The date was June 22, 2010. The location was London, England. The competitors were John Isner (USA) and Nicolas Mahut (France). This was just supposed to be an ordinary first-round match between two tennis players with great serves.
A one-day affair, that would probably take three-to-four hours to decide the winner. What folks didn’t expect from this match, was that it would take three days to end. That each player would set numerous records. That it would take 11(!) hours to be completed.
Let’s take a look back at Isner and Mahut’s 11-hour match. 10 years ago, one of the most exhilarating battles took place.
A Look Back at Isner vs Mahut – How an 11-hour Match was Possible
The rules of tennis are relatively simple. In a non-major, the men’s players play best two sets out of three. The same goes for women’s players, who also stick to the two out of three format in majors too. For events like Wimbledon and Roland Garros, it’s best three sets out of five.
The first four sets of Isner and Mahut’s match were relatively uneventful. A few tiebreakers, the score in games was very close. It seemed to be a thriller in the making, but not a match we’d be talking about 10 years later. The fifth set wound up taking eight hours to be completed. Wait what?
Yes, the final set of the match took eight hours. 138 games were played in the set alone. This is because there is no tiebreaker to decide the fifth set. A player has to win by two games, meaning they hold their own serve, and then break their opponent.
It took three days before this match ended, and John Isner was declared the winner.
A Look Back at Isner vs Mahut – The Match Itself
John Isner came in and took Nicolas Mahut down 6-4 in the opening set. But the next two were won by Mahut, by a 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) score. If he could just win the fourth set, it would be over. The fourth set went into a tiebreaker, where Isner was able to hold, taking a 7-3 victory in it. This pushed the match to its fifth and final set.
After this fourth set, they had to call the match for the day, due to darkness. The fifth set would begin the following day, on June 24th. Isner had four opportunities to convert match point, but Mahut held them all. The two had been playing all day, and at this point, the score of the match was 59-59. It got dark again, of course, and the match was suspended again.
As the third day of play was started, each player had won 59 games in the fifth set. It would take 20 more games to determine the winner, John Isner finally breaking through. He won the fifth set 70-68. He won the most incredible match spectators may have ever seen.
Records Broken During Play
The longest match ever, prior to this one, was played at the French Open (Roland Garros) in 2004. Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement went head-to-head for six hours and 33 minutes, where Santoro eventually won, and found his way to the finals.
They played the longest set ever (138) games. John Isner served 113 aces, the record for the most in a match. Mahut added 103 aces, giving the match 216 in total, another milestone. There were 980 points, an obvious record.
The most unique nugget from the match might be the number of consecutive service games that were held. 168. Each player was able to prevent their opponent from winning on their serve 84 times in a row. It’s mind-boggling that this actually happened.
Pop Culture Creations
Rock musician Dan Bern was inspired by Isner vs Mahut, and decided to write a song about what transpired at Wimbledon from June 22-24. He titled a song “Isner and Mahut”, where he references the score in the chorus. It goes “six-four, three-six, six-seven, seven-six seventy-sixtyeight”.
Author Owen Prell wrote a fictional story called Chance to Break, in which he built the climax around this tennis match. Pretty cool that two players duking it out for 11 hours could inspire not only a song, but a book too.
HBO even created a mockumentary called 7 Days in Helli, inspired by Isner and Mahut. The roles of the tennis players were played by Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington, where they play head-to-head in a seven-day battle. John McEnroe, Serena Williams and Chris Evert all appeared in it.
A Look Back at Isner vs Mahut – The Aftermath
The very next day, John Isner had to take the court again. He was going against Thiemo de Bakker, in a match starting at noon. He would get clobbered, 0-6, 3-6, 2-6. The match was actually the shortest men’s dual in Wimbledon history, taking a meager 74 minutes to complete. Isner went from having 113 aces, to zero. He was drained.
Nicolas Mahut had a doubles match the next day. He and his partner Arnaud Clement lost in four sets to Collin Fleming and Ken Skupski. But, they put up a good fight.
Thank You, Gents
To all of the young folks that were in attendance for Isner vs Mahut, I hope your grandkids appreciate the stories, someday. And to all of the older folks, well, CONGRATULATIONS on witnessing history.
Thank you John Isner. Thank you Nicolas Mahut. 10 years have passed and neither was won a major. But, they’re still grinding, trying to make it happen.
Wimbledon has since abolished its tiebreaker system, so these guys cannot duel for 11 hours unless it happens at Roland Garros.