Looking back on Wimbledon: Former Bulldog John Isner wins the longest match in tennis history

Taylor Craig Sutton | The Red & BlackJohn Isner returns a forehand during the BB&T Atlanta Open finals in Atlanta on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

The 2010 Wimbledon first-round matchup between former Georgia All-American John Isner and French tennis talent Nicolas Mahut was a showdown of resilience. The duo competed for three consecutive days, spending over 11 total hours on the court and breaking a number of records along the way.

“The fortitude of both of those guys and the relationship that ensued after that with both [Isner] and Mahut… it was history,” said Georgia men's tennis head coach Manuel Diaz, who coached Isner from 2003-2006.

A decade later, COVID-19 left the famed grass courts of the oldest and most prestigious major tennis tournament empty on finals weekend for the first time since World War II.

While they won’t compete this year, Isner and Mahut’s marathon match remains one of the most memorable matches in the history of the tournament and, arguably, in the history of tennis.

The pair walked onto Court 18 on June 22, splitting four sets 2-2 before the match was paused due to darkness — the Wimbledon facility doesn’t employ artificial light. They began with the fifth set the next day.

Already, Isner was on pace to make history. He looked to break the record for the number of aces served in a single match.

Former world No. 14 Ivo Karlovic held the previous record at 78, which Isner surpassed midway through the fifth set, hitting his 79th ace of the match with the set tied at 37-37.

He eventually shattered the record with 112 aces by the match’s conclusion. But Isner wasn’t the only big server that day.

In the two-day fifth set, Mahut fought off four of Isner’s match points behind a powerful service game. Combined with Isner’s 112, Mahut put up 103 aces of his own during the match, for a total of 215, beating the previous combined record of 96.

When the fifth set score reached 32-32, the pair had also already broken the records for longest set and match duration at 6 hours 34 minutes.

“It was hard to believe what was happening,” Diaz said. “I remember after that second day it seemed impossible.”

By 57-56, the duo had played the most games ever in a single match, but it was far from over.

“I’d be a fool if I didn’t know about it,” Roger Federer, the former world No. 1 said at a 2010 Wimbledon press conference. “They’re still going and it is absolutely amazing.”

By the end of the second day, the Herculean effort of both Isner and Mahut would still not see its epic finale. After seven hours on the court and 118 games played that Wednesday, the two would have to wait another day as darkness pushed a second postponement.

Finally, on Thursday afternoon, Isner earned his fifth match point at 69-68. After a record 183 games played, the former Bulldog capitalized on a weak serve from Mahut and managed to put an end to the longest match in tennis history, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.

In 2019, the All-England Lawn Tennis Club introduced a rule change to prevent matches from extending as long as the three-day marathon. With the new rule, the fifth set is played by advantage until 12-12 when a standard tiebreak kicks in.

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Georgia; redandblack.com/sports

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