minutes
Fifth set number of games: 138
Total number of points: 980
Aces in a match: Isner 112 (Mahut 103)
Combined aces in a match: 215


  1. The Fan Child,
    Very nice article!!!
    As always, your words are arranged in just the right way to express to your fans what we need to hear from you: Your assessment of a very memorable tennis match. As many may have predicted, the younger (faster recovery?) and taller of the two men prevailed.

  2. Hey, thanks for mentioning the Hanah Storm interview, I've been anxious to soak up anything Isner has to say about the match.

    I do feel sorry for Mahut! He was packed up and off the court within seconds, then they dragged him back out for the ceremony and the photos - you can taste the discontent in those shots, they're so bad its humorous. And then he has to spend yet another day on the same court? At that point they might as well put a dunce cap and a leash on him and parade him throughout the grounds, the poor guy.

  3. the dawgs of warJune 24, 2010 at 8:55 PM

    Imagine if Isner went on to win the whole thing! It sounds crazy at first, but good luck returning those bombs on grass.

  4. Poor Mahut. Maybe he would have had a shot to win today? The guy is in remarkable shape. Sorry for Isner too, as he had nothing left today.

  5. I hate big man tennis!!!!!! Where are the rallies?

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  7. Chris, fantastic post! Your writing flows wonderfully, and it was a pleasure to read your take on this epic first round match.

    By the way, I've linked to your blog from mine:

    I really look forward to reading more of your work!



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