LONDON – Shall we call it “The Johnny and Nico Show”? Two young guys skipping about on a grassy stage of an outdoor theatre called Wimbledon, and hoping “you’ll tune in again tomorrow because we ain’t finished yet.”
So here are American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, a soap opera in short pants, playing the tennis match that may never end.
Already they have given their impression of O’Neill’s “Long Days Journey Into Night,” as the moon’s appearance ended their first two acts, Tuesday and Wednesday. They also threw in a bit of Sartre’s “No Exit” because they can’t escape Court 18 where the show that goes on-and-on and on-and-on is to continue today.
This is probably the best setting for the fantasmagorical opening round duel because Wimbledon, the original tennis tournament producer, 1877, has experienced everything that could happen in the game. Until now. Until John and Nico indulged in a match that kept growing out of control like some sci-fi monster for 10 hours-4 minutes. But still no decision.
Now, you don’t have to know anything about tennis to realize that two guys batting balls at each other for over 10 hours is an unnatural act. Nobody had done it before. Could this match go on for a week? Or forever? We may find out soon. Certainly in creating the most remarkably bizarre collision in tennis history, Isner, from Greensboro, N.C., and Mahut, out of Angers, France, are innocent, not subject to punishment.
“He’s a real champ. We’re fighting like never before,” said Mahout. We didn’t want to stop either day.”
But the moon and the referee ruled otherwise, and they were paroled, for a while, at – get this! – 59-59 in the fifth set at 9:10 PM. 59-59 sounds like a basketball game – not a tennis set. It was too much for the scoreboard. At least they didn’t run out of balls.
“Nothing like this will ever happen again, ever. I’d like to see our stats, I have no idea how many aces we’ve served.” said Isner, the 6-foot-9 inch U.S. Davis Cupper, who seems to be serving aces from a tree-top.
When they took time out to sleep Tuesday, they were locked at 2 sets apiece. On Mahut’s terms: 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (3-7). That took 2:54, nothing unusual.
However, like a hurricane, the 118 game fifth set (unfinished) struck, lasting 7-hours-10 minutes of never-say-die battling. In that time Mahut could have made a round trip train journey to his home in France.
Incredibly, during those 118 games there was not a single break of serve. Mahut dodged four match points , and Isner two break points. The match proceeded as if in a dream. It was so improbable, so surreal, keeping the captivated audience enthralled.
But his journey across from Isner was wilder. They were like cell mates going for each other’s jugular. Their shotmaking smorgasbord was at times brilliant, and they had more aces up their sleeves than a crooked gambler.
Isner banked 98, Mahut 95, both breaking the all-time record of 78 held by the 6-10 Croat, Ivo Karlovic, and Karlovic’s Wimbledon mark of 51.
Their numbers easily topped anything before them in times, sets, matches. The oldest Wimbledon record erased was 112 games as Pancho Gonzalez beat Charlie Pasarell in 1969.
Throughout the fifth set they were both in trouble, but wriggled out. Mahut, serving second, the even games, ducked four match points along the way.
Up the two climbed, through the teens, the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s and 50s, imperiled but always coming up with the needed shot as the bloated set kept expanding. They stuck together like peanut butter and jelly. Isner hit 218 winners to Mahut’s 217.
For the second time Roger Federer was roughed up by an unknown. First it was Alejandro Falla, who took him to five sets. And yesterday Serbian qualifier Ilija Bozoliac, No. 152, was a big nuisance before the champion pulled away, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
But he couldn’t upstage Isner and Mahut, and was glad to finish in time to see quite a bit of them.
“It was a special match,” Roger said. ”I went on court at 11-all, and they were still going when I finished. “I didn’t know whether I was laughing or crying. It was absolutely amazing. Even though John could hardly move at the end, he came up with big shots.” “In a way, I wish I was them, in some ways I wish I wasn’t them. So this is a very special match. I hope somehow this is going to end. I don’t know.”
Nobody else does either. But “The “Johnny and Nico Show” is unique. Every game adds to the records, so don’t miss tomorrow’s episode when somebody has to lose.
RECORDS BROKEN TODAY AT WIMBLEDON IN UNFINISHED MATCH
WIMBLEDON RECORDS BROKEN:
Most games in a match – Previous: 112 GAMES - RICHARD “PANCHO” GONZALEZ D. CHARLES PASARELL 1969 WIMBLEDON (over two days) New – 163 and it is not finished
Length of match - 5 HOURS 28 MINUTES – GREG HOLMES d TODD WITSKEN 2nd round, Wimbledon 1989 (over three days) NEW – 10 hours and not finished
Aces in a men’s singles match – 51 ACES BY IVO KARLOVIC in a loss to Daniele Bracciali 2005, 1st round. NEW – John Isner 98 aces and Nicolas Mahut – 95 aces
OVERALL RECORDS BROKEN:
ACES IN A MEN’S SINGLES MATCH – previously 78 by Ivo Karlovic in a Davis Cup tie against Czech Republic in 1978. He lost the match to Radek Stepanek. NEW RECORD: Both Nicolas Mahut with 95 aces and John Isner with 98 aces crushed the old record.
MOST NUMBER OF GAMES IN A MATCH – previously 126 by Roger Taylor d. Wieslaw Gasiorek in 1955 in the King’s cup in Poland. NEW RECORD – so far the Mahut/Isner match at Wimbledon 2010 has consisted of 163 games and it is not finished.
LENGTH OF MATCH – Old record: 6:33 at the 2004 French Open Fabrice Santoro d. Arnaud Clement in the 1st round. NEW RECORD – so far 10 hours and the match is not finished. 45 games of the first four sets took 2 hours 54 minutes the first day. Yesterday one set, the fifth set had so far taken 7 hours 6 minutes, longer than the previous longest match in the history of tennis.