Nicolas Mahut and John Isner left the court for a second straight night on Wednesday as the longest match in tennis refused to die with the pair locked up 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (3-7), 59-59 in the first round at Wimbledon.
The marathon will scratch into an unbelievable third day with a cumulative running time of nearly 10 hours with the fifth set played entirely on Wednesday lasting for around just under seven hours.
The uncanny set of circumstances will surely never be repeated.
The incredible saga began innocently as a first round contest on Tuesday afternoon, which was halted for darkness with the pair level at two sets each.
There could be absolutely no hint of the amazing developments of the following day.
Wednesday afternoon turned into early evening as the marathon dragged on at Court 18 in a struggle that drew comment from other players in media conferences and pulled crowds to the competitor balcony as play continued. And continued. And continued.
Isner’s doubles match set for later was cancelled.
The fifth set has so far lasted longer than any other entire match ever played in recorded tennis history.
The previous longest match on record was at Roland Garros in 2004, when Fabrice Santoro beat Arnaud Clement 16-14 in the fifth set after six hours, 33 minutes.
The ace count was stratospheric, with a combined total of 192-94 for Mahut and 98 for the rapidly fading Isner, whose huge delivery kept his game together.
The pair finally left with the outcome unresolved as light faded and Mahut said he could not see the ball. They are due to come back on Thursday to try and finish, a huge physical task.
“We played so long,” said Frenchman Mahut, who also won a qualifying round 24-22 last week. “I was just trying to win each service game.”
Said a spent Isner, running on fumes near the end: “Nothing like this will ever happen again. I don’t know what to say. We were both serving fantastic, that’s all there is to it.”
The contest broke record after record as the never-ending final set wore on, neither man giving ground, though the giant Isner looked the more spent of the two as the hours stretched on and another night approached.
Mahut, ranked 148th and his best a third round showing in 2006, remained light on his feet even after 100 games had been played. But even his eagerness could not crack the Isner serve. In the 101st game of the deciding set, the American finally faced the first break points on his serve. But Isner saved them both as play stretched on, 51 games for Isner, 50 to Mahut.
The monotony continued without a break as light began to fade and the contest halted on urging form the Frenchman.
London bookmakers Ladbrokes gave 1,000/1 odds of any other match ever lasting as long as the record-breaker. “The duo served up a staggering display the like of which we will probably never see again,” said a spokesman.
Perhaps the only solace for the exhausted winner may come in an eventual second round match.
Upcoming opponent Thiemo De Bakker also had to win a marathon, defeating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 16-14 hours earlier.
Keywords: Wimbledon 2010