Endgame at last for Ages of Aces

THEY outlasted the scoreboard, which broke down trying to keep up with them, and little wonder.

You could have watched The Godfather trilogy on DVD from start to finish in the time John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took to settle their Wimbledon first-round clash yesterday and still have time to cook spaghetti for 20 or 30 guys.

We’ve had the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle. This was the Ages of Aces, with winner John Isner and Nicolas Mahut serving up 215 unreturnable services between them.

Upon the completion of the match – and a final set that lasted eight hours and 11 minutes – the All-England Club announced the two players and match umpire were to be presented with awards to mark their achievement.

No, it wasn’t a pass from the parole board for time served.

Isner said: “The guy’s an absolute warrior. It stinks someone had to lose.

“To share this with him was an absolute honour. Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere down the road and it won’t be 70-68.”

He was talking of Mahut, who had his own contribution to make: “At this moment I’m just really thankful. It was amazing today. It was really an honour to play the greatest match ever at the greatest place for tennis. It was very long but I think we both enjoyed it.”

Just after 3.30pm yesterday Isner and Mahut returned for part three of their epic clash before an expectant capacity crowd.

The profiles of both players have shot through the roof as a result of their exploits in this match, which began on Tuesday evening and reached 59-59 before bad light forced them off for the second night running yesterday.

The longest match in tennis history has captured the imagination of not only SW19 but also the wider world, and excitement was high as both players returned.

Isner, the more reluctant of the two players to come off court last night in the fading light, began yesterday with a double fault – his 10th of the match.

He quickly gathered his composure to hold, but not before Mahut had taken him to deuce. The Frenchman then held to love to signal that perhaps he had benefited more from a night’s rest.

The 6ft 9in Isner – it is not true the match went on so long he grew a couple of inches before it ended – passed a century of aces in the next game as he moved 61-60 ahead. Mahut quickly passed the same milestone himself as the battle for supremacy in that much-vaunted category remained heated.

However, Isner was the man who ended with the winner, making it 70-68 and assuring him of a second-round meeting with Thiemo de Bakker.

Provided the American can make it out of bed to face his opponent, that is.

Shortly before 6pm on Wednesday, the match became the longest in professional tennis history, beating the previous mark of six hours and 33 minutes set by Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement at the French Open in 2004.

At 11 hours and five minutes, it sets a new mark for the longest match of any type at SW19, far exceeding the six hours and nine minutes for a 2006 men’s doubles quarter-final between Todd Perry/Simon Aspelin and Mark Knowles/Daniel Nestor.

With the final set running to 138 games, it comfortably outstripped the previous highest mark in the men’s singles competition at SW19 of 46, set by Nicola Pietrangeli and Nikola Pilic in 1962 and equalled by Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell in 1969.

The match also set a new record for aces in a single encounter.

Isner, with 112, and Mahut, with 103, both improved on the previous benchmark held by Ivo Karlovic, who hit 78 in a Davis Cup encounter last year. And the duo’s combined total of 215 aces is also a new record, breaking the previous mark of 96 set by Karlovic and Radek Stepanek.

Isner recalled how he felt when the players finished tied at 59-59 last night.

“When I left the match I really thought it was a dream,” he said.

“I went back, didn’t sleep great, only slept for about four hours. Going out there today I had the feeling it wasn’t going to he anything like it was yesterday.”

Reflecting on the match as a whole, he said: “We both served really well and that’s the main thing. Even in that case I couldn’t imagine it going past 20-all.

“I guess it was just meant to be. In a way I’m glad it happened.

Perhaps they should have marked the end of the match with some prayers: the Lord may have intervened to end the match at 665 minutes. Draw from that what conclusions you will.

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