W.3- The Match on the Edge of Forever
There's a point in some seemingly (and gloriously) never-ending moments in athletic competition when sport effortlessly transforms into spectacle. Today was one of those days.
When American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut returned to Court 18 on Day 3 to complete the 5th set of their suspended match from yesterday, they had no idea that history had a special corner of immortality reserved specifically for them.
The All-England Club has given us many men's tennis memories over the years, and they just keep on being presented to us on a silver serving tray. In 1980, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe combined to produce what many have long considered the greatest tie-break ever in their 18-16 4th set battle in the final. In 2008, Wimbledon gave us "The Greatest Match Ever Played" between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the Men's title. A year ago, Federer and Andy Roddick played the "Greatest Set Ever" in that 16-14 5th in the championship match. Today, it was "The Longest Match Ever Played."
There were times today when you looked at the scoreboard in the 5th set and were briefly overtaken by a fit of giddy laugher. You hardly believed what you saw, and part of you never wanted it to end. 16-16. 28-28. 39-39. 47-47. 59-59. You just had to shake your head.
Oh, things could have taken a different turn. Isner held four match points today, including two in a row at 33-32. Mahut held two break points at 50-50, his first in the match since yesterday. Isner had MP #4 at 59-58, exactly twenty-four hours after this match had been suspended for darkness on Tuesday. Isner didn't allow a break of HIS serve, and Mahut hit an ace of his own to extend the match on the American's fourth match point. At 9:10pm London time, the match was suspended yet again with the score knotted at 59-59 in the 5th. The crowd's chant of "we want more" went unaddressed. But we WILL get more... only it'll be tomorrow..
More of Mahut leaping and crashing to the ground. More of Isner digging himself out of trouble with his pulverizing serve. More holds of serve. More exceptional sportsmanship. More of a little taste of everything that can be right and good in sport. Round and round they'll go. When they'll stop, no one really knows.
Is the century mark in games being necessary to win even remotely possible? It's easy to laugh at the thought, but so was the notion that this match would be suspended again for darkness when there were two and a half hours of light left earlier today. Yet, here we are.
The numbers, so far, are staggering:
* - Isner and Mahut's two-day match has now lasted nine hours and fifty-eight mintues. Previously, the longest match ever played was 6:33, in the 1st Round of Roland Garros between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement. Today's 5th set alone was over 7:00.
* - a 36-34 set between two guys named Brown in the 3rd Round of a tournament in Kansas City in 1969 had been the all-time record for games in a singles set. With Isner/Mahut already at 59-59, the sky's the limit here.
* - before today, the most games ever played in a single match was 112, in a 1969 Wimbledon 1st Rounder between Pancho Gonzalez and Charlie Passarell. There were 118 in today's 5th set alone, and there have been 163 in the match.
* - both Isner (98) and Mahut (95) broke Ivo Karlovic's single match record (78) for aces. Isner had 70, and Mahut 69, in the 5th set today. The previous COMBINED record for aces by two players had been 84. They've both INDIVIDUALLY passed that mark, combined for 139 in the 5th set, and have more than doubled the past mark with 193 for the match.
* - so far, Isner has produced 218 winners, while Mahut has 217.
And the match STILL isn't over. Needless to say, it's understandable that the court-side scoreboard literally broke down at 47-47 in the final set. Even technology was at this match's mercy today. If tomorrow never comes, we'll always have Day 3 on Court 18.
Of course, it WILL come. And when it's all finally over, read the scoreboard and weap. Giggle, too. Even stare at it in awe.
We won't be seeing something like this ever again.
=DAY 3 NOTES=
...want another giggle? The Isner/Mahut winner will next play Thiemo de Bakker, who won a very "pedestrian" 16-14 5th set in the completion of his suspended match with Santiago Giraldo. 16-14, and they think that's a big deal? Philistines!
...after everything with Isner/Mahut, as well as his own drama against Alejandro Falla on Day 1, Roger Federer's match today against qualifier Ilija Bozoljac of Serbia, which would normally be a story of note, pretty much will be ignored.
But, still, that he won the opening set against a qualifier, yet still have to fight tooth-and-nail in a 7-5 tie-break in the 4th to avoid having to go to a 5th set for a second straight match, might play a bigger part in this tournament's story down the line. In the past, Federer's opponents would often be psyched out and go away fairly meekly after dropping the 1st set on Wimbledon grass. Not Bozoljac, and maybe not every opponent that the six-time Wimbledon champion for the rest of this fortnight. Federer has something of a Humpty Dumpty look about him right now, right before the Egg Man had his great fall. The vulnerability is right out in the open for all to see, and even if it isn't his formerly overmatched opponents seem to now think that if they stick around long enough it might be.
An opponent's belief can be a deadly thing for an off-their-game favorite in a slam, when all it takes is one individual in potentially seven matches over a two-week period to have enough of it to pull off a big victory over a one-time untouchable champion. So far, so good for Federer, though. But how much longer can he avoid these self-made pitfalls?
...oh, yeah. Taylor Dent also set a Wimbledon fastest serve record today against Novak Djokovic, pulling off a 147-mph scorcher. Apparently, Peter Luczak also registered a serve that matched it today, but none of the commentators on ESPN2 today believed that that was humanly possible by the Australian and figured something was wrong with the radar gun.
...lost in all the commotion on the men's side of the draw, the women played today, too.
Daniela Hantuchova threw her hat into the "Zombie Queen" ring when she knocked out Vania King when the two played the 3rd set of their suspended match from yesterday. King had led 7-6/4-1, but squandered the lead and lost the 2nd in a tie-break. Today, Hantuchova took the deciding set 6-3 to advance.
King's fellow American, Venus Williams, had a potentially tricky 2nd Round opponent in Ekaterina Makarova, fresh off upsetting five Top 20 players to win the Eastbourne title. Hmmm, I guess Wimbledon isn't Eastbourne. Venus won 6-0/6-4. So far, Venus is looking like a pretty good bet to reach yet another final from the bottom half of the draw.
In other results: qualifier Greta Arn defeated Alicia Molik, and Yanina Wickmayer won the all-Waffle match-up with Kirsten Flipkens 7-6/6-4. After knocking Tsvetana Pironkova's lack of results in spite of all her talent and penchant for big upsets, it should be pointed out that with her win today over Vera Dushevina the Bulgarian has now advanced to the 3rd Round of a slam for the first time in her career. Jelena Jankovic defeated Aleksandra Wozniak in three sets, setting up her third meeting with Alona Bondarenko in a slam this season.
And Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters both won, as well, keeping that potential Belgian Big Bang (Wickmayer/Flipkens was a Belgian Little Bang, I guess) match in the 4th Round on schedule. Two Russians stand in their way, as Barbie plays Maria Kirilenko next, and Henin gets Nadia Petrova.
After the Williams Sisters won their 1st Round doubles match yesterday to run their Wimbledon winning streak to twenty-eight sets and their overall record to 30-1, their sisterly Aussie/Russian counterparts -- Anastasia and Arina Rodionova -- lost to Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta.
...meanwhile, Marion Bartoil must have silently chuckled to herself when she heard about the Isner/Mahut match. La Trufflette was scheduled to play today, too. But she advanced to the 3rd Round when she got a walkover from an injured Petra Martic. Advantage, Pastry.
...and, finally, tomorrow will be a far more sedate day, without anything approaching the Isner/Mahut marathon when it comes to headlines. Well, other than the completion of Isner/Mahut... if it actually IS completed, that is. I mean, the only "new big thing" we've got to look forward to on Day 4 is Queen Elizabeth deigning to make an appearance at Centre Court for the first time since Brit Virginia Wade became the last home grown champion back in 1977. Hmmm, thirty-three years? After today, that's nothing.
*WOMEN'S OVERALL WON/LOST - BY NATION*
[through bottom half of 2nd Round]
ALSO: 1-France walkover Croatia
TOP QUALIFIER: Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): Q1: Junri Namigata/JPN def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-2/4-6/14-12
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: xxx
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xxx
FIRST WINNER: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Patty Schnyder/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schiavone (1st Rd. - lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: xxx
REVELATION LADIES: Romanians
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: xxx
IT GIRL: xxx
MS. OPPORTUNITY: xxx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xxx
CRASH & BURN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS (RG finalists, both lost in 1st Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: xxx
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (last of six to lose in 1st Rd.)
DOUBLES STAR xxx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xxx
All for Day 3. More tomorrow.