Thursday, June 24, 2010
Here are some of the Records set by Isner-Mahut:
Longest Match: 11 hours, 5 minutes (Previous Record: 6 hours, 33 minutes)
Most Games in a Match: 183 (Previous Record: 112)
Most Aces By a Player In a Match: 112-Isner, Mahut-103 (Previous Record: 78)
Longest Set: 138 Games (Previous Record: 45)
And that is by no means all of them (Most serve games held, most points won, most winners, it just keeps going). Take a good look at the above numbers. It almost impossible that those numbers are ever going to be broken. The odds of Wilt's record of 100 points in a game is more likely to fall than those numbers, because while it is possible yet highly unlikely LeBron or someone else drops 100 on a team playing no defense (Golden State Warriors I'm looking at you), another 70-68 5th set is never going to happen again. In fact it never should have happened in the first place.
So why did it? Well part of the reason it did (and why it will never again happen) is that Isner-Mahut was the perfect matchup. Isner owns the best serve in tennis right now, but due to his size, he is not much of a threat returning serve. Mahut is a very good server and had strong groundstrokes, enough to hold serve fairly easily against Isner (Mahut won more points in the match than Isner) but is not a strong enough returner to break Isner's serve. Throw in the fact that Isner served amazing in the final set and that the grass courts favor big serves and make breaks more rare and you can see how there at least was a basis for the stalemate that occured for 137 games. Still, the fact that it lasted as long as it did is a testament not only to how well the two were serving but moreso the focus and willpower that allowed them to engage in the world longest staring contest, with neither blinking for over 8 hours.
In the end Mahut opened up a window in the 138th game with an ill-advised drop shot, followed by two great shots by Isner to bring an end to the uber-marathon match. The fact that Isner was part of this (and to a lesser degree the fact that he emerged victorious) was particularly cool to me since our paths crossed almost 8 years ago. Our high schools met in the State semifinals even though neither of us were playing (Isner was ineligible due to being sponsored and I was not in the starting lineup). Isner was sitting only a couple feet away as we both watched the matches going on. I was aware of who he was (at that point he was a top-ranked player in the south and had a scholarship to play tennis for Georgia) but did not expect that he would one day be playing in the craziest match in tennis history.
You'll notice I said "craziest match" and not "best match." To be honest, for much of the final set, the match was quite boring. That's not to say it was not well played, simply that the points were ending quickly and amazing rallies were few and far between. It isn't close to Roddick-Federer last year, Nadal-Federer the year before, or Borg-McEnroe back in the 70's. For one thing those matches were in the finals and pitted some of the best players to play the game. This was a first round match that pitted two players who will probably never be ranked in the top 5, maybe not even the top 10. For another, those matches featured brilliant shot making and a sense that serve could be broken if the server were to play only a couple of loose points. This match was a classic, but more in the historical, record-setting sense than in the "great match" sense. However that should not take anything away from Isner and Mahut. In time we'll get another Nadal-Federer 2008 or Roddick-Federer 2009. We'll never get another Isner-Mahut 2010.